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A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux 171

r3lody writes "Finding a single book that encompasses what you want to learn can be difficult. Most cover a few portions of a subject in depth and skim over (or omit) others. Other books will cover each topic at about the same level: high enough to give an impression of what can be done, but not with enough depth to do it without a lot of effort. In A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux, Mark G. Sobell has created a single volume that gives the reader enough information to effectively install, configure and run workstations and servers using Ubuntu Linux. He has come the closest I have seen to containing all of the necessary information without being too shallow. Granted, to include everything you would want to know about Ubuntu Linux would take several books of this size, but this particular one provides most users the best bang for the buck. A DVD with the Gutsy Gibbon release of Ubuntu in a directly bootable form is included with the book." Read below for the rest of Ray's review.
A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux
author Mark G. Sobell
pages 1200
publisher Prentice Hall PTR
rating 10/10
reviewer Ray Lodato
ISBN 013236039X
summary A complete guide to installing and running Ubuntu Linux for beginning to intermediate users
With over two decades of experience related to Unix and Linux, Mark G. Sobell has authored almost two dozen books on the subject. I had previously read and reviewed his book A Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux: Fedora Core and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (Second Edition) and found it the highest quality book I had yet read on Linux. This, his latest book, bears many similarities to the other text, including its high quality. The overall structure is like that of a textbook, providing a summary and exercises at the end of each chapter, as well as copious cross-references.

A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux is broken up into five parts containing 27 chapters in all. After providing the now obligatory history of Linux and the GPL, Part I uses two chapters to provide an overview of, and step-by-step instructions for, installing Linux. The overview provides information about the process including how to try Linux with the Live DVD supplied, planning your hard disk layout, acquiring a newer version of Ubuntu, and the install process in general. The step-by-step chapter goes into great detail on each step of the process, using both the graphical and textual installation paths. It also throws in additional detail on how to configure the X server.

Now that you have Linux in a runnable form, Part II provides higher-level information that shows newer Linux users what they can do. Four chapters serve to introduce basic Linux to the user. Topics include how to update, install and remove program packages, how to use the command line (and some basic utilities such as cat, ls, more, less, etc.), how the filesystem is laid out, shell concepts such as pipes and job control, and where to find additional documentation.

Part III uses another four chapters to dive deeper into the Bourne Again Shell (BASH), the GUIs, and networking. First the X Window System is described, followed by the GNOME and KDE desktops. BASH is covered in two separate chapters, inexplicably separated by the chapter on networking. The first BASH chapter provides the reader with information on startup files, command history, redirection, etc. The other BASH chapter goes into depth regarding programming BASH scripts. The intervening networking chapter provides a basic understanding of network protocols and some utilities such as ping, traceroute, host and dig.

Up to this point, Mark has been showing the user how to use Ubuntu Linux with little modification. Starting with Part IV, he describes how to perform the more common configuration tasks. Using seven chapters and over 200 pages, Part IV provides a great deal of detail regarding system administration. Starting with some core concepts (running as root, sudo, startup scripts, wrappers, recovery mode, etc.), Mark then leads the reader into the nooks and crannies of the filesystem. The following chapter shows how to add and remove applications using apt, aptitude, dpkg, wget and BitTorrent. Printing using CUPS is given its own chapter next, as is the (at least to me) daunting task of rebuilding the system kernel. The last two chapters in Part IV cover the miscellaneous administration tasks of adding, changing, and deleting users and groups, backing up and restoring files, managing the various logs, and setting up your network connections (both wired and wireless).

The final section, Part V, uses nine chapters to go into depth on set up various servers and use their clients. OpenSSH, FTP, exim4 (for mail), NIS, NFS, Samba, DNS/BIND, the firewall (firestarter and iptables), and finally Apache. Each of the chapters provides Jumpstart sections to help you install and configure each server quickly, and enough detail to handle the more common configuration changes.

There are five appendices covering regular expressions, where to get help, general security considerations, the Free Software Definition, and a bullet list of major items added to the 2.4 kernel to form the 2.6 kernel. These are followed by a fairly comprehensive glossary and index.

Overall, A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux by Mark G. Sobell provides all of the information a beginner to intermediate user of Linux would need to be productive. The inclusion of the Live DVD of the Gutsy Gibbon release of Ubuntu makes it easy for the user to test-drive Linux without affecting his installed OS. I have no doubts that you will consider this book money well spent.

