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Keywords: Linux, Fedora, Mandrake, SuSE
Title: Spring Into Linux
Author: Janet Valade
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Verdict: On the whole this is likely to be a useful book for the beginner, particularly for someone contemplating using Fedora, Mandrake or SuSE.
Spring Into Linux presents a beginners guide to Linux that focusses very much on the desktop side of things. Unlike a number of recent books, such as Test Driving Linux and Moving To Linux, this book is not structured around a Linux Live CD, such as Knoppix, but instead takes the more traditional approach of walking the reader through the installation, configuration and usage of a 'full' Linux distribution (in this case Fedora Core, with some coverage also of Mandrake and SuSE).
While the author claims that the book is not aimed at the complete novice, the text is pitched at the fairly inexperienced user rather than someone who's familiar with the dirty knitty-gritty of operating system and application installation. So, if you've already done a few Windows installs and are comfortable with disk partitioning, device driver installations and all-round trouble-shooting this book may not be right for you. On the other hand if you're not totally sure about what an application is, or you think a partition is what separates you from your co-workers then this might be pitched just right for you.
The book is starts with the obligatory chapter explaining what open source software is, how it differs from closed-source software and some history of Linux and GNU. Then it's straight into choosing a Linux distribution, with close attention to Red Hat/Fedora, Mandrake (aka Mandriva) and SuSE, other distributions are also mentioned in passing, including Debian, Gentoo and others.
The next two chapters are about preparing and carrying out an install. Installation of the three distributions previously mentioned is covered in some detail. The walk-through covers all of the steps in the install process, with screen shots and text explaining what is going on and what to look for. It assumes that everything should work and that there are no major hiccups along the way.
Following installation the next three of chapters look at how users interact with Linux, both via a graphical desktop and the command line. In the case of the desktop there is good coverage both of KDE and Gnome. In the main the book leans slightly towards KDE throughout the subsequent chapters, but Gnome isn't completely neglected. There is also a chapter introducing the command-line shell, which is good because to ignore it completely in favour of GUI interfaces doesn't ultimately do the new Linux user any good.
File management, user accounts and downloading and installing applications and updates are all covered in the next few chapters. This information provides the core needs of most users and allows them to become adept at running and maintaining their systems. At times the text goes a bit too far in assuming the reader knows little about computers, for example is it really necessary to explain what an application is? If the reader doesn't know what an application is then it's unlikely he or she would be contemplating running Linux.
The rest of the book looks at applications of various descriptions, ranging from graphics to office apps to mail, messaging and the web. The applications that the authors picks are the usual suspects: OpenOffice.org, the GIMP, Mozilla et al. In all cases the author provides enough introductory material for the reader to make a good start using the app in earnest. While it's possible to quibble about the choice of app, (why not focus on Firefox and Thunderbird rather than the full version of Mozilla?), there's no faulting the range if applications that are covered.
Like the other books in this series, this one takes a 'chunked' approach. The book is structured around a set of topics, each of which is tackled in one or two fairly self-contained pages. While it makes for easy navigation and a fast shot of knowledge, it does have some very real dangers. One of which is the danger of repetition - as each chunk can live on its own then it may be necessary to include material already covered in previous chunks. Unfortunately if you're reading the book cover to cover this becomes quickly apparent and makes the book appear overly repetitive. Secondly in breaking things down into bite-sized chunks you can miss the bigger picture or end up being too simplistic. Again there's some of that on display here as well.
On the whole this is likely to be a useful book for the beginner, particularly for someone contemplating using Fedora, Mandrake or SuSE. But for the more technically minded reader there are other books that have a higher level of technical content, such as Mark Sobell's Practical Guide To Red Hat Linux.