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Ubuntu For Non-Geeks, 3rd Edition: A Big Thumbs Up
Computers are not intuitive. Computers are abstract, and trying to tie abstract concepts like directories, files, and interfaces to paper folders and files, and physical desktops creates more confusion. I prefer a direct approach: show me. Which "Ubuntu For Non-Geeks, 3rd Edition: A Pain-Free, Project-Based, Get-Things-Done Guidebook" does in a most excellent fashion.
The classic RTFM advice (read the fine manual) has never been good enough. It's better to point out which manual and which page or section. And then you are still at the mercy of the fine manual: does it really help the reader? Or is it a more typical geek-spew that almost, but not quite, makes sense only to someone who already knows everything about the subject?
Writing good howtos is hard. Computers are completely literal and don't fill in the blanks for you. If a howto leaves out a step, or includes too many steps, it's going to leave the reader frustrated and confused. So I have a special appreciation for excellent books like "Ubuntu For Non-Geeks". It does not waste the readers' time with endless windy discussions of theory and concepts, and then leave the reader wondering how to do anything. It gets right to the point and takes a project-oriented approach, showing how to accomplish specific tasks, and uses lots of screenshots so the reader knows exactly what to do, and if they're doing it the right way.
The author, Rickford Grant, takes a conversational tone with bits of humor and funny wordplay. And the humor is just right, a bit of seasoning that does not get in the way of getting to the point. For example, here are some of the chapter titles:
"Aliens, Tarballs, a Glass of Wine, and a Cup of Joe: More Ways to Install Programs"
"Polyglot Penguins: Linux Speaks Your Language"
"Couch Penguins: Video and DVD Playback in Ubuntu"
And my favorite: "Gutenbird: Setting Up and Using Your Printer and Scanner."
The whole book remains tightly focused on the desktop, and does not get distracted with system or network administrator howtos. It covers all those subjects that your friends continually pester you about after you have successfully converted them into Linux users, such as multimedia management and playback, localization and languages, font management, using basic productivity applications, managing digital photos, managing multiple users, desktop customizations, a good friendly and useful introduction to the command-line, package management, connecting to the Internet, and a whole lot more. It even comes with a Hardy Heron CD.
I loaned this book to a couple of non-guru friends to try out, and they did very well with it. Both of them were able to find pertinent answers quickly, which I daresay is more rewarding than getting a thousand hits on a question on Google, only to find out it's a thousand other people with the same problem and no solution.
If you're a Linux novice, or an experienced user who wants a good book to recommend, I give this book a big thumbs up.
Disclosure: I have written books for O'Reilly Media, who distribute No Starch Press books, and am writing "Building a Computer Sound Studio With Audacity" for No Starch Press.