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It's funny.  Laugh. Books Media Book Reviews

User Friendly: The Book 31

Stern reviewed one of the most gimme books of the year: O'Reilly's User Friendly. The whole gang is gathered together in a dead tree version, which means you can finally take UF where ever you want to be.
User Friendly
author J.D. "Illiad" Frazer
pages 126
publisher O'Reilly & Associates, 1999
rating 9/10
reviewer Stern
ISBN 1565926730
summary "Launch marketing drones!". Linux comics come of age

Stern is the president of Information Markets Corp.
Register; answer questions; get paid.

The Scenario

In the 1950s, Charles Schultz taught the world that cartoon art doesn't matter, characters do. So who are the characters of User Friendly, the greatest open-source-savvy comic strip?

Pitr and Mark: the technicians at Columbia Internet
Greg: the Columbia Internet tech support guy
Miranda: patronized sysadmin and tech support woman
Stef: the marketing guy with slow reflexes and a cute tush
Dust Puppy: a fuzzy thing which programs well and plays a mean game of quake
Crud Puppy: his evil twin
Erwin: the AI

Together, they have the sorts of adventures you would expect: supporting stupid clients, fighting evil corporate acquisitions, and thwarting Windows NT installations. The also cross into adventures you might not expect, including SWAT attacks on Microsoft headquarters. The collection wisely ends with User Friendly's legendary satire of the original Star Wars movie.

The naive might compare User Friendly to Dilbert, since they're both set in technology industry offices, but it's really more like Doonesbury. Illiad relies on big talking coke cans the same way Gary Trudeau brings in "Mr. Butts," the big talking cigarette. Where Trudeau has cameo appearances by Donald Trump, Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond pop into User Friendly. Most importantly, both cartoons are always topical. Readers of User Friendly do well to keep up with their technology and share certain technical opinions if they want to get the jokes. Among these opinions, that

  • Microsoft sucks, and
  • Linux is good

The cartoon assumes certain other shared beliefs as well,

  • Marketing people are not particularly bright
  • People who smile too much should not be trusted
  • Quake is good
  • Programmers work best when eating junk food and drinking caffeinated beverages

Anybody reading this review at Slashdot is probably well equipped to enjoy User Friendly. In fact, most people reading this review have probably already enjoyed the cartoon, since it is available for free over the web.

What's Bad?

Illiad from time to time pulls out a very old joke, such as the customer who can't find his power switch. The graphics are crude, but frankly that's part of the strip's charm.

What's Good?

The strip is very, very funny, especially when Illiad allows himself to daydream and the storylines become more bizarre. Follow Erwin the AI, as he suffers the successive indignities of being ported to Windows NT, then over to an iMac and a Palm III. Picture Pitr furtively buying "Evil Geniuses for Dummies." The Star Wars satire is brilliant. However strange the story grows (a fuzzball in a hockey mask attacking the marketing staff with a knife?) it never becomes unmoored, and by reading it, you will always feel like a member of the open source club.

So What's In It For Me?

Unless you have a flat panel display in every room and the bathroom, there's probably space in your life for a User Friendly collection. Leave it on the coffee table to impress your guests and to signal your membership in the Open-Source-erati. Leave it in the bathroom and you'll never lack for toilet paper.

Purchase this book at fatbrain.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

User Friendly: The Book

Comments Filter:
  • by Foaf ( 1882 )
    Pitr and Mark: the technicians at Columbia Internet it's Mike isn't it? Go Illiad. UF is bloody funny and the first site I check every day!
    -------------------------------------------- -----------
  • I've been waiting for this book for so long now (anything longer than having it in my hand 3 minutes before I actually first desire something is long, so the year or so since I first head rumors about a book have been AGONY)!

    Now I can carry my UF fix with me wherever I go. And I no longer need a computer to be able to suffer from UFPV []!

    Scuse me while I go lock myself in a closet now. MUAHAHAHA!

    Chas - The one, the only.
    THANK GOD!!!

  • Like any other techno-jargon, User-Friendliness [UF] has been badly overused and abused.

    Nowadays we see stuffs advertised as "UF" which is anything but UF.

