10 open source books worth downloading

By   |  March 30, 2009

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

http://www.tuxradar.com/linuxstarterpack
Download: 11.3MB
Format: PDF
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

http://www.linux-books.us/suse_0002.php
Download: 4.3MB
Format: PDF
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

http://www.tectonic.co.za/?p=3942
Download:
2MB
Format:
PDF
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

http://www.producingoss.com/en/producingoss.pdf
Download: 887kb
Format: PDF
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

http://www.upfrontsystems.co.za/Members/jean/cookbook/tuXlab01.pdf/view
Download: 1.6MB
Format: PDF
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

http://www.free-culture.cc/freecontent/
Download: 2.5MB
Format: PDF
“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

http://www.cdschools.org/54223045235521/blank/browse.asp?A=383&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=55205
Download: 20MB in full or 7MB in three parts
Format: PDF
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

http://www.tectonic.co.za/?p=3315 or http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0808/0808.3717.pdf
Download: 733kb
Format: PDF
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

http://www.ledge.co.za/software/lpinotes/
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

http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/
Download: 196kb
Format: Postscript
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.

Do you have a favourite open source book that is freely available? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

37 Responses to “10 open source books worth downloading”

  1. Mohan Bavirisetty
    March 30th, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    You may want to consider adding the following titles:

    How to think like a computer scientist

    Democritizing Innovation

  2. Alastair Otter
    March 30th, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    @Mohan Bavirisetty
    Thanks for that. Will have to take a look at those.

  3. Martin
    March 31st, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    I was going to suggest my FOSS guide, but that’s more of a visual book (quick 3 mins) rather than the heavy titles you have here.

    http://doctormo.wordpress.com/2009/03/23/foss-understanding-foss-visual-guide/

  4. Jaco
    March 31st, 2009 @ 6:11 am

    Don’t forget Full Circle Mag (http://fullcirclemagazine.org/), O’Reilly press CD bookshelf (they’re freely available on the net, as in beer, but they not quite “legal”, i.e copyrighted, so watch out for nasties like XSS) (http://www.google.com/search?q=O'reilly CD bookshelf), and, for those wan’ting to get a bit more hard-core, many international reputable education institutions are now releasing their curriculum for free online, such as MIT’s (yes, THAT MIT!) OpenCourseWhare: http://ocw.mit.edu

  5. Rich
    March 31st, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

    Another book to consider is “Two Bits”. Its an anthropology of FOSS (the author uses the term “Free Software” ,but the definition he gives is FOSS). Its a bit academic, but the entire text is free, its an excellent look at the cultural ramifications of free software from a relative outsider. And its copyrighted under Creative Commons, check out the website, the author encourages “modulations” on the text!

    http://twobits.net/

  6. Alastair Otter
    March 31st, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    @Rich:
    Thanks. It looks very interesting. I’m downloading a copy now.

  7. Doryforos
    March 31st, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

    Excellent list — thanks!

    A couple more:

    1. Rute User’s Tutorial and Exposition by Paul Sheer at
    ftp://ftp.heanet.ie/pub/debian/pool/non-free/r/rutebook
    or in any Debian Mirror (look in folder
    /debian/pool/non-free/r/rutebook)

    2. Linux Knowledge Base and Tutorial (LinKBaT) by James Mohr, at
    http://www.linux-tutorial.info/
    (downloadable from
    http://sourceforge.net/projects/linkbat)

  8. 10 Open Source Books Worth Downloading | technichristian.net
    April 1st, 2009 @ 5:23 am

    […] Read on… VN:F [1.1.4_465]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast) […]

  9. it.gen.nz » Free stuff on the Internet
    April 1st, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

    […] Books – TOR science fiction, Bantam DoubleDay Dell has some free stuff as well, so does O’Reilly technical publishers, and some books about open source software. […]

  10. Brad
    April 2nd, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    I’ve always found this wiki book http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/BSoD/Introduction_to_Character_Animation much more helpful that the one you’ve posted.

  11. Alastair Otter
    April 2nd, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

    @Brad

    Thanks. This looks like a really nice resource.

