The only thing less exciting than having to be stuck behind a computer all day is reading a large, thick-like book on using a computer. The average person, unless in a crunch for a solution to a problem involving the law or taxes, would rather just sit around and drink beer and forget that computers even exist (ignoring for a second their computer-fed TiVos and cell phones and Xboxes). In fact, reading a manual on anything, computer or no, is probably going to be way down the list of things to do on a lazy Sunday.
But the thing is, when you need a manual, especially regarding computers, then you really, REALLY need that manual! And you need it to make sense, and you need it to not assume that you already know half of the things that you’re actually needing help with. And if you’re needing to get started with Linux (either through desparation or sheer annoyance with alternatives), then you probably need to just go ahead and grab that beer and settle in with a copy of Linux Made Easy.
But my heart goes out to you, you drinker of beers and needer of manuals. And to prove to you that I, your faithful reviewer, feel your pain and share your ales, I will be reviewing this book along with a fine frosty mead. And I’ll be throwing out the word “beer” at regular intervals in order to keep your attention. Because we’re about to talk about computers, and I see you already eyeing that copy of Madden ’06.
Beer aside, it’s very difficult to write a review on a Linux book for newbies without also diving into a review for Linux in general. After all, while the renegade operating system is making huge strides in terms of not only market share but also in ease of use (when compared with its rather meager beginnings), it’s still a concept that is going to be foreign to a very large percentage of the populace. What, not use Microsoft Windows? Not even a pretty Mac? Are you people high on paint fumes? Actually, we might be, but that’s not the point of this current rambling. We’re here to talk about choice.
When you get a computer, unless you buy it at an Apple store, you are more than likely buying it a place that has decided to pre-install Microsoft Windows for you. And unless you’ve been completely asleep for the past few years, then you know that’s not always a favor to you. Between virus attacks and system crashes, most people have just come to accept the fact that computers are out to get them. Computers and robots hate mankind and want them destroyed, as any viewing of either I, Robot or Short Circuit will quickly prove. But we’ve accepted the fate that these sadistic and often ill-tempered machines are the only chance we have to “globalize synergistic processes” and “maximize core effiencies” in the modern workplace (and any other craptacular business jargon phrases that you might like to string together using nonsensical words that no rational person outside of a boardroom would ever say unless at gunpoint).
So we know we need computers, and know that Microsoft has already wiretapped our machines. After all, most people see Windows as akin to eating out for lunch during the work week: taking your lunch is both cheaper and better for you, but it requires getting up a little earlier than normal and spending some time in the kitchen. And such is the world of Linux.
Linux is one of those things that’s out there in the world, available on the internet just for the taking, but most people have never even seriously pondered the concept that they can do everything they’re currently doing with their computers but without all the headaches and baggage that having a Windows machine seems to carry.
In the computer world, it’s not necessarily that Windows is bad (and Apple is much farther along with their ease-of-use and lack of problems, so they are generally left out of this argument), when in fact they have come up with a lot of great software ideas that people depend on every day. Microsoft Office? That’s a solid benchmark regardless of how much you hate corporate America. Visual.Net? Programmers swear by it, and the open-source Mono project is making great strides to incorporate and be compatible with its framework.
No, the problem with Microsoft is that it’s an untouchable monopoly. It’s decisions are made by a veiled group of teamsters, under lock and key, all working under pressure from being the prime target of hackers and hucksters the world over. Because regardless of who you are (Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, Chef Boyardee…), whenever you are the top dog in your field, people come out of the woodwork and fixate solely on you to either overtake and claim your position, or simply to take you down a peg through childish pranks. Either are acceptable to them and dangerous to you.
The one thing that’s not dangerous, however, is having a nice, frosty Shiner Bock beer. Brewed in Shiner, Texas since 1909, the little brewery that could has been doing so for almost a century. And if you know Texas, you know that Texans don’t mind a few cold ones, and especially don’t mind talling you about a good one. Maybe it’s just my heritage talking, but you can do no finer on a hot summer’s day (or a cold winter’s day with chili, it don’t matter) than with a nice, cold, refreshing Shiner. Drink Shiner!
But back to nefarious jokesters, Linux doesn’t necessarily solve that problem, but they do complicate the waters. First, they are nowhere near the largest shareholder in the corporate and/or desktop computer world, so being under the radar affords them a certain amount of “head start” against any designer virii or scams of the day. But also, the very nature of Linux, and open-source software in general, is that no one person holds the keys for something to either succeed or fail. It’s a collaborative group effort that either can be or is tweaked and improved by scores of people. When you attack Microsoft with a bug, Microsoft better jump in and fix it, because no one else can or will. If you attack Linux with a bug, you’re not attacking just one entity, you have to go through an entire army of geeks. And if one person doesn’t shut you down immediately, one of the scores of others is about to.
So let’s assume for a second that you’re thinking to yourself “Ok ok, I see where you’re going and I’m interested in checking it out. I’m either sick and tired of restarting Windows every day, possibly more, or I just want to play around with this other operating system and check it out for grins. I can’t remember which right now because I’m on my seventh Shiner Bock, but what should I do?” That’s a great question. A great question with surprisingly unslurred speech for someone in your condition.
Well, depending on your level of Newbie-ism, I actually really would recommend the book I’m reviewing, called Linux Made Easy. Notice that it’s not called for Dummies. Besides being a possible trademark infringement, the simple fact of the matter is that Linux is very easy (now) to set up and get going, but you might still have to manually adjust a couple things that you’re not accustomed to having to do. Linux is infinitely tweakable, which can be a blessing in many instances and a curse in others. But it’s never out of reach for someone with an open mind, a little extra time, and a handy reference book. And beer.
Stay tuned for Part 2—coming soon (and subtitled “what happens when you put down your beer long enough to load an install CD”).