Review of Ubuntu Hacks

How I met Jonathon Oxer

I first met the main author Jonathon Oxer at a pub after the dinner after a SLUG meeting. The conversation was dominated by one excessively chatty person (who shall remain nameless!). Also present was a an interesting fellow who worked on the clustering code for MySQL.

Jonathon was sitting there very quietly, wearing his tee shirt. After a long time, I asked him what he was doing with Linux. He explained that he was writing a book called Ubuntu Hacks. With more coaxing, I gradually discovered that Jonathon is responsible for a string of other remarkable accomplishments, including the Debian Universe, which led to him being an author of this book, with Kyle Rankin the lead author. Well, the book in my hand has Jonathon as the lead author, and here I am writing about this excellent effort. Jonathon does not bignote himself: his work does that for him.

The Review

As a long time Red Hat/Fedora user, I have plenty to learn about Ubuntu, and this book is the right place for me to start.

It's nice that the book is based on Dapper, and has full marks for examining the newer features of Ubuntu, including things such as using Beagle.

Good Things

I was interested to learn about the Tor Project to allow people to access web sites anonymously (hack #72). I learned about the handy SwitchProxy Firefox extension here too.

On page 333 I was introduced to the useful two-way file synchronisation tool Unison by one of the US authors. How do I know it wasn't written by Jonathon? Because, as anyone who has been to California knows, everything there is "awesome" (pronounced so it rhymes with "possum", with a grunting emphasis on the first syllable).

All the good things you might expect are here:

Some things I learned from this book

You may wonder at my ignorance, but I found many things from this book that I did not know before.

Some Criticisms

The hacks are a bit uneven in their depth: "hack #14" summarises applications (Firefox, Open Office, ...) seems to me a bit of fluff, while hack #4 goes into details of creating a customised Live CD. That's probably okay; there's enough substantial information here to keep me interested.

I was disappointed by the chapter on security, and found fewer things there that are new to me. Perhaps I was spoiled by other parts of the book.

Stupid Nit-Picking Section

No review is complete without arguing with some minor nit-pick, so, to bolster my flagging ego, I point out that the statement on page 14 that "You can't perform this step using sudo" is wrong; you can redirect with sudo sh -c 'command > file'.

It is remiss to mention using tail -f logfile on page 320 but not tail -F logfile1 logfile2 ...

I was disappointed to learn that compiling a kernel "The Ubuntu Way" (p. 302) requires you to do so as root.

Mounting an SMB file system (p. 294) assumes there is no username/password involved.

The discussion of using GPG in hack #71 skirts around actually integrating its use with email.

Hack #52 seems to indicate that using the proprietary ATI fglrx driver is better than the free radeon driver (the free driver now has better performance for the 9250 and earlier cards according to June's SLUG talk), and also suggests downloading the driver from ATI, rather than installing a packaged driver with apt-get. I would be surprised if no one has packaged the proprietary fglrx driver.

I still haven't really worked out how you sign and verify .deb packages, and the little bit on page 247 tantalises me rather than letting me understand the Ubuntu/Debian equivalents to rpm -K rpm-package-files and rpm --addsign rpm-package-files. Well, there is a brief discussion of apt-keys and /etc/apt/trusted.gpg on page 254.

The strange example on page 251 has poor old jorge deleting all files in his own home directory except mp3 files:
jorge@ubuntu:~$ sudo find . ! -name '*.mp3' -exec rm -f \{\} \;

I was hoping that there would be some really simple way to do an network install of Ubuntu without a CD, like I can with Fedora. Well, I am sure you can, but the method explained in hack #11 using netboot and PXE is much more work.

The Hearty Recommendation

I recommend this book to people who want to learn more about Ubuntu, but I learned many things that are useful with other distributions as well. And for all you Californians, it's, well, Ossum.

--Nick Urbanik <>