If you're new to Linux, good support can make all the difference between getting stuck, frustrated, and returning to Windows/Mac OS, and settling in to the happy day-to-day user experience that us habitual Linux users now take for granted. And that's an experience that you don't want to miss out on: life's too short to stress out about your computer's failings, it turns out.
When I switched to Ubuntu, I realised almost immediately that I could never go back to Windows. It made using my computer fun again. Gone were the boring maintenance chores and slow software that I had gotten used to; now, it was just me and the PC, and whatever I wanted to do with it. It took me a little time to get completely settled in but, after much exploration and experimentation, I found my comfort zone and haven't looked back since.
I wasn't alone on my journey from Windows to Ubuntu, though. I had good support: there were magazine articles, forum posts, online how-to guides and books. It's one book in particular that I'm writing about today, for the simple reason that I'm one of the co-authors!
The difficult 4th book
I've been a fan of Ubuntu for Non-Geeks for a while (in fact, I reviewed the 2nd edition and was the technical reviewer for the third edition). The writing style is friendly and easygoing, and the material is all about "regular" users, the people who aren't professional programmers or hard-core techies. That's in stark contrast to some of the "introductory" Linux books out there, which often can't resist the urge to include a chapter on configuring a webserver or six chapters on the command line*.
This time around, the guys at the publisher, No Starch Press, asked if I'd like to work with Rickford Grant in writing a new edition, updated for the release of Lucid Lynx. I jumped at the chance - I've been a member of the Ubuntu Documentation Team for a long time now, and any opportunity to help a wider audience get to grips with Ubuntu is just fine by me (Ubuntu for Non-Geeks has been a best-seller in its previous incarnations). It's a pretty extensive update, with a bunch of new chapters and appendices, and lots of reworkings of the existing material to make it easier to follow and relevant to the current release of Ubuntu.
How have we approached writing the book? Well, I think exploration is the key to getting along with Ubuntu. If you expect it to be exactly the same as Windows, then you're going to miss out on all of the best bits, and you're going to be disappointed. You need to really dig around in it, see what's on offer, and make the experience your own. Rickford and I want readers of Ubuntu for Non-Geeks to come away with a sense that they've connected with the Ubuntu world, that they "get" what it's all about. You can't do this by bombarding people with list upon list of dry instructions. Our approach was instead to concentrate on doing interesting things, tinkering with settings, working through cool little projects, and generally having some fun, whilst still covering everything that you need to actually use the computer.
Shiny new things
For me, the most important change is the addition of a chapter on working with the Ubuntu community. Interacting with other users adds another dimension to the Linux experience; if you ignore all of the community stuff and try to treat Ubuntu simply as a Windows replacement, you're not going to realise its full potential. Like very many people, I get so much out of being involved in the Ubuntu community, and I wanted to share that with our readers. Lots of other texts go into great detail about the history of Ubuntu and the structure of the community, but that's not so important in my eyes. The good stuff happens when you actually get involved, so it's that side of things that we covered. I defy you to find a book with a better introduction to Ubuntu's IRC channels and forums than ours!
Of course, there were plenty of other changes. There's a chapter devoted entirely to Linux gaming, for example. A chapter on getting Ubuntu to play nicely with Windows. A rather extensive troubleshooting chapter. Take a look at the table of contents (or even the index) to get a feel for what else is in there; I really hope you'll agree that there's a good selection of topics relevant to those just staring out, and plenty for more experienced users to chew over too.
Open Source It!
As I mentioned above, the main reason for my working on this book was the potential to help more people get into Ubuntu. I strongly believe that sharing widens participation, so I've released two of the appendices for your redistributing and remixing pleasure. Both are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license, but I'll be happy to discuss relicensing them if that's too restrictive for you. Here they are, in fancy printable PDF and source (plain text, with colour images) form:
Appendix A: Installing Ubuntu from a USB flash drive [PDF] [Source]
Appendix C: Manually partitioning your hard disk [PDF] [Source]
I'd love for someone to find something cool to do with these. I chose to release them because they stand alone well and because they cover valuable topics. Releasing a 30-page chapter on customising the desktop would have been nice, but it wouldn't have been as useful.
Where can I get the book?
An eBook is already available and the hard copy has been ready for pre-order for a few weeks, but It'll be available in stores in the US from Monday the 12th of July. The UK release should be a few days after. Amazon, Blackwell's, Waterstones and lots of other places will be carrying it. The RRP is US$34.95 / £27.97, but the usual suspects have it for less.
A few review copies are available too. If you're interested in reviewing the book, let me know (philbull AT gmail DOT com) and I'll try to get one for you. Oh, and if you or someone you know gets a copy, by whatever means, please let me know what you think! I'm keen to incorporate suggestions and feedback into the Ubuntu docs, and I'll be interested to hear your opinion anyway.
* There's a place for this stuff. It's not in a book that you're billing as an introduction for end users.
- Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 4th Ed.