  12. Ranjeet Walunj
    April 2nd, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

    Excellent list …. thanks :-)

    Along with the ebooks Man pages and Info Pages also need to be very important resources :-)

  13. Fritz Meissner
    April 3rd, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    The Digital Foundations of Graphics Design is a textbook on Graphic Design using Inkscape, Gimp, Firefox and Processing, released under a Creative Commons Licence. It’s strength is that it is not just a manual for the programs, it’s actually a course in graphic design. Link : http://en.flossmanuals.net/DigitalFoundations

    Another book which is not actually open source but is free to download is Music, a Mathematical Offering; this is a fascinating work on the links between maths and music/sound/acoustics – it is written by a mathematician and goes into the subject in depth. Link : http://www.maths.abdn.ac.uk/~bensondj/html/maths-music.html

    Another good resource, not a book but a course, is Software Carpentry, self-introduced thus :

    “Many scientists and engineers spend much of their lives programming, but only a handful have ever been taught how to do this well. As a result, they spend their time wrestling with software, instead of doing research, but have no idea how reliable or efficient their programs are.

    This course is an intensive introduction to basic software development practices for scientists and engineers that can reduce the time they spend programming by 20-25%. All of the material is open source: it may be used freely by anyone for educational or commercial purposes, and research groups in academia and industry are actively encouraged to adapt it to their needs.”

    The course uses Python as its example language, but the methods and tools are applicable to any language. Link : http://www.swc.scipy.org/

    On another note, I find that “Thinking like a computer scientist” and RUTE are getting too dated to be good recommendations any more. These are beginner level texts and I don’t think that beginners have the background to be handle instructions that don’t actually work the way they are in the book.

  14. vinod
    April 3rd, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    Please add ‘Beautiful Architecture’. Further details… http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596517984/

    Not sure whether the Orielly will really agree but it looks like it is good book.

    -vinod

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    April 4th, 2009 @ 1:10 am

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  16. Adam Kosmin
    April 5th, 2009 @ 12:22 am

    Please stop using the term “Open Source” when you really mean “Free Software”. The former simply advocates pragmatic issues which at the end of the day, are subjective at best. It is better to teach users to value freedom which of course is completely boolean. You either have it or you do not. This starts with using terminology that was specifically created for the purpose of expressing this issue. Using the term “Open Source” has the effect of teaching people to value nothing while using the term “Free Software” exposes users to important areas of computing such as the FSF, GPL, Freedoms 0-3, RMS, and more.

  17. Nick
    April 5th, 2009 @ 6:51 am

    Read about how the Free Software movement got started:

    Free As In Freedom
    http://oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/

  18. Zanko
    April 5th, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    You may also look at “The art of Unix programming” from ESR (available at the same site than the Cathedral and the Bazaar, I’m too lazy to post a link), which is very good on summarrizing and explaining the Unix philosophy an principles.

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  21. Tom
    April 5th, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

    @Adam Kosmin: Both terms are acceptable, if you want to create business around free software then open source is a better description as “free” would confuse your clients. In my experience people value free software less than something they paid for

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  24. Bri
    April 6th, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

    Hi, anyone that is interested in reading and downloading books and scripts should have a look at http://www.scribd.com
    Nearly any subject can be found there.

  25. stalker
    April 7th, 2009 @ 8:01 am
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    April 8th, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

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  27. app
    April 8th, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    I have been running a website that lists only full legally available free ebooks, of interest to developers, for quite a few years.

    Lots of categories. Here is the Linux one: http://appsapps.com/ebooks/?cat=43

    I am still in the process of migrating content from my old site to the new one, and expanding it with descriptions. Here are the Linux related books that have yet to be added to the new site: http://appsapps.info/books/#Linux

  28. Jaco
    April 8th, 2009 @ 11:21 pm
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  31. Dave Kaye
    April 10th, 2009 @ 10:12 pm

    Many people don’t know that a lot of public library systems provide access to free versions of Safari Tech Books Online. Check with your local library and see what might be available. If your public library doesn’t have it, a local university library might, and might be willing to allow you to have on-site access.

    I think it’s interesting that most of the greatest resource sites on the Web are not Microsoft-focused.

  32. Alastair Otter
    April 13th, 2009 @ 7:29 am

    @Dave Kaye
    Thanks Dave, that’s useful information worth checking out.

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  35. Jaja
    April 12th, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    Should have asked us to vote. I agree with some of your choices; the Blender tutorial on Wikibooks is more helpful than your choice. Helpful list though.

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    April 23rd, 2009 @ 9:34 am

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