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Ubuntu Hacks 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the 101-things-to-do dept.
Ravi writes "I recently got hold of a very nice book on Ubuntu called Ubuntu Hacks co-authored by three authors - Kyle Rankin, Jonathan Oxer and Bill Childers. This is the latest of the hack series of books published by O'Reilly. They have made available a rough cut version of the book online ahead of schedule which was how I got hold of the book but as of now you can also buy the book in print. Put in a nutshell, this book is a collection of around 100 tips and tricks which the authors choose to call hacks, which explain how to accomplish various tasks in Ubuntu Linux. The so called hacks range from down right ordinary to the other end of the spectrum of doing specialised things." Read on for the rest of Ravi's review.
Ubuntu Hacks - Tips and Tools for Exploring, Using and Tuning Linux
author Jonathan Oxer, Kyle Rankin and Bill Childers
pages 447
publisher O'Reilly
rating 9
reviewer Ravi
ISBN 0-596-52720-9
summary This book contains around a 100 hacks in configuring various aspects of Ubuntu.


The book is divided into 10 chapters each containing a collection of hacks on a particular topic.

In the first chapter titled - Getting Started, the authors explains how to install Ubuntu on a Mac and Windows PC, moving data like mail from windows Outlook express to Ubuntu, setting up a printer and more. This chapter contains a total of 14 hacks. And my favorite hack is the one where the authors explains how to create a customized version of Ubuntu Live CD containing ones favourite applications.

The second chapter dwells on the topics related to customizing the Ubuntu desktop. Here the authors give tips to install Java, customize Ubuntu desktop, install additional window managers, synchronizing ones PDA and Pocket PC, just to name a few. This chapter contains around 27 tips. My favourite one here would be how to create PDF files by using the print command from any application in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu like other main stream GNU/Linux distributions is encumbered by the patent restrictions related to various popular multimedia file formats. The net result is one cannot play multimedia files like mp3, wmv or quick time in a default Ubuntu installation. In the chapter titled "Multimedia", one gets to know how to enable audio and video applications bundled with Ubuntu to play these restricted media files.Topics like CD ripping, playing encrypted DVDs and playing any media formats using the all time popular mplayer are also explained in simple detail. But the one hack which takes the prize is that which explains how to buy songs at the iTunes music store and download the music on Linux.

Laptop users have some advantages as well as disadvantages over people using the desktop. And considering that the number of laptop users are ever increasing, there is a need to explain how to configure and take care of ones laptop running Ubuntu - like prolonging the battery life, configuring the wireless card on the laptop, hibernating, setting up bluetooth connection and so on. The 4th chapter contains around 8 detailed tips which deals with these interesting topics related to a laptop. I really liked the tip explaining how to make ones laptop settings roam with ones network which could be quite useful for people who are always on the move.

Chapter five of this well structured book deals exclusively with configuring and fine tuning X11 - the X Windows System. Here one gets to know how to configure ones mouse the old fashioned way by editing the requisite section in the X configuration file.As an example, the authors elaborate on a special case of configuring a seven button mouse with a tilted scroll wheel to work properly in Ubuntu. This chapter additionally contain a slew of tips to configure different difficult to configure hardware like the touch pad, setting up dual head displays, installing and configuring Nvidia, ATI and Matrox proprietary graphics drivers to work in Ubuntu and more.

The next chapter titled "Package Management" has a collection of tips in managing packages. Over and above explaining how to install, remove and update packages using apt-get, synaptic and Adept, this chapter also contain tips on creating ones own Ubuntu package from source, cache packages locally from source and more. I especially found the hack where the authors explain how to create ones own Ubuntu package repository really informative.

The seventh chapter dwells exclusively on Security. Usually Ubuntu for the desktop comes with all the ports closed by default which makes it relatively secure. But in these times of cheap high speed Internet access when a home network is connected to the Internet at all times, it is always prudent to run a firewall on ones machine. In this chapter, the authors explain how to setup a robust firewall using iptables and firewallbuilder and then manage it from the Ubuntu desktop. But that is not all, there are tips on configuring SUDO to limit permissions to different users where one gets to know how to do it the command line way. But my favourite tip in this chapter is the one which explains how to encrypt the file system to protect important data. This chapter contains a total of six in-depth hacks all related to enhancing the security of the machine running Ubuntu.

