Free and open source software is all about sharing so, prompted by a reader who emailed me last week to ask about books on Linux, I spent some time over the weekend doing research. The result is a short list of books that users – from newbies to gurus – can download and read at their leisure. There are many more books than just these available online but I chose to limit the list to books that could be downloaded in full. I also chose a wide range of books, from introductions to Linux, books on implementing open source in schools and in Africa, to books that defined the evolution of free software.
1 – Linux Starter Pack
If you want to start using Linux then you could do a lot worse than start with this guide. Although it is not so much a book as a PDF version of a magazine supplement produced by Linux Format, at 130 pages long it is a fantastic way to kickstart your Linux experience. The guide focuses, as do many others, on the Ubuntu desktop as the default installation with examples of performing basic tasks to creating new users, upgrading and installing new software to customising the desktop. Although heavily focused on the Ubuntu desktop the Linux Starter Pack provides more than enough information to get all users started on Linux.
2 – The Easiest Linux Guide You’ll Ever Read
Published in 2006, The Easiest Linux Guide You’ll ever Read, is a 160+ pages of insight into moving from Windows to Linux. Unlike the Linux Starter Pack, The Easiest Guide is based on a default Suse Linux installation and covers everything from the history and fundamentals of Linux to installing Suse Linux and setting up the operating system as you want it. It’s a very detailed book with walk-throughs for most of the most common tasks which could just make it one of the easiest guides for new Linux users.
3 – Ubuntu Pocket Reference and Guide
Keir Thomas, author of numerous Linux how-to books as well as Ubuntu-specific guides, has released a new book called Ubuntu Pocket Guide. The compact 166-page guide covers all the basics of using Ubuntu Linux for users both new and experienced. Whether you’re a first-time user trying to get a scanner working or a more experienced user trying to set up a firewall the guide is concise and informative. This is a very recent publication so it includes the most up to date information, right up to Ubuntu 8.10.
4 – Producing Open Source Software – How to Run a Successful Free Software Project
If you’re not a first-timer and you are keen on starting your own open source project then take a look at this book. First published in 2005, Producing Open Source Software is a solid 185-page long guide to the intricacies of starting, running, licensing and maintaining an open source project. As most readers no doubt know, having a good idea for an open source project is one thing; making it work is entirely another. Written by Karl Fogel, a long-time free-software developer and contributor to the open source version control system, Subversion, the book covers a broad range of considerations, from choosing a good name to creating a community, when starting your own OSS project.
5 – tuXlabs Cookbook
In the early 2000s in South Africa, The Shuttleworth Foundation sponsored a schools Linux project called tuXlabs. Over its relatively short-lived life the programme set up more than 200 schools with Linux-based computer laboratories, doing so with a combination of volunteers, parents, teachers and learners willing to learn. While not all of the school laboratories survived the next couple of years many did and the project raised awareness, got free software to schools and developed a solid map for rolling out school Linux projects. The result is this book which is well worth reading for anyone who is planning a community-driven project.
6 – Free Culture
“A book on culture?” you might well ask. This is not the most geeky book on the list but it is among the most important. When Lawrence Lessig published this book in the early 2000s he not only wrote a very readable book on the “culture of free” but he also spawned a movement that we today know as Creative Commons. Most of the books on this list are published under a Creative Commons license which means that they are mostly free to share and, in some cases, free to adapt into new works. You won’t learn a new programming skill with this book but it is worth reading to get an insight into the ideas that shaped free culture, a movement very closely aligned with free software philosophy.
7 – The Blender Basics
Download: 20MB in full or 7MB in three parts
One of the areas where Linux and open source software has made inroads, but is often least known, is the film and animation arena. One of the standout projects in this market has to be Blender, an open source 3D animation application, which has been used to produce short film such as Elephants Dream. If you want to learn how to use Blender then The Blender Basics book is a must-have. At 120 pages long it is both useful as an introduction to Blender as well as an advanced guide. The Blender Basics Book can be downloaded in both chapters as well as a complete PDF.
8 – Free and Open Source Software for Development
Despite an obvious social and financial advantage for developing nations, open source software has been largely ignored on the African continent. Despite this there are many free software advocates that have successfully deployed FOSS throughout Africa, learning many valuable lessons along the way. FOSS4D is a book documenting exactly this: deploying free software in Africa and its related challenges. The book documents the challenges African FOSS advocates still have to overcome as well as carving a path for future developments.
9 – LPI 101 and 102 study notes
Download: Around 2MB per document
Format: PDF and OpenOffice.org
The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certification is one of the most widely-used distribution-neutral qualifications in the open source world. Studying to sit for the LPI exams is a whole lot easier with these study guides produced by South African trainers Leading Edge. The notes, which cover the 101 and 102 set of LPI exams are available as both PDFs as well as for OpenOffice.org and are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation Licence.
10 – The Cathedral and the Bazaar
If you’ve been using, developing or promoting open source software for any length of time you’ve read this. But if you’re new to the movement and you want to understand more then you ought to read The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Its opening words, “Linux is subversive”, sums up the tone of the book quite nicely.