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Point and click Linux!

  • Robin 'Roblimo' Miller
  • Prentice Hall
  • 0131488724

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I groaned when I first looked at this book. First, there's that exclamation point in the title. Bitter experience has taught me that an exclamation point usually means something I am not interested in. Second, there are "Easy to follow videos on DVD" included with the book. That's often an "Uh-Oh" by itself. Then there's a splash above the title

Have Linux up and running in 5 minutes or less 
with the incredible SimplyMEPIS bootable CD-ROM

Did they really say "incredible"? Another warning to give this a wide berth.

Finally, the author: Robin "Roblimo" Miller. Roblimo? Excuse me, but Tony "cutesy nicknames turn me off" Lawrence really doesn't want to read this.

But, I've been wrong about covers before. After all, it's some marketing type that designs these things, so the author isn't necessarily an idiot. And considering the target audience, maybe the marketing person isn't either. So, I popped the DVD into my Mac and let it play. That could have been a mistake. "Roblimo" is well on the geeky side, and the audio volume went up and down in different sections. I could not bear to play the whole thing, but strangely I wasn't entirely turned off. Somebody like Leo Laporte could have made a more smoothly professional DVD, but it was better than I thought it would be. Amateurish, yes, but strangely, it wouldn't have turned me off if I were less familiar with the subject matter.

So I turned to the book itself, and here I was actually mildly impressed. No, better than that: this is pretty good, and is probably excellent for its intended audience of brand new to Linux folk. You could hand this to your uncle Fred and he might not even call you in a panic. At least not for a few days - I think that Fred could get it running and actually be using Linux productively with just this. The combination of the book and the DVD actually is just what is needed for Fred and all the other neophytes, and they probably won't mind the "!" as much as I did.

Finally, I popped in the CD itself. I hesitated on this because I haven't had great luck with Knoppix and similar things - not usually their fault, but the extra hardware here that I'm willing to shutdown for even five minutes is all stuff with various problems like troublesome video cards that Linux doesn't handle well, weird motherboards, and other unpleasantries. The only machine I can ever get to for very long is my wife's laptop, and of course that's only when she's off somewhere else, and Knoppix just goes blank on that (yes, I've tried vga=normal and other things). To my happy surprise, SimplyMEPIS booted and came up. It's a Debian based distro, with 2.6 kernel (and a 2.4 as an alternate on the CD). The origin of the name isn't really explained - I found something saying that it has something to do with Memphis, Egypt (the pyramids in the logo are rather suggestive of that), but the FAQ says the name was "discovered accidentially", whatever that means. Well, a little mystery never hurt anyone. I'm just happy it runs well, and it does. You can download MEPIS from http://www.mepis.org/ if you personally have no need of the book or DVD.

But for uncle Fred or sister Sal, this book/CD/DVD might be an excellent way to gently introduce them to something better than Windows. A little more expensive than a free CD download, but then again, you won't have to spend hours on the phone explaining silly things - that's a trade-off most of us would be happy to make. So, in spite of my initial raised eyebrows, I can end up recommending this - not for most of the folks who might read this, but as something to give to a newbie. And to "Roblimo", well, Tony "I was wrong again" Lawrence apologizes for the deep groan I emitted when I first saw this.

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