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A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux

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  • by uigrad_2000 ( 398500 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @03:48PM (#22943404) Homepage Journal
    Often, someone who is new to linux looks for all the books they can find with "linux" in the name.

    Generally, if you are new to unix in general, you should get a good unix reference. I'd suggest Unix Power Tools by O'Reilly.

    If you are an experienced unix user, and want to learn the specifics of Ubuntu linux, then this book seems very useful. It has both the gory details of the inner workings, and a guide to some of the application candy you may install for home use.

    • I'm just waiting for Prentice Hall to publish 'A Practical Guide To Practical Guides'.

      I wonder if they give their writers a Practical Guide To Writing Practical Guides
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sootman ( 158191 )
        I'm hoping for The Complete Idiot's Missing Manual to Teach Yourself Practical Guides in 24 Hours Unleashed.
        • by blair1q ( 305137 )
          I got mine used from an Amazon reseller on an eBay link on Google Shopping.

          Okay, I lied. I snarfed it using Limewire (which I got using Kazaa).
    • This new book has a pretty solid intro to shell scripting, enough to get you started, along with some other basics such as Apache configuration and something that's vital for new users who actually want to use their Linux box on real projects: ssh. (Here's another review [] of the same title, which I wrote.)
    • by sootman ( 158191 )
      Agreed. Or, I'd love to see a book like this with things divided into big chunks, clearly separated--maybe with a different background color or something: "This is UNIX stuff that has been around for five/ten/thirty years and will work on any distro (or OS X or Solaris)" and "This is stuff that's particular to Ubuntu."

      In any case, I love how permanent this stuff is. It's not quite a general UNIX book, but I still find myself turning to my decade-old horsey book [] from time to time.
    • When I was looking to learn more about how to use linux a little while after I'd started doing so I asked on the Fedora forum what they would recommend and someone sent me a link to a really great online book which contained so much information of such high quality that I felt like I really learned loads. It's also really easy going for complete n00bs, but I suspect that if I went back I'd still learn new things and have new interesting stuff to look at... you can check it out at []
    • I'm going to second Unix Power Tools as an excellent book for learning the whole shebang, but point out that you might as well get Linux Power Tools.
    • For that matter, Sobell himself has various editions of "plain old Unix" books going back to the 1980's. The Ubuntu edition sounds like a useful update to my earlier editions of "A practical guide to the Unix System". Combine these with the Advanced Bash Scripting guide and the other online documentation at, and you're good to go.
    • I thought it was the fact that people can't get enough of linux, so when they aren't using it, they want to read about it (on the plane, or in meetings, etc...)
  • Ubuntu (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flynt ( 248848 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @03:49PM (#22943432)
    Every few years, I take a stab at installing whatever 'user friendly' distro of Linux exists at the time. I actually just installed Ubuntu 7.10 on a laptop of mine two nights ago. Overall, the experience is much improved. Actually, drastically improved over my last attempt several years ago. My wireless card just worked, which used to be the main hassle (I know why.).

    The only problem I now have is with dual monitor support. It seems like a hodge-podge of ideas, nowhere very clearly defined. I don't know if I need Xinemara, TwinView, or both? I've tried countless combinations of "vsync to blank" (3 different locations), setting the vertical refresh rate (3 different values depending on where I look), none of which are 60 hz. There are many lockups while trying to change these settings through the nvidia driver settings.

    I realize none of this is Ubuntu's fault, per se. Still, my multiple monitors works flawlessly in Windows without any fuss. It just seems obvious what to do there for me.

    So while there have been great strides, I am excited to see the continual improvement in areas like these.

    I did keep Ubuntu on the laptop and plan on using it, just with only one monitor for now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 )
      Linux Distros Still need a lot of polishing up. Open Source Software really needs a Good QA Department or group to check the software and enough authority to tell the developers this stinks do it again. The overall problem with Linux Distros is not Lack of good Ideas or Bad Coding. Just not a Good connection between the both and giving a good Big Picture Application. Person A is so focused on Making te CD Buring Software he has no care what Person B is doing for the File System Browser, which doesn't care w
      • by Knuckles ( 8964 )
        Seems you haven't used a recent distro, really. In, for example, Ubuntu, the CD Burning Software, File System Browser, and Windows Manager certainly work more consistently together than on your average Windows desktop with its hodge-podge of UI styles. The OEM versions of Roxio and Nero, for example, certainly are no pinnacles of UI design and integration.
        • Once again a member of Slashdot ignores the general concept and focuses on the details used for an example. I used CD Burning, File Systems Browsers and WM as just examples. That I have noticed with Older distros, Ubentu latest version from what I have seen has fixed a some of the issues but compared to OS X it is still fairly segmented in its design.
          • by Knuckles ( 8964 )
            Well maybe you should choose examples that illustrate your point instead of examples that contradict what you are saying. It's really not my fault if you are unable to make your point convincingly.
      • There certainly are disadvantages to the independence of projects there are advantages too. How many times has WinFS been promised and then retracted since it was first conceived? As an independent project it wouldn't have its resources and schedule determined by an overseeing body trying to put a whole operating system together.

