The Ubuntu pocket guide
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I discovered a handy guide for Ubuntu: the "Ubuntu pocket guide & reference". It's a nice little book (170 pages in pdf format), written by Keir Thomas who wrote several Ubuntu and Linux books. For musicians contemplating the transition to Linux for music it could be a very valuable download (especially since it is free!). Read on for a little review of this book:

First impressions

The book is up to date: it is based on Ubuntu 8.10 which is the current release of Ubuntu. It is also tested against the Long Term Service (LTS) release 8.04 (the one I'm using). The LTS-releases are meant for stable production systems, while the regular releases offer more of a cutting edge experience. Since I'm approaching Linux music production from a professional perspective, the LTS releases are the way to go. The book has a nice, clear lay-out and the text reads well.

What's inside

In the introduction there's a good explanation of operating systems, open source and how Linux came to be. This is not essential information, but it helps in understanding your computer and as such is valuable information. There's a good explanation of preparing for installation and the installation process itself, including configuration of your (wireless) networks and other peripherals. There are also nice instructions of fine-tuning your system after installation. In explaining how to do things, the author also explains a bit of the mechanics behind the process. Instead of simply saying "click this and that" he also tells you what you are actually doing. Important Linux and Ubuntu concepts are explained, making this an excellent introduction for users not yet familiar with Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular. For musicians, the truth of the matter is that - regardless of your operating system - you are "forced" to become somewhat of a power-user, thus general background information of this kind is very welcome.

Ubuntu pocket guideIn this light, an important chapter for people wanting to use Linux for music is (in my opinion) chapter 5: "Hands-on at the command-line". In my experience the command-line is an essential tool in getting the most performance out of the system, which is something I am sure every musician is interested in somewhere along the line. Also the command-line gives access to some configuration options that aren't available through window-managers, so again this is an important aspect. The chapter explains the basics of the command-line shell that will be important later on as you go on to more advanced Linux use. Even if not everything in this chapter makes sense at first glance (for new users), read it through carefully. You'll be surprised as to how soon the knowledge here becomes useful. The rest of the book contains a lot of useful tips, techniques and resources on how the various aspects of Ubuntu work, again with background information.

"Did they mention the music?"

No. This is a guide for new Ubuntu users. It is of value to new Linux users in general of course, but don't expect to find anything regarding Linux music production. There are a few references to the default Ubuntu music and video players, and that's about it. However, using Linux for music means getting to grips with Linux in general, and in that aspect this is a very useful guide, especially if you want to use Ubuntu. As I said before, (professional) musicians, composers, etc. are almost obliged to become power-users, so background information on your basic tools is a valuable asset. So the absence of information on using Linux for music is not a criticism.

Any objections?

I have no real objections regarding the content; it's solid, concise but not sparse and a good read. There are two things that might be considered criticism: In explaining key Linux concepts, the author keeps referring to Ubuntu. Since it is a book about Ubuntu, this makes sense of course, but I feel the guide could be a tad more useful if the author had made this distinction. The other point is that I feel the author makes the picture of using Ubuntu a bit too rosy. As if there are no problems at all in installing Ubuntu, specifically regarding peripherals like printers. While it is true that most general hardware works, it is certainly not true that virtually all hardware functions straight away. But these are minor points that do not really detract from the value of the book.

Conclusion

If you are new to Linux and selected Ubuntu as your distribution of choice (read Linux? What Linux? for more information on distributions), then you must read this book. If you picked any other distribution, it is still a good choice in getting to grips with Linux, although some things will work and look different on your system. And since it is free, you really can't go wrong with this book. Click here to download. I strongly advise you to!

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