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Book:   Linux Desktop Hacks
Subject:   Book Review: Linux Desktop Hacks
Date:   2005-05-10 10:10:30
From:   Dan C
Rating:  StarStarStarStarStar

“Linux Desktop Hacks”, by Nicholas Petreley and Jono Bacon, is a recent book published by O’Reilly in March 2005. It provides 100 “hacks” to improve the workability, performance, and cosmetic appeal of your Linux desktop environment. Be advised that “hacks” in this context might be better defined as “customizations” or “configuration improvements”. It’s just over 300 pages, and has a list price of $24.95.


The book seems well organized, and includes chapters on booting and login, console functions, general X usage, the KDE and Gnome environments, commonly used applications, hardware tweaks, and system administration (including compiling a kernel). There is also a decent index at the end of the book.


I must admit that my first impression of the book after picking it up was that it was yet another “Intro to Linux” book for newbies. After spending a little time with it, however, I have come to find that there are many tips and tricks in here that will prove very useful even to experienced users. Some of the improvements discussed have become items that I now use frequently.


One of the procedures that I have already used was the taking a screenshot of an X session screen from another login console. This can be very helpful with showing the progress of an installation routine, for example. I had known this capability existed, but this “hack” was explained very clearly and was very easy to use. Another section that cleared up some mysteries for me was how to run X applications remotely over a network (VNC), allowing me to run a program on one machine, and display it on another. Very handy for less capable machines on the LAN.


Some of the other tips that I look forward to trying are getting some keyboard “multimedia keys” to work properly (using the program Lineak), converting email client mailboxes from one format to another, scanning for wireless networks in the area, getting email notifications for certain system events, and doing backups over the local network. There are many other tricks that may be useful to some people too, such as playing restricted media formats (DVD’s), making KDE more pleasant to use, customizing bootloader splash screens, and using the iPod and iRiver devices.


Overall I’ve found this book to be fun, interesting, and helpful. One good feature given for each “hack” is an indicator that tells the relative skill level needed for each procedure (beginner, moderate, expert). In any case, though, the steps are well explained and should be quite clear to anyone wanting to try it. I would recommend this book to Linux users of all skill levels. It appears to me that O’Reilly has another winner here in it’s excellent “Hacks” series of books. More details about the book can be seen in the O’Reilly catalog, here: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/linuxdeskhks/ . Well done (as usual) to O’Reilly Publishing!