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Linux Annoyances For Geeks 445

Taran Rampersad writes "Every now and then, someone comes up with a fun title. 'Linux Annoyances for Geeks' is a definitely fun - and accurate - title for this book. While some people have been fiddling with Linux since it first came out, the majority of Linux users haven't been. I started using Linux in the late 90s, and my work schedule didn't allow me to go to meetings, or track down people who knew things. And the first time you do an install on a machine, you may be disconnected from the very information that gets you connected. Been there, done that. So this book attracted me because despite being an advocate of Free Software and Open Source, there are times when I still type very naughty things on the command line. Read the rest of Taran's review.
Linux Annoyances For Geeks
author Michael Jang
pages 484
publisher O'Reilly
rating 8/10
reviewer Taran Rampersad
ISBN 0-596-00801-5
summary Answers to intermediate questions for Linux users.

Most of the time, I had fiddled with a previous install and gotten it the way I wanted it to work — when I had to do it again with a different install, I'd forgotten how I did it in the first place. There have been times, honestly, where I didn't even know. Fortunately, life has become better. There are books now. Some even come with Linux distributions, and there's plenty of documentation online that you can print out in advance when you go install things on your only connection to the Internet.

But there aren't that many books that really deal with the things that are annoyances, because the annoyances usually come from the late phone calls or the unanswered emails on a list. That's what this book is supposed to be for.

In reading this book, I caught myself nodding a lot. Not to sleep, mind you, but the, "I've seen that before" nod. The descriptions of the desktop environments, GNOME and KDE, started me nodding. Here's an idea of what the book covers:

Configuring a Desktop Environment: There's a great section on KDE and GNOME in here that starts the book off with a bang. Custom login menus, configuring standard backgrounds, desktop icons, oversized desktops and undersized monitors, Naughty mouse syndrome, Naughty users mess up the desktops, the infamous 'broken CD/DVD' problem, No GUI Syndrome, user downloads causing problems and ... sound. This chapter isn't one that I really had personal use for, but when people start asking questions — this is where they start. Great reference material here for desktop-finicky users.

Configuring User Workstations: Backing up data with rsynch and cron explained (where was this in 1999?), 'lost' files, 'lost' data... this chapter is one of my favorites, because people keep asking me about stuff like this. And dealing with Windows folks who complain that there's no ZIP — well, I wish I heard more of that.

Optimizing Internet Applications: I think that optimizing Internet applications is probably one of the largest problems out there, but I haven't really heard anyone ask about any of this. It's very strange. I think the world would be a better place if people read this chapter — from getting Firefox to work properly, sorting email into folders (yes, you can do that...), this covers a lot of ground in a very short space. My personal favorite was converting data from Outlook, which I have never done. Hidden in there are some tips on dealing with Microsoft Exchange Servers.

Setting Up Local Applications: This chapter focuses a lot on getting that irate I-am-new-to-Linux-and-I-want-my-toys person happy. It's filled with converting goodness, PDF inoculations and points you at the cure. And for those users who want movie players, there's something in here for them as well.

Installation Annoyances: This is probably the part of the book that will see the most use. There's a quote in here that I love: "Any A+ certified technician can list the hardware components on a computer. A Linux geek can cite the compatible components, such as the chipsets associated with a specific wireless card. He can use this information to compile the most efficient kernel for his system." So true. This chapter points you at the right resources and walks you through planning an installation. Which is priceless, even as a reminder for geeks.

Basic Start Configuration: Long boot times, bootloader issues, the ever-present dual-booting problems, the 'boot reboot repeat' problem, and my personal favorites, "I lost the password for Root!" and "My Server is So Secure that I can't log in as root". This chapter is pure gold.

Kernel Itches and Other Configuration Annoyances: Kernel upgrades, recompiles, kernel panic, 'file not found' boot error, NFS and Samba directory walkthroughs, and the infamous 'regular users can't mount the CD/DVD. Let's not forget dealing with Microsoft formatted partitions.

System Maintenance: Corrupted Partitions, emergency backups when the hard drive is knocking, small /home directories, slow hard drives, Update Repositories (not to be confused with User Suppositories), Dependency Hell solutions with yum and apt... platinum chapter for the troubleshooters out there.

Servicing Servers: Service Options, enabling downloading of files and , email issues when it is down, 'lost-printer syndrome', the BIND and growing network issue and the 'Windows Computers aren't on the network' issue. All rolled up here in Chapter 9.

User Management: Just about everything you would need to know about administering users, from special groups to keeping former employees from accessing the server, to securing the user (without duct tape).

Administration Tips: A lot of good things here for administrators; my personal favorite being configuring the Linux Gateway. Lots of great stuff in here.

For the life of me, I don't know why Chapter 5, Installation Annoyances, isn't Chapter 1. That seems to be where I've spent the most time helping other people out. The good news is that because it is where it is, the book stays open by itself here. Still, I think that might scare someone walking in while you're troubleshooting an installation. They might wonder what the 173 pages before installation problems was about. In fact, that could be funny... That's about the only thing that I could say I think is a bit off about the book, but perhaps that's by design. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

One of the things I liked most about this book was the fact that the chapters aren't named for the solutions; they are named by the problems. So when you're having a problem, you can find the solution.

Overall, this book meets the criteria for being next to my monitor, for quick reference in helping people out (including the worst one, me!). I haven't had the opportunity to use it's contents yet for Ubuntu, but since the book's solutions include Debian, they should work fine. As the author says in the preface, "The solutions are designed for three of the more prominent Linux distributions: Fedora Core, SUSE, and Debian." It would be interesting to see how it does with the Mandriva distribution.

In the Linux world, there are those that read and there are those that bleed. Those that bleed write what others read. This book was written in blood. It allows the leaders, the bleeders and the readers a means of finding their way around some of the annoyances that crop up. It does so in a well written manner which is well thought out, and amusing when you'll need to be amused.