        This advantage is seen in Mozilla vs. IE. Mozilla is concerned with making a browser, whereas the IE team is serving the goals of Windows at large. Which for a long time meant d
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrraven ( 129238 )
      I had the opposite experience my Dell D400 with crappy intel graphics will drive a 20 inch widescreen LCD under Ubuntu and not under XP. Too bad I can't run my crucial Adobe apps under Linux. And no Wine isn't the answer it really slows down productivity for me for example to not have a save dialog with clean access to the whole file system, not to mention instability of Adobe apps under wine.
      I know it's not the fault of Linux developers that Adobe hasn't ported it's apps and that Microsoft has a closed A
    • Re:Ubuntu (Score:4, Informative)

      by dvice_null ( 981029 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @04:03PM (#22943628)
      You won't always get help as some problems are just too difficult to solve from remote location, but in most cases you get help and save yourself several hours of work if you just ask. So I strongly suggest you to ask help (if you already have not) as solving your problem in here is much harder than it is in a forum dedicated to solve your problems with Ubuntu: []
    • by knewter ( 62953 )
      Yeah, in 8.04 dual monitor support for the most part Just Works. Me, I tended to (pre-8.4) do a ctrl+alt+backspace after plugging in a CRT. In more recent ATI/nvidia drivers, it's also just on-the-fly switching via a GUI these days.
    • You pretty much want Twin View. Xinerama is sort of buggy.

      Definitely, though, if you have any problems then [] is the place to ask.
    • by bfields ( 66644 )

      The only problem I now have is with dual monitor support.

      In the 8.04 beta, the System->Preferences->Screen Resolution dialog (gnome-display-properties) is aware of multiple monitors. I've used that only once, very briefly (for a projector), so while it was adequate for my purposes, I can't say whether this problem is completely solved yet.

    • by burner ( 8666 )
      If you've got an nvidia chip (and are using the binary drivers), install nvidia-settings and run that program with your second monitor attached.

      If not, you can use grandr or wait for hardy, which has a multi-screen configuration tool built into System/Preferences/Screen Resolution.
  • Why Gutsy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CSMatt ( 1175471 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @03:54PM (#22943508)
    Considering that Hardy will be coming out in a few weeks, and will be supported for 3-5 years as opposed to 18 months, wouldn't it have been a smarter idea to write a book on 8.04 Hardy Heron instead?
    • by brouski ( 827510 )

      Considering that Hardy will be coming out in a few weeks, and will be supported for 3-5 years as opposed to 18 months, wouldn't it have been a smarter idea to write a book on 8.04 Hardy Heron instead?

      And this is why Linux and dead trees seldom mix.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )
        There are Unix books that predate Linux entirely that are
        still relevant and useful when it comes to Linux.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      # Paperback: 1200 pages # Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR; 1 Pap/Cdr edition (December 28, 2007)

      From [] considering that Ubuntu 7.10 hasn't been out until October of 2007 and when this was published in December it was only out for 2-3 months, that's still 3 months till Hardy stable comes out. This is just a late review of it.
    • Well, let's put it like this: the book first came out, say, this week. That means it was handed to the publisher several months ago.
      It contains 1200 pages - ergo, it wasn't written in two months, either.
      Finally, Hardy is only coming out in a few weeks.

      Thus we can assume that, unfortunately, this book was not written in the future and posted backwards in time in order to use the Latest And Greatest version.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @04:38PM (#22944068) Journal
    Most howtos focus on basic installation of the OS and getting around the GUI. No basic administration, no information about installing new apps, no map of the file system so you know where your programs store shit. It's as bad as Microsoft, except that I happen to have lived with MS OSes since '85 and have mostly followed where the keep hiding the useful stuff (i.e. I know it's there, I just have to find the new widget they've hidden it under).