    Thus, the question we all need to ask is:

    Is anyone out there truly understand the proper concept of UF?

  • Tovarish, ITYM da.

    (And don't believe the name, I can't speak Russian).
  • I was at my local Borders on Friday night (great geek hangout, btw) and saw the book promenently displayed along with several distros of linux and many books, etc. So, of course, me not wanting poor Illiad to starve, bought it for my collection, even though I've read every strip there is. I really liked it; it captured a lot of historical moments (the Crud Puppy, the Star Wars parody, and Miranda.). BUT, It didn't have a lot of the funniest, in my opinion, moments. I think we should have voted on our favorite strips and Illiad should have put the best ones in the book. Also, I was showing it around school this morning, and a lot of people who don't read UF didn't get it, so maybe it should have had the first several weeks or so.

    Just my .02
  • Capping terrorists == good...

    He capped a hostage... # good...

  • I know, we've all read the strips probably more than once, and your personal favorite is very likely not in there. But it's UF for cryin' out loud! No geek's coffee table is complete without it.

    Got my copy at ALS last month and when Illiad signed it, he put "To Greg: Thanks for all the support". Thought that was pretty cool even tho I don't work in tech support.
  • After buyink book, am thinkink I was enjoyink. Problem is that book is not includink much that should be necessary to be acquaintink with who real characters are.

    Am still recommendink, but please be hittink the site for the complete collection. Is worth readink.

  • How does that compare to the perl books, and other similarly hot topics?

    But, even if it was in the top 50 on Amazon, I wouldn't think too much of it, yet. Amazon is still where online types go to shop, and most online people who like UF would go to one of the big online stores to buy the book. It's the retail store sales that'll mean the most. Those will be the people who probably haven't read the comic online.

    And, O'Reilly is taking a risk. Even if the UF book sells millions, they didn't know how it will do. Authors often find it nearly impossible to finda publisher for a new book, but publishers throw themselves at proven authors. It's great to have a publisher go against that trend.

  • You know. For many cartoons, you have to have the book to read them. Until recently, Calvin and Hobbes wasn't on the internet. Dilbert only is for a short period of time. But, Userfriendly started on the net, and has to stay that way (it's not in enough newspapers to make an attempt to go that way work.)

    So, the book, a collection of comics, isn't really much more than a paper backup of the website, admittedly without banner ads.

    But, most of us here could whip up a perl script to pull all the cartoons off the site, html them, and give us our own backup archive. So, the book is just ungreppable paper.

    Now, I like to support people who do things and give them away. Like UF, or free software. But, for me it's much more convenient to do this via banner ads than by purchasing a book which I don't need.

    I'd be a lot more likely to want a nice HTMLized downloadable collection that had all of the text transcribed, and keywords added, so that I could seach for favorites and view them on the computer.

    But, I'm glad it was published. I don't think that O'Reilly did anything bad by breaking their tradition of publishing only tech book. This is most obviously not a manual, so you're not going to get people who buy it accidentally, and it does follow the O'Reilly tradition of going to the source. For a book on User Friendly, you can't go wrong with one written by Illiad... if a book is what you want.

    It's good to see a company willing to publish a small run of books like this, it can only help the community, even if the topic of the book isn't one that everyone is fond of.

  • I bought the book and immediately read it. It's great!

    Now I realize that many of you already knew that, but I'm speaking as someone who hadn't already seen UF on the web (aside from a brief visit when /. announced this book was in the works).

    The deconstructionists will have a great time analyzing this text -- there's more subtext than in Dilbert, more in-jokes, and both a lighter and a darker kind of humor running through.
  • I'm going to buy the book even though I read all the strips that are on the net. I down loaded the ones I liked and printed out the ones that others (non-open-source people) would like, and placed them on my cubical walls.

    And its good reading for my "private library". Thats one place on-line documentation is not the place to be. Although I'm sure some of you do so.

    Steven Rostedt
  • I thought the same but..

    as Illiad fortunately chose to include the "how to make a 'deletium' container" comic in it, I was finally motivated to actually make one. Still have the thing; it holds a cut up CD and a cut up floppy. (oo, exciting!)
  • I love this book. Maybe it's too good. Why? You'll read it from cover to cover in a few hours. You can't stop. It's impossible.

