Linux Mint Essentials by Jay LaCroix.
Packt Publishing 2014
Review by Jon Jermey
Packt Publishing (www.packtpub.com) is a technical book company based in Birmingham in the UK, although some of their employees appear to be located in India. They produce a wide range of books, mainly focused on Internet technologies. Their previous Linux-based productions include books on CentOS, shell scripting, Kali Linux, Arch Linux and Linux Mint administration. At 329 pages, Linux Mint Essentials is one of their longer efforts. The book is aimed at new users of Linux and Mint, It’s priced on the website at $A25.49 for an ebook edition in Mobi or EPUB, and $A49.99 for a print version with the ebook version included. Print and Kindle versions are also available through Amazon, and a print version through Barnes & Noble. I used the PDF and EPUB versions in writing this review.
The layout of the book is unimaginative but clean, and largely text-based. There are graphics – usually screenshots – every few pages, but not always at the most helpful points. The EPUB version makes better use of colour than the PDF and printed versions, but as usual it seems to have been regarded as a by-product of the printing process rather than a valuable format in its own right – straight quotes appear rather than smart quotes, for instance. Both versions have a hyperlinked tables of content and an index. The usual typographic conventions are used to indicate tips, tricks and terminal commands.
The book begins with an overview of Linux and distros in general, making a few of the usual odious comparisons disparaging Microsoft Windows and the Apple Macintosh system. I know this is a common tactic, and I’ve done it myself, but perhaps it’s time the Linux community just let it stand on its merits. There’s a tip of the hat to Ubuntu, but not to Debian. The release cycle is gone over lightly, and mention is made of the official support forums.
Chapter 2 starts with an overview of the various Mint ‘spins’ – MATE, Cinnamon, KDE and XFCE – and goes on to talk about creating and testing live media. (The semi-rolling release spin Mint Debian is not covered in the book.) The author takes us through the installation process step by step with a close attention to detail that may make the reader wonder why he said it was all so easy just a chapter ago. But this is probably the single most important section for new users, so it’s worth the attention.
In Chapter 3 we’re introduced to Cinnamon and its features – the program menu, panels, workspaces, notifications, themes and launchers – and get a brief overview of some bundled software. We meet Nemo and look at the system settings, and take a slightly off-topic excursion into changing the default Firefox search engine. Jay’s instructions are brief but clear, but given the cussedness of things in general, a new user will probably still want to have an experienced friend standing by when they try them out.
Chapter 4 takes us on to the Terminal, and I can’t help wondering how many readers will close the book at this point. Certainly anyone moving over from Windows has a right to be surprised and disappointed when they learn how much reliance many Linux users still place on the Terminal window. Jay covers it well, but perhaps this should have gone later in the book.
Chapter 5 covers storage and removable media, disk burning and UUIDs, Chapter 6 describes software installation and package management, and gets extra points for mentioning the extremely useful FileZilla package. Chapter 7 starts by describing codecs and goes on to talk about multimedia files and players. Banshee gets a mention but not, alas, Clementine.
Chapter 8 describes users and permissions, and again I wonder how relevant this will be to new users. Surely someone who needs to do this is going to be savvy enough to work it out for themselves. It’s also heavily Terminal-based – a sure turnoff. The same is true of Chapter 9, on networking. My experience of this stuff has always been that if it goes right you don’t need any help at all, and if it goes wrong you need far more help than a chapter of this length can possibly provide. None of this is a reflection on the author, though, who covers the material well. And FileZilla makes a return appearance.
Chapter 10 deals usefully with security, encryption, firewalls and virus protection. It goes over the Backup Tool, which I’ve never found a use for (non-incremental backups? You must be joking!) and gets way technical with image snapshots and system hardening, well beyond the scope of the new users at whom the book is mainly directed. Chapter 11 is a grab-bag of advanced administration techniques, which includes useful information about moving to a new release.
Chapter 12 – Troubleshooting – brings us back to earth with a bump. I would much rather have seen this earlier in the book, but the information is here and most of it is extremely useful. It has a section on resolving audio problems, for which Mint is well-known, not to say notorious.
There are three detailed appendixes. Appendix A covers retaining data during reinstallation or upgrades. Appendix B is about MATE and how it differs from Cinnamon, and Appendix C covers KDE – there’s nothing more on XFCE, however. The use of Appendixes to cover these spins means that non-Cinnamon users are going to be doing a lot of flipping back and forth, and it illustrates the chief problem that all of us have when writing about something as amorphous as a Linux distro; just what is inside the boundaries, and what is not?
Summing up, Jay has done an excellent job with the writing, and Packt has done an excellent job with the presentation. I only found one typo – ‘Formating’, on page 95. My main concern is that the new users who will benefit most from this book may find themselves rather overwhelmed by material that they’re not ready for and may never need to know. But there’s always a fine line between satisfying curiosity and inspiring imagination. And it’s precisely the elegant and intuitive design of Mint which makes it hard to say things about it that aren’t already obvious.
Disclaimer: I was asked to write this review by the publisher, but I have no financial connection with them and my opinions are my own.