    I installed Ubuntu for my daughter, and it worked well. Then I tried to figure out how to install a wireless driver. I gave up and bought a different wireless card that was supported out of the box - it was far easier and cheaper than the hours spent on line. Then I tried to install an application. I was stuck. You either had GUI howtos or you were into forums with power users.

    Of course I had to bail on the install - a program I got from school (which she really likes) is windows only. There's no way I'm going to fight with wine on a full-screen DX app that barely plays nice on native software.

    If this book really does tell me where everything is stored, and how it runs, and can take me from newbie (old-school CLI apple/ibm/ms) linux to power user that can troubleshoot the OS, I'm in.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 02, 2008 @06:03PM (#22945084)

      You either had GUI howtos or you were into forums with power users.

      Mod parent up.

      Linux/open source has come a long way from when I first started playing around with it in the '90s. Back then most of the help you ran across was of the "read the source, n00b" variety. "User friendly" distros like Mandrake (back in the day) or Ubuntu did a lot of good extending Linux to the non-elite user.

      However, what I see these days is a too-narrow concentration on the novice-friendly line. As soon as you stray from "Aunt Tillie mode", you're dumped into power-user central, with arcane syntax options and a maze of twisty forum posts, all alike.

      I think the next frontier in Linux/user interaction is to address this intermediate level chasm. Linux apprentices eventually become Linux journeymen, and it would be nice to have a way to seamlessly transition along the learning curve. The middle-grounders do have some resources currently, but support is threadbare compared to the "utterly clueless" and "master hacker" extremes.
  • Got the book (Score:2, Informative)

    by OldChemist ( 978484 )
    I've got it and it is a great book. Anyone who knows Sobell's work would tell you that his stuff is of keeper quality. I think I first ran into one of his Unix books around 1990. Why would you want a book for Ubuntu? If you are a little more into it than the casual user, it will make your life a lot easier in terms of networking, etc., etc. Of course you MIGHT find the info on the web but this will save you a lot of time. If your time is worth $25/hr and this saves you a couple of hours, it's worth it
  • Kudos to the the guy for writing a book. But honestly ubuntu is so damned easy one is not exactly necessary. But then again neither are all those other "Getting the most out of Windows (version whatever)" books. Nice to see linux getting some shelf space. Even if it is just one space.

    After my initial problems with ubuntu (mostly having to do with a buggy BIOS and figuring out I needed to use the "noapic nolapic" commands - now fixed after reflashing my BIOS to a newer version), I have had no complaints. My
  • by smolloy ( 1250188 )
    My main problem with all "Linux for Dummies" books is that, although they may be useful to begin with, they become almost entirely obsolete withing one or two major releases of the distro. The stuff that doesn't become obsolete is all stuff you can find in a shell scripting guide.

    Forums, despite their low signal:noise, don't have this problem.

    My recommendation would be to buy a good shell scripting book and read a few online tutorials on configuring whatever distro you have.

  • I am familiar with a lot of the material in the book, presumably, but I'd like to see what he did for coverage of Ubuntu, especially now that I'm using it fairly regularly.

    (Background; I was involved with the Practical Guide for OS X 10.4.)
    • (Background; I was involved with the Practical Guide for OS X 10.4.)

      How practical is that book in practice?

      Because I got a copy of "OSX; the missing manual" and I feel like taking it back to the shop and asking where in hell the missing chapters are...

      I'd like a *book* on OSX "under the hood" and Apple seem to be hell bent on keeping people away from that sort of thing :(
      • by seebs ( 15766 )
        I liked the Practical Guide. Down side, Leopard's out so some of the material's dated, but I think it was one of the first books to really talk at all about what launchd is and why you might care. I don't have one of my copies immediately handy, but I think it actually covered plutil.

        Oh! I found a draft. Yes. It actually talks about plutil and launchd and such.

        It was an interesting project, and I learned a lot from working with Mark Sobell on it.
  • About twelve years ago, when I was living in France, I bought a 300 page book with a Slackware CD in the cover. OK, so at the time Slackware was not exactly forgiving... and the CD woudln't work. But the book was sort of useful. I managed to get hold of redhat, with no printed docs, and installed it and was a happy monkey for the next three years. In that time, I bought great thick book with a blue cover, with a entitlef "Linux Undercover" with a RedHat logo... it turned out to be not much more than a se
  • by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Thursday April 03, 2008 @01:39PM (#22953660)

Why did the Roman Empire collapse? What is the Latin for office automation?