A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux, 2nd ed.

One thing I love about Linux is the rapid development and frequent updates that allow me to run the latest versions of all my favorite software packages. My favorite distributions make it simple to always have the latest and greatest. In fact the distros themselves roll out new version regularly and I am always excited to see what new packages and features will be included. For book publishers this must be a little less exciting. Anything tied to a specific product that is under active development is going to quickly be behind the times. Mark Sobell’s A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux managed to avoid the worst of this by providing a lot of information that is useful for any Linux user running any distro. But still things move forward and almost exactly a year later we have A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux 2nd ed.. I was very pleased with the first edition and I think they’ve managed to really improve what was already a solid resource.

Let’s kick things off with a rough diff on the two editions. There have been improvements made in content and some added tools to rapidly get at what one needs. With the size of the book and the amount covered, these rapid access improvements are significant. The inside of the cover on the second edition has a utility index, so that a reader searching for help with any specific utility can find it quickly. This is followed up with two tables of contents, one a brief summary and the second much more detailed and taking up twenty-two pages. The new edition is about sixty pages longer than the first, but is slightly thinner and shorter. It is still a beefy book, but this is a nice direction to move.

After the tables of contents there is a list of JumpStarts. These are new to the second edition. They are short guides to getting started with key clients and servers. They come at the beginning of sections that will deal with the topic in more detail, but up front the focus is just on getting things up and running. The JumpStarts cover APT, CUPS, OpenSSH, FTP, exim4, NFS, Samba, DNS, firestarter and Apache. These are nice, as often just getting things going is the biggest hurdle and fine tuning is rather easy once that is past.

Like the first edition a DVD is included. As I mentioned Linux is a quick moving target and the dvd contains Ubuntu 8.1. It can be used as a live dvd or to do an install. Last time I checked the Canonical store, this was still the most recent version available on DVD. Ubuntu and Kubuntu 9.04 are available online and on CD. I did an install from the book’s dvd and the upgrade to 9.04 was completely painless. I don’t really see the DVD as a necessary addition but it could be a nice plus for anyone that wants to get Ubuntu up and running but can’t get the bandwidth to download it.

The section Programming the Bourne Again Shell has been removed from the Digging Into Ubuntu Linux section and placed in its own section, Programming Tools which also includes a new chapter on Perl. The chapters on Linux utilitie and the Linux file system have also been extended. Coverage of ufw was added to the firewall chapter. The appendices remain the same but three new indices have been added to cover JumpStarts, the file tree and utilities. The main index is huge, offering excellent access to everything in the book. This book shows excellent forethought from start to finish aimed at making it a natural choice to grab from the shelf whenever an Ubuntu user has a question.

This did leave me wondering though, why no database server is included in the coverage. It seemed odd to cover Apache but not the rest of the LAMP stack. Installing MySQL and PHP are simple with Ubuntus package manager, but knowing the basics of caring for them is just as important as it is with Apache, which is also easy to install. I realize that the book is already large, but I’d have liked to see this included. That said, configuring services is covered and indexed in mulitple places. This means if one did install MySQL, PostgreSQL or some other database and were looking for how to go about starting, stopping, etc. the information is there.

As before, this is still a nice guide to Linux in general. While it is most applicable to Ubuntu, much of the information is accurate regardless of the distro in question. The style is understandable and there are many examples with code or illustrations as appropriate. This entire book is a real boon to any neophyte that does not have a solid handle on getting their own answers. That group is the one that I think will benefit the most from A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux. Random access is easy, but reading cover to cover would also give one a nice foundational understanding of getting the most out of their machine and even enough guidance to get their feet wet in the sysadmin world. Anyone thrown into owning an Ubuntu server may find this to be a handy lifeline. More experienced users, even if they are moving from another distro may find that there is just too much material that they don’t need and already know. This really is a basic Linux guide first and an Ubuntu book second.

I thought the first edition was a solid value and the second edition offers welcome improvements with no real missteps. That they managed to put more in, not take a lot out and get it into a smaller package is quite a plus. I don’t think anyone will be throwing this in a bag and carrying it with them any time soon, but it’s a great office shelf resource for a quick refresher or getting launched. This is the kind of guide that can make the difference between frustrated failure and passion for anyone just starting out with Linux.

Title: A Practical Guide to Ubuntu 2nd ed.
Author: Mark G. Sobell
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Pages: 1244
ISBN: 978-0-13-700388-4
Rating: 9/10

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