My Dad, a long time DOS and now frustrated Windows user, is looking to experiment with Linux. He'll probably try Knoppix, Mandrake, and maybe Lindows (after version 4.0 is out).

However, he'd also like a good book--one that doesn't assume he's a complete moron but also doesn't assume any knowledge of Unix. He gets directory structures, text vs. binary files, and so on. He's not a programmer. He wants to use e-mail, browse the web, use his printer, scanner, and camera. He'll need to organize pictures and perform other "normal people" tasks. Despite what neighbors and relatives think, he's not a computer expert (anymore).

Since I'm clearly not the target audience for such a book, I'm seeking recommendations. Ideally the book would focus more on concepts and low-level skills rather than being distribution specific. Then again, if the only good books are about a specific distribution (RedHat), we'll have to go with that.

What should I suggest?

Posted by jzawodn at May 27, 2003 02:28 PM

Reader Comments
# Bill said:

I've recommend Running Linux from O'Reilly. When a bunch of QA folks started at my last job, they asked some of the developers for similar recommendations to what your dad is looking for. After some searching & browsing at Op-Amp, we pointed them to that & they found it pretty helpful.

One additional thought -- I've found that people have a better time groking underlying concepts if they have two things: 1) an environment they can dork around with the concept on (e.g., it's one thing to read the man page on find, it's another to get it working in all it's permutations), and 2) it's nice if you can focus on that one chunk, and not have to worry about little bits of minutia. Iíve found those are areas where the distro can make a difference. Iíve used Slackware, Redhat, Debian, and for the last few years, Mandrake. Over the weekend, in attempting to get my wireless card to work under linux, I gave Redhat 9.0 a drive. *WOW*. It made things remarkably easy, and struck me as something would make the transition from Windows -> Linux a heck of a lot easier. Donít get me wrong itís not prefect, and once your dad is comfortable, itís probably worthwhile having him check out other distributions, etc. (just to get a feel for what the differences are), but Redhat 9 might be a good way to enter into the shallow end of the pool.

on May 27, 2003 05:30 PM
# r0kawa said:

I've this book, Multitool Linux, focusing on using the application in Linux. Not sure it's suitable for your dad.

Try the url above for user's comment.

on May 27, 2003 06:00 PM
# Billthemarmet said:

I couldnt recommend a book. But I'm with the first Bill. Redhat 9 is easiest to install, and get running. Just pop in the CD, boot up and it installs almost as easy as windows. Just make sure you go on the redhat site and fnd out if he has supported hardware. No software based winmodems. Linux doesnt support the driver. Sound cards give me the worst trouble too. Linux seems to like soundblaster a lot.

on May 27, 2003 06:02 PM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Dummies isn't bad. Running Linux is the book I found most useful (in addition to having you on my IM buddy list). Linux in a Nutshell has also been great for looking up commands.

on May 27, 2003 07:57 PM
# Joe Grossberg said:

If he's the type of computer user who would prefer AbiWord to emacs, and isn't interested in working on the command line, writing his own apps and understanding what the hell a Linux Kernel is ... then I highly recommend Peachpit Press' "Red Hat Linux Visual Quickstart Guide":

The big problem is that the book was written for RedHat 6. And even though the author still writes for Peachpit, and they release lots of new titles, that particular book hasn't been updated. :(

Even if he is a "power user" or an aspiring hacker, O'Reilly's "Learning RedHat Linux" is far more appropriate than "Running Linux", even if the former gets mixed reviews at Amazon.

on May 27, 2003 08:12 PM
# Will said:

Would your father be willing to try OS X ?

I know this doesn't answer your question, but it sounds like he would be the perfect candidate to 'switch'.


on May 28, 2003 03:15 AM
# Jason said:

As a SuSE user, I would actually feel comfortable suggesting SuSE 8.2 Personal edition. Not only does it come with everything you need, but it also comes with a nice handy book that is fairly complete. The book covers most of the tools that a normal person would use, and how to use these tools. Heck, it's even good to review if you aren't new. It's a pretty complete, solid book, and I don't get the feeling that they just hashed it out quickly. For sure, it's not a best seller in it's own right, but when compared to other manuals from other OS's or Distro's, it's a gem. But I would strongly recommend SuSE to either a new linux user (worked for converting my old boss) or even a long time user.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any books to buy for a normal user wanting to learn Linux. I didn't buy any myself. However, there is also's reviews to help with that.

on May 28, 2003 03:45 AM
# Scott St. John said:

I would second Suse 8.2, while maybe not my favorite it does come with 2 manuals and we are not talking tiny books, they are decent size on how to use not only Suse, but many of the programs included with it like KMail, scanner apps, photo apps, etc. So check out the Pro edition.

on May 28, 2003 05:48 AM
# Michael said:

I whileheartedly recommend the books by Marcel Gagne (he of the French chef penguin). Look on Amazon. One sysadmin book (get that!) and one new book that includes a knoppix CD.


on May 28, 2003 07:11 AM
# BOK said:

Well, maybe your ol' man isn't exactly an admin, maybe this bok *could* be useful to him anyway:

Linux for Windows Administrators

on May 28, 2003 07:30 AM
# me said:

If he isn't very technical, I would recommend using SuSE Linux and just reading the docs that come with it in book form, because they are great and installation is very easy.

If he is technical, Running Linux by O'reilly is wonderful.

on May 28, 2003 09:40 AM
# Roustem said:
on May 29, 2003 01:31 PM
# Jason G said:

Check out Jon Lathrop's book, "Linux in Small Business: A Practical User's Guide". Concise, and to the point. Lots of good information for a newbie.


on May 29, 2003 08:43 PM
# Magnus Mellin said:

My money is also on SuSE Pro 8.2, easy to install - and keep up to date thanks to YaST2 - and two great guides are included:
one "User guide" to get things started, one "Administration guide" for future reference.
The "User Guide" covers everything from the KDE desktop and OpenOffice to scanning, CD-burning and a brief intro to the Shell.

on May 30, 2003 11:53 PM
# Einar said:

I would recommend looking at A COURSE IN THE UNIX OPERATING SYSTEM
by Martin Wynne that can be found at

The course deals with command line and as someone who has just switched from W§&"&%%/ows to Linux I must say this course freely available online looks alrighty - you can even buy a printed copy from the author if you need one that can be taken to bed :-)

on June 2, 2003 02:29 PM
# Scott Johnson said:

Two words:

Redhat 9

I don't know what book but I'd take that over Mandrake in a hot second. Heck a hot microsecond.

on June 3, 2003 05:42 PM
# brian gulino said:

"Unix for the Impatient" is a well written, implementation independent description of Unix. It was my first book about Unix, and I still refer to it often.

I'm 53, probably about your dad's age.

on June 4, 2003 11:19 AM
# Sharper said:


and subtopics for a ton of reviews about various Linux books on different topics.

on June 4, 2003 01:14 PM
# LenZ said:

Call me biased as I have worked for SuSE before, but SuSE Linux would be my recommendation, especially because of the high quality and quantity of information provided along with the Software.

on June 5, 2003 11:30 AM
# adam kay said:

For s distro I would pick RH 9.0. I recently installed RH 9.0 fresh and it was a clean install with NO problems. In fact apps that were installed with previous version and required a lot of work to get working seem to install better and work after minimal configuration. (Samba was a breeze to get working, with printing on a XP box !!!)

For a book consider Learning Red Hat Linux (3rd Edition) by Bill McCarty from O'Reilly. Even better, look at Safari, O'Reilly's online books.

on June 13, 2003 10:24 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.