( Original review on

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Linux Annoyances For Geeks

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  • Copy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Crowhead ( 577505 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:13PM (#15534792)
    & paste.
  • by asv108 ( 141455 ) <asv@ivoss. c o m> on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:14PM (#15534799) Homepage Journal
    This book seems more like a "Desktop Linux Configuration Guide" than annoyances book. My original understanding of the annoyances series was that the books were for making OS's like OSX and Windows more habitable for say people with a UNIX background.
  • Awesome! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:15PM (#15534816)
    Sounds like something to enhance/replace my personal "cheat sheet" of stuff I do to make a bare Slackware install sing for me. And my birthday's next more thing for the list
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:26PM (#15534896)
    Where is "Case Sensitivity" on this list? I mean, have you really ever used CASE to distinguish two different files? (Worse, have you ever had to try to describe cased files over the phone?)
  • by Toreo asesino ( 951231 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:43PM (#15535027) Journal
    Well folks, i've been meaning to write this down anyway; here seem's like the perfect place.

    Now, I am a 100% Win fan. I love it; things just work. But, I have made the switch to Linux (Fedora Core 5) at home, seeing as it does 99% of what I want. After a couple of months of constant, un-interupted use, my biggest issues with Linux are broadly thus:

    1. No fecking media support! I get XMMS inform me on first attempt at playing an MP3 that it won't because of licensing conflict. Wtf? Codecs for avi's and DVDs were a simular story; all had to be downloaded via yum (bloody excellent tool!). Seriously; not good, but fixed in the end.

    2. Why the hell do I have to install a new kernel? Why? I've never had to on Windows - why is Linux different? Is it so buggy? I installed with a factory version something ending 054. Now I have something ending 122 I believe. I did it ok, but that's not the point I'm making; were there really 68 cock-ups so great in the kernel build from release-time until that now they had to re-release 68 times? I'm guessing probablly not, but still.

    3. Point 2 also breaks my nvidia drivers. I don't want to re-compile new drivers everytime there's a new 'patch'. For the love of god, why?!

    4. X-Windows. What a mess. Why do I have to tell it my x & y refresh rates for my monitor? Windows just 'knows'. Many more things here I feel that X-Windows should just 'know' - the number of buttons on my USB mouse for-instance. If Windows can do it, there's no reason why Linux can't. Also, X-Windows 'feels' slower than Windows. I'm sure there's good reasons for this, but I don't care; Windows is snappier.

    5. Lack of decent file-browser. The best I've come across is Nautilus in a mode that resembles Windows Explorer. It'll do for now, but as far as I'm aware, offers no context-sensitive menus for applications (like the Winamp "Play in Winamp" right-click menu on folders.

    Actually, I think that's largely it. In all, Linux has, and is continuing to be great fun to play with. So many cool tools - yum being one of them. I'll stick to Linux @ home; it can only get better, but I'd be interested to know what people think of the above points - any suggestions maybe? I want this to work after all...

    -Sr. Samwel.
  • by Gnavpot ( 708731 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @04:57PM (#15535127)
    My favourite annoyance is the default behaviour of 'cp'. Unless I add additional command line arguments, the file date will be changed into today's date. I don't want that. I cannot imagine why anyone would want that so much that it is the default behaviour.

    At least it has been changed in Konqueror now. Two years ago I trashed the dates of some 100s of vacation photos by using Konqueror on a Knoppix CD to copy them from the camera card and clear the card afterwards. Konqueror on my Ubuntu Dapper Drake doesn't seem to do this. Nautilus doesn't either.
  • Re:My #1 annoyance: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @05:08PM (#15535196)
    Jealous /.ers because the parent got modded Funny ... and they didn't
  • Re:Copy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @06:41PM (#15535902)
    You see, that is PRECISELY what is wrong with so many things in Linux - "These days there are lots of _____ for Linux". There are some things for which there should be just one. Great example is the system clipboard (emphasis on "the" - ie just one). What you describe is just a workaround for the egos of those geeks that refuse to use someone else's "inferior" clipboard.
  • Re:#1 solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by foamrotreturns ( 977576 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @07:24PM (#15536196)
    "If you can't figure this out, you're not good enough to be part of our club."
    That is exactly the mentality that is keeping Linux off the desktop. The problems that most people have are far from insurmountable if they are given the right kind of guidance - the real hurdle that's holding back Linux on the desktop is these elitists who won't offer that kind of guidance because they do see Linux as a trial by fire. As long as that's the case, this powerful, versatile operataing system will remain in a constant state of obscurity, pushed aside by inferior operating systems with more supportive, friendly and helpful experts backing them.
  • Linux Annoyances (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NullProg ( 70833 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @08:45PM (#15536644) Homepage Journal
    For everyone who has problems with Linux, whether your using/installing SuSE, FC4, Ubuntu, Slackware, etc. Go to []. You won't get RTFM responses. No I'm not affliated with the web site and have no vested interest.

    Slashdot, while being a great forum, is not the place to get Linux help,

  • Re:#1 solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TCM ( 130219 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:01PM (#15536724)
    Wow, is this some perverted politically-correct version of NetBSD's wtf(1)?

    Here are the correct ones:
    $ wtf is rtfm
    RTFM: read the fine/fucking manual
    $ wtf is wtf
    WTF: {what,where,who,why} the fuck
  • Re:My #1 annoyance: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) * <> on Thursday June 15, 2006 @02:16AM (#15538064) Homepage Journal
    My home directory fills 200GB of a 250GB drive. And you want me to make a backup?!

    Almost three hundred CD-Rs. Or a little over forty DVD+Rs.

    No cracks about pr0n, please.

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