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Joy of Linux 74

Chromatic slipped this review under our door. You need a few laughs at this point in the summer (ok, Northern hemisphere residents at least) to distract you from the heat of summer and the cost of air conditioning, and Joy of Linux has some esoteric geek humor in store, even if it's intended mostly as a mostly serious field guide to Linux nerddom for amateur anthropologists, like parents, girlfriends and bosses.

Joy of Linux
author Michael Hall, Brian Proffitt
pages 340
publisher Prima Tech
rating 8
reviewer chromatic
ISBN 0-7615-3151-3
summary A witty introduction to the wild world of Linux, suitable for the friend, relative, or significant other of a devoted geek.

The Scoop

It's 2001. Do you love your operating system?

That's a silly question for the average user -- a computer's made to do stuff. The operating system hides in the background, usually dormant, sometimes hostile. Besides Solitaire at lunch, the best thing about a computer is turning it off and going home for the day. Of course, to an unrepentant Amiga, Mac, OS/2, *BSD, BeOS, or Linux fan, the question makes perfect sense. An OS has personality and history. They collect followers who put up with quirks and kinks, defending their platform even past the point of practical death.

The Joy of Linux explores this phenomenon as it relates to Linux and Open Source. It's written in a friendly, easy-reading manner, punctuated with Joy of Tech style cartoons (from Nitrozac and Snaggy). There's just enough information to teach your mother something and just enough sly innuendo to keep your brother reading. Aimed at potential and new users, die-hard penguinistas will find chuckles but few surprises.

What's to Like?

Joy begins with detailed but readable looks at the allure of Linux, the history of Unix, and the growing popularity and commercial rollercoasters of Open Source in recent years. Next, the text explores the question, "What do I do now?", distilling hard experience into suggestions for finding help. More than a list of newsgroups and websites, chapter two explains the concept of sweat equity and promotes self-reliance. Chapter three talks about FUD -- both pro and contra Linux. It's fair and reasonable, with potshots reserved for the shrill faddish fanboys who spend more time complaining than contributing.

Tackling delicate topics, the next two chapters shy away from few controversies. First come three perpetual flamewars: vi versus Emacs, GNOME versus KDE, and the distribution wars. The honest assessments will disappoint everyone hovering over carefully crafted flames, ready to e-mail the authors. (That's probably a good thing, for the rest of us.) Chapter five explores the seeming juxtaposition of women and technology, with three case studies (Linux Chix, WITT, and Helix Code).

The book's second half pushes the innuendos further. Several serious discussions lie couched in metaphors and double entendres. These chapters cover system security, dual booting, migrating from Windows to Linux, hardware support, embedded devices, gaming, and multimedia. Aimed slightly above a novice level, this should be accessible to anyone capable of installing Linux.

The authors pepper their prose with personal anecdotes, some related to Linux and computers, others as analogies. They both write with a single voice, so it's difficult to tell where Hall breaks off and Proffitt starts. It makes for a mostly seamless narrative. The text is also readable, written with genial humor and occasional subtle winks.

What's to Consider?

This is a book for Linux newcomers. If you can compile a kernel without having to look up directions, you may enjoy this book, but it's not aimed at you. Instead, it would serve well as a companion piece to something more technical. If 'Running Linux' is your manual, this is the cultural and philosophical guide.

Some of the cartoons require a little more insider knowledge than the rest of the book. For example, if you don't recognize aliens dressed up as maddog, ESR, Larry Wall, and Linus, you won't understand the comic on page 34. Consider that incentive to read conference speaker lists, if you dare.

The Summary

Clever, but not too clever, The Joy of Linux answers two questions: "What is this Linux thing?" and "Why do you like it?" Written for home users more interested in getting things done than salivating over new hardware, it's a good introduction to a confusing, vibrant culture. If you're in the mood for a light read to amuses and inform, this book will meet that need.

Table of Contents

  1. Do You Know Who Your Millions of Partners Are?
    1. The Penguin on Top
    2. Are You Experienced?
    3. I Don't Do Windows
    4. Kissing Cousins, Lovers' Quarrels
    5. Chix Who Don't Fake It
  2. Doin' It
    1. I'm Clean! I Swear!
    2. Switch Hitters
    3. The Joy of Toys
    4. You Want to Put That Where?
    5. Messing around: The Penguin Plays Games
    6. Loud and Graphic
    7. Breaking up Is Hard to Do
    8. The Linux Sutra: Resources

You can purchase this book at Fatbrain.

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Joy of Linux

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