Ubuntu developers have always persevered in providing easy to use front-ends for conducting the most common system administration tasks - be it creating additional user accounts or managing the services running on ones machine. But at times the user is forced to do system administration tasks the command line way. In this chapter titled "Administration", the authors explain for instance how to compile a kernel from source the Ubuntu way and also ways of installing multiple copies of one kernel version on the same machine which could be useful for testing purpose. There are tips for taking backups as well as restoring them. I found the hack titled "Rescuing an unbootable system" really useful. This hack is in fact a collection of tips where common rescue scenarios are elaborated. I found this chapter full of very useful tips as varied as ways of synchronizing files between different machines, mounting a remote filesystem and even a tip on creating videos by capturing what is done on the desktop which could be really useful when shared with others while seeking help on a particular error.

A virtual machine is a simulated computer-inside-another-computer, allowing one to boot an extra operating system inside the primary environment. The next chapter titled "Virtualization and Emulation" explains the different virtualization and emulation technologies available which allow one to run windows/Dos applications and games in Ubuntu, running Ubuntu inside Windows and so on. Here the authors gives in-depth step-by-step walkthroughs in configuring and running virtualization and emulation technologies such as Xen, VMWare server and Wine which imparts a lot of importance to this chapter.

The final chapter of this excellent book which is also the 10th chapter deals with setting up a small home/office server. Here one gets to know how to install and configure a Ubuntu server from scratch. All the topics like setting up quotas to control disk space usage among users, setting up an SSH server, configuring Apache web server, building an email server, DHCP server, DNS server and so on which are a part and parcel of an office server setup have been given due importance in this chapter.

All the ten chapters combined, there are a total of 100 tips (Oops! hacks) in this unique book which are based on the latest version of Ubuntu - Dapper Drake. What is worth noting is that one is not expected to read the book from cover-to-cover rather, you can flip to the hack you are interested in and carry on from there which makes this book a very good reference for setting up and configuring all things related to Ubuntu. At this point, one might have questions in ones mind whether many of the solutions listed in this book aren't already available on the net in popular Linux/Ubuntu forums. True, with some searching one might be able to get what one is looking for. But if you ask me, it is always nice to have something tangible in ones hands while reading instead of having to stare at the monitor for hours on end. More over, each and every tip in this book has been tested by the authors on the latest version of Ubuntu (Dapper Drake) and is guaranteed to work. In writing this book, it is clear that the authors have put in a lot of hard work in covering all facets of configuring this popular Linux distribution which makes this book a worth while buy.


You can purchase Ubuntu Hacks - Tips and Tools for Exploring, Using and Tuning Linux from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Ubuntu Hacks

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  • by Afrosheen (42464) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:03PM (#15578234)
    I totally agree with the author in that I like having a real book in my hands when I'm working on something new, difficult, etc. I don't think the value of a book can ever be underestimated.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      O RLY?
    • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:08PM (#15578263) Homepage Journal
      Very true. Besides the intangible benefits of having the "real" book, with computer stuff it's always nice to have some hard copy reference material. There will always come a time when the problem you need to fix is keeping you from getting onto the damned Internet to find the fix for your problem.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I don't think the value of a book can ever be underestimated.

      I believe you mean "overestimated." Because this makes it sound like books are worthless...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:50PM (#15578514)
      I like having a real book in my hands when I'm working on something new, difficult, etc.

      Exactly. Nothing better than having a book in your hands to read when taking a shit.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      > I don't think the value of a book can ever be underestimated.

      Underestimated. You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
    • I have to agree there. The reason isn't generally about having a hard copy (although it is nice to have when a system goes tits up) but rather that most tech books are written as page-by-page textbooks. This makes them far easier to follow and learn from than a manual. This is because manual's are generally for reference or very brief introductions to whatever you're trying to learn, they rarely help in actually grokking the subject.

      Most of the time manual's simply outline what functions foo, bar and baz
    • So? Time to get over yourself. I found it pretty useful.

      There comes a point where you judge something on it's value rather than its definition. I couldn't give a flying fuck what slashdot calls it, and I'm not an Ubuntu user, but this looked like a pretty reasonable book for someone who was new.
    • Though the same author wrote a book on Ninnle Linux [ninnlelinux.org] (site may be down), which was excellent. I have no reason to doubt that his latest work on Ubuntu is of similar quality.
  • by GonzoTech (613147) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:06PM (#15578254)
    ... tells a user how to post information on slashdot pertaining to the book itself. An advertisement hack, which is very similar to the wonderful people who write books on, "How to write a book and make a million dollars from it," collections.
  • and even a tip on creating videos by capturing what is done on the desktop which could be really useful when shared with others while seeking help on a particular error.
    Or could be very useful for showing $[RECENTEXWINDOWSUSERRELATIVE] what they did that was a no-no. Plus provide hundreds of chuckles to Linux maestros who get to laugh at the video of the silly user who smacked his system upside the head yet again.
  • distro fragmentation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b17bmbr (608864) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:21PM (#15578333)
    shouldn't most distro hacks be more applicable to any distro, or has linux become too fragmented? every distro has different ways to handle packages, and ubuntu's (synaptic) is a good front end to apt-get. I really like it far better than the rpm methods. however, most "hacks", such as installing LAMP, tuning perforamnce, file sharing, etc., should be mostly the same for all linux distros. I liked the Knoppix hacks from a while ago which was cool in that you could do things like build your own specialty live CD. Things like that are truly hacks. Configuring X or getting DVD's to play in ubuntu are hardly hacks. Ubunut is a great distro and I use it now instead of Fedora or Mandr*.
    • Generally, a "hack" on one distro will work on another if they are related. For instance, I'm pretty sure most of these would work with Debian with minor adjustments. Of course, many such adjustments will also work just fine with Fedora/etc. if you change "apt-get" to "yum" and "sudo" to "su -c".

      In my experiences, one of the main factors tends to be package managment. Does the distro use .deb or .rpm?
      • by Etyenne (4915)

        In my experiences, one of the main factors tends to be package managment. Does the distro use .deb or .rpm?

        It does'nt make any difference. .deb and RPM are just package format; a way to carry files, meta-data and (de)installation scripts. Technically, they are both pretty close in term of functionnalities. The real difference between distro packaging is two-folds : high-level package manager (apt, yum, urpm, yast, emerge, etc), and quality of packaging.

        The two main high-level package manager are apt a

    • by Etyenne (4915)

      however, most "hacks", such as installing LAMP, tuning perforamnce, file sharing, etc., should be mostly the same for all linux distros.

      Hummmm ... no. SysV init management, configuration files localisation (layout of /etc), default configuration of various subsystem, etc vary greatly between distro. Example : Apache configuration. In RedHat and friends, the default config is pretty vanilla, and reside in /etc/httpd. In Debian, it's in /etc/apache2, and the way virtual hosts configuration is managed (s

      • I think you're right, most differences are superficial. where httpd.conf is kept is hardly a matter. I would love to see a single linux, or all of *nix including my OS X, agree on a single location. but since the source compiles the same, i guess it doesn't matter that much. as long as distros stay source compatible, then it probably won't matter too much.
  • Shouldn't it be "100-things-to-do" dept since it has 100 "hacks"? Just an observation...
  • Odd. This is the first story on Ubuntu I've seen without the Debian icon.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ubuntu Hacks - Tips and Tools for Exploring, Using and Tuning Linux

    This reminds me of another nice book I purchased recently:

    A Dozen Hacks - Tips and Tools for Exploring, Using and Tuning Your Mom. [wikipedia.org]

    I found it very useful last night. Although I'm not sure these were really hacks so much as just interesting ways of doing things with your mom.
  • Take Debian, hack it, yield Ubuntu.
  • Use ubuntuforums.org (Score:4, Informative)

    by Bleeblah (602029) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:35PM (#15578435) Homepage
    These sound like basic HOWTOs to me, instead of hacks. And if you need Ubuntu HOWTOs, look no further than www.ubuntuforums.org.
    • These sound like basic HOWTOs to me, instead of hacks. And if you need Ubuntu HOWTOs, look no further than www.ubuntuforums.org.

      Yup. Like so many other interesting concepts, the word hack has been all but destroyed by advertising-savvy editors.

      It may be a great book, and I'm all in favor of people writing and reading books about linux. (Can't say I've ever bought any myself, since I've always been able to find more than enough information online, but I have no objection to them in principle.) But the tit

  • ...this is a book summary, not a book review.

    I'm not saying it isn't useful, nor that it doesn't have a place on /., but it most certainly is not a book review. It's a reasonably helpful summary of contents.

    Tom Caudron
    http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]
  • by WildBill1941 (187641) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @04:46PM (#15578490) Homepage
    Thanks for the positive review of Ubuntu Hacks. As one of its authors, I'm very pleased to see that the book is well received so far. We geared the book for the Dapper Drake release, and doing that was no easy feat as it was a moving target the whole time. We'd write a hack, and then we'd have to continually revise things as the code changed and new features got rolled in. I believe I rewrote the Java hack at least three times, thanks to the fact that Sun relaxed their licensing.

    At any rate; I'm very pleased to see that the book is well accepted. Thanks again for the good review. I'd like to add that we're going to continue to update things at the http://www.ubuntuhacks.com/ [ubuntuhacks.com] blog - there's no real content there at the moment, but as we think of new things or there are new developments in the Ubuntu world we'll keep that site up to date.

    - Bill

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday June 21, 2006 @05:04PM (#15578623) Homepage
    Ubuntu like other main stream GNU/Linux distributions is encumbered by the patent restrictions related to various popular multimedia file formats.

    Actually, what you mean to say is that Ubuntu is not encumbered by the patent restrictions on certain multimedia formats, because it does not include support for those formats.

  • From the book:

    The Dapper Drake release of Ubuntu Linux includes the new gnome-power-manager package, which enables ACPI sleep much like the system-tray power applet in Windows. Finally, sleep "just works" in Linux. The gnome-power-manager applet is configured to start automatically, and it lives in GNOME's panel notification area. If you right-click on the little battery icon, you'll see a menu pop up, as shown in Figure 4-1.

    Figure 4-1. gnome-power-manager in action

    This deceptively simple little applicatio

    • But glib instructions like those in the Ubuntu Hacks book, that assume everything will "just work"

      Sorry, but they did say "Hopefully". That's enough to have the courts didmiss the case. ;)

      Apart from that the ACPI spec isn't apparently fully enabled or implemented in all machines. So the kernel might have been expecting something that wasn't there while the Windows driver was working around it. OTOH it is weird the the usual 4 second press on the power button didn't work, that is a bug somewhere (don't know

      • Yeah, I pushed and held the power button for at least 4 seconds before it went back to sleep.
        Last night I ran a full apt-get update and noted that a new ACPI package was downloaded, so perhaps the problem has been addressed by the developers.

        I realize that getting OS's to work on laptops is especially difficult and don't expect any Linux distro to actually support ACPI 'out of the box' for every laptop that exists. The fact that Ubuntu's live CD booted and ran respectably on my laptop was impressive enough
        • I too know that getting a laptop to "just work" without help from the manufacturer is pretty much a lost cause. Despite my 10+ work with Linux I pretty much gave up on it (can't be bothered to spend hours getting crap to work when I need to get stuff done) and got an iBook for my luggable machine (not overly impressed with the system but it does "just work") and stick to the desktop with Linux where things are much simpler.

          I agree they should have added a bold "this may not work" warning before the "how to
  • I prefer the classic old books on Unix. It should have a chapter on setting up your environment (i.e. .cshrc) and should cover all the important dotfiles. It should have a chapter on ed/ex/vi, preferrably one that starts with the ed commands and branches forward. It needs to have a roff chapter, since that was the first really useful application on Unix. Shell scripting is another must, and should start with /bin/sh and only after that is covered branch into any of the arcana of newer scripting.

    When I f
  • I've used Linux for about 10 years now, and recently helped move RH into an investment bank. But I stay away from it on the workstation these days, and this review is a good example of why...

    And considering that the number of laptop users are ever increasing, there is a need to explain how to configure and take care of ones laptop running Ubuntu - like prolonging the battery life, configuring the wireless card on the laptop, hibernating, setting up bluetooth connection and so on

    A need? Only if someth

    • Try Ubuntu?

      Its the best distro I have seen yet for a pc/notebook. I have a cheap laptop which I assumed would not work at all and I was very surprised that everything from the wifi card to even the 7 in one card reader worked and I didn't have tgo configure anything.

      Ubuntu has a livecd so you can test it out without even installing it. Ubuntu is what Linux desperately needed as most distro's lost stability and focused more on the server.

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