    This book will not get a must-have-book for CS students or something like that, but it's fun to read through it.

    After I have read through it 2 times I'll now wait for a 2nd Edition. Illiad, we are waiting for it :-)))
  • I just bought the book today. It's pretty good.

    I think some of his best laughs are the ones that deal with current events or fads.

    Example: Today's comic

    Guy stays late to play rainbow 6 and positions his men for about 9 hours and then caps a terrorist...

    May not sound funny to you, but we had a co-op game here at work the other night and we had to do a level over about 20 times due to that :)

    As well:

    November 1; Guy tells everyone about new policy to decrease traffic and then goes and tells his buddies they can now download their mp3's at high speeds.

    Heh. Guess why we need a t3 where I work?
  • The problem is that a lot of kids don't get it anyway!!! Computer?? What's that?? They'd be the ones calling Colombia Internet looking for their power switch! $.02
  • I was actually happy to buy the book, even though I have read the entire run on the website, just because it gave me a feeling of helping to support Illiad and get him to continue taking the time to keep putting out more User Friendly in the future. An HTMLized, keyworded version would be cool, though. :)

  • ...does anyone know what Pitr has that stupid accent now?

    Take a look at http://www.userfr [].

  • I work in a bookstore, and I got in three new books today all of which I was looking forward two but this one was undoubtedly the best. I have read the online archives of User Friendly and I am an avid reader (and archiver) of the online strip, but lacking a laptop I can never bring them with me to work or class or whatever. Plus, I know many people who feel weird about the strip because "If it were a good comic it would be i the newspaper or in a book now wouldn't it?" Well screw 'em, it's in a book now! Besides, it's was fun to freak out a customer at the store by busting out laughing for 10 minutes straight at the iWack spitting out the NT disc...PAH-TOOEY! BTW...does anyone know what Pitr has that stupid accent now?
  • I used the book to introduce my girlfriend to UF, but since a significant percentage of strips didn't make the cut (including the origin of Dust Puppy) she's had to reread them online from the beginning to find the missing ones. Still a funny collection, but certainly nowhere near complete.
  • I was under that same impression about 'Mark'. Could it be I have just been mis-reading the strip for the last 2 years? Maybe...that is scary.
  • sales rank: 323

    DNS and Bind has an sales rank of 869.

    Sendmail, that hoary classic, has a sales rank of 4,953.

    Cathedral and the Bazaar is 4,052.

    So I'd say that User Friendly is a real best-seller by O'Reilly standards. I don't think they're going to lose money on it. :-)


  • Learning Perl is at 385, Programming Perl at 297.

    And I suspect that online sales represent the overwhelming majorit of O'Reilly book sales, so I would say it's representative of how the books are doing.

    At any rate, I think O'Reilly will make a profit, Illiad will make a profit, and good for them both.


  • Hey, just a quick note for Canucks trying to track down a copy, has it for $15 right now, and that's in CANADIAN dollars. :) Not sure if they still have their free delivery deal, but either way, it probably beats the fatbrain/amazon/whatever yankee price.

    Pick it up here. []

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Monday November 08, 1999 @10:18AM (#1551835)
    I like uf because it pokes fun at anyone and everyone - ESR, RMS, and most especially Microsoft. There are no "sacred" things illiad won't joke about. The term "open sores" was first seen on UF courtesy of one of my friend's submissions to the site. UF isn't just Illiad off in his own world - he really does take stories from fans and mold them into the comic strip. My desk at work here is decked out in Userfriendly strips - usually the "disgruntled tech" ones. ;^)

    I'd recommend it to anyone who needs alittle humor in their day to day dealings with lusers, marketdroids, and the usual things that crop up for 'net-centered businesses. Go read it now. Pass it around the office. If nobody's read it there, prepare to watch productivity for the entire office drop to new lows as they're infected by the UF productivity virus!

    It's some good stuff, man. The first one is free... and I can hook you up with the newest stuff every morning... =)


All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly