Who Should Use This Book

This book, “The DataBook for Linux Users”, is written for the everyday Linux user who just wants to get a little work done and does not care how the computer works. It is not intended for system administrators – sysadmins – the geeks who have root. If you have root access to a Linux box then this is probably the wrong book for you. If you have no idea what root is, this is probably the right book for you.

Got root? The holder of the root account is the god of Linux. If you have the password to the root account you can do anything on a Linux computer – perhaps things that should not be done without a great deal more experience than you have at this moment considering that you are using this book.

Those of us who are computer geeks help our wives, relatives, friends, and other assorted acquaintances with their computers. Some of those folks we have helped to get started in Linux, including some at work. In most cases, these new Linux users do not care about the fact that they are using the Linux operating system – Open Source, free, secure. They only care about sending and receiving e-mail, doing a little word processing, and using a web browser to get the news or search for web sites related to a hobby, travel, or special interest.

When someone asks one of us geeks how to attach a picture file to an e-mail they want to send, our immediate tendency is to tell them how e-mail works and how JPEG files are constructed before telling them how to do this thing. We enjoy computers and we enjoy sharing our knowledge about them, especially about Linux.

My wife has disabused me of any idea that she cares how anything works. “Just show me how to save this attachment and look at the picture,” she says. So that is what I try to do, usually successfully – sometimes not so much. When I decided to write this book, I decided that it would be for the users who just want to get their work done. My wife and other friends have helped me focus on that target.

You may have had a computer tech drop a computer with Linux on your desk and tell you how to login (perhaps) and provide you a little instruction on starting the e-mail and web browser (probably not) and go on to the next desk. You may have decided to try Linux yourself to see what all the fuss is about and whether a free operating system can do everything you need it to do. Or you may be tired of the Microsoft monopoly making your choices for you and have decided to try a different and, hopefully better way.

Whatever your reasons for using Linux and for using this book it should provide you with the information you need to perform those everyday tasks that will allow you to do the work you need to do. Although I have not tried to provide comprehensive instructions for each feature of the many applications in this book, like the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client or OpenOffice, I have tried to provide sufficient information to make you productive with them, and have tried to make you aware of many of the more advanced features. There are entire books devoted to some of these application programs, and if you need more than we have provided here or than you can get from the Help features of these applications (some of which admittedly leave a great deal to be desired) that is where you should look – the books that provide complete coverage of a particular application.

Many of the programs covered in this book have extensive on-line documentation available for them free of charge just like the programs themselves and some of this documentation is very good. Where this documentation is available, I have tried to provide links to give you easy access to it.

How to Use This Book

This is not a book that should be read from cover to cover. Rather, it should be used as a reference. Keep it close at hand and use it when you need to know how to do something. You should also note that this book is a work in progress. It will likely never be finished in the true sense of the word in the old-fashioned hard-copy world.


In this book I have tried to explain why certain things are done in the way that they are. I have always hated trying to help users who have been told to do things in a certain way, but it was never explained why that was “the correct way” to do that particular task. In many cases it was not only the incorrect way to do a particular task, it was so convoluted and involved so many steps that it was easy to make mistakes. In many cases substituting a single step process accomplished the same end much faster and with far less pain.

Pot Roast

To use a non-computer related illustration, the ways in which people do things on a computer is like the woman who was preparing a roast for Sunday dinner. Just before she placed the roast in the roasting pan, she cut about two inches off the small end of the roast. Her daughter, having noticed this small step many times before, asked, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what,” asked the woman who did this so automatically that she did not even realize that she was doing it.

“Cut off the end of the roast.”

“I don’t know exactly, I never thought about it,” said the woman, “my mother always did that.”

So they called the woman’s mother who told them that she did it because her own mother had cut the end off the roast before placing it in the roasting pan. But she did not know why.

Well, of course they had to call grandmother who was still living – fortunately for this story. When asked about this step in meat preparation, grandmother said, “oh, I just did that because when your grandfather and I were married, I didn’t have a roasting pan. All I had was a small pot, so I cut off the end of the roast to fit in the pot.”

So very many computer users do things because they were told to do them – or observed them being performed – in a particular way without understanding why. I suspect the reason is that I have never seen any attempt at really teaching users in a new job how to properly use the tools at their disposal, especially computers. Most are put at a desk with a computer and given an account ID and password and expected to be able to use the programs on the computer. No real training is provided.

Most people end up asking their cube neighbors little questions designed to get them over the current hurdle, but they never really get the big picture. This lack of training is endemic in the business world today and causes an incredible lack of productivity. Far more money could be saved by proper training than would be spent to obtain that training.

I hope that this book will help to resolve the training issue. Although nothing can substitute for a good hands-on training class, I believe that this reference book will give you the information, skills, and procedural knowledge to quickly become productive performing daily tasks with a Linux computer.

Versions of Linux

This book is based on versions of Red Hat Linux and Red Hat Fedora Linux, but it is applicable to many other distributions of Linux as well. In fact, some of the examples and illustrations are are based upon Ubuntu or Kubuntu which is becoming very popular.

This book will not become obsolete when another version of Linux or Open Office is released. Almost everything that works for these versions of Red Hat and Fedora Linux. as well as Ubuntu or Kubuntu and the applications covered in this book will work with other versions too. The actual fact is that the version of Linux is not very important. Over time features may change or be added but the basic tasks that this book covers will not really change very much.

What is Not Covered

Although this book is designed to give you the skills and knowledge to be productive, I cannot cover every aspect of each program discussed here. I will try to provide you with the knowledge to do the things that most users need to do, but some of the more esoteric tasks will be left for other books.

In the case of virtually all of the programs covered, such as LibréOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox, and so on, an entire book could be devoted to each, and in all of these cases there is already at least one book completely devoted to that program. My purpose is not be exhaustive in my coverage of each task or program, but to get you productive as quickly as possible and provide you with the ability and tools to learn or discover more on your own.

I do, however ask for your comments about things that should be included or things that do not work as I have shown them in this book. I want to make all possible corrections so that the next edition of this book is as complete and accurate as I can make it.

The Organization of This Book

This book is organized into major sections that directly relate to the tasks that most users need to do on a regular basis.

Section 1 covers the basic tasks required before you can even begin to do useful work.

Section 2 covers using e-mail and browsing the web. These are only two of the most common uses for the Internet, but nearly everyone who has access to a computer does one or both of these things.

Section 3 covers word processing and spreadsheets.

Section 4 covers Personal Information Managers (PIM).

Section 5 covers graphics.

Section 6 covers multimedia.

Section 7 discusses advanced topics and some administrative tasks that you can perform even when the system administrator is not available.

Note: This organization may change as the book grows and evolves. And as it grows, it may seem to you that its growth is haphazard and makes little or no sense. I have found in the past, when writing the DataBook for OS/2, that writing about things I experienced recently is much easier than writing about things that are more distant. If I have a problem that I work on and solve today, I will likely write it up and stick it in the book where it makes the most sense.

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