Interview with Steven Murphy, Co-Author of “Multitool Linux”

Who is Steven Murphy?

I am a systems analyst principal working on the electronic commerce team for HealthPartners in Minnesota. I enjoy a simple life relaxing in my hot tub in my back yard and driving around my T-Maxx on the weekends. I’ve been programming since 1982 when my father bought my first computer, an Atari 800. I’m a family oriented person. My hobbies include music (drums, guitar, synthesizer, computer), R/C trucks, and robotic combat. In my spare time, I also design web sites and write web applications. Of course, I’d rather do this from the comfort of my hot tub, but I can’t find a good water proof laptop within my budget.

Steven is also one of the authors of Multitool Linux.

How long have you been working with Linux, and how did you get interested in it?

I started working with Linux back in 1994 with the Slackware distribution. A co-worker told me about it and all I could think about was how much better it was going to be than Minix. I had dabbled with Minix on my Atari 1040ST a few years before then and had a difficult time with it. So fifty disks later I had Slackware installed and I was hook on Linux. It’s been a true love affair for the past eight years now.

How long did it take you to write Multitool Linux and what was it like?

The bulk of my chapters was written in about six months. Editing took a lot of time with verifying information and changing text for the editors and reviewers. Of course, my initial estimate was that it would only take me a couple of months to get my chapters done – boy was I off. Not only did it take roughly 18 months, I found it really difficult to balance my work schedule, home schedule, wife schedule, and a new born schedule all while making time to write a book. So those six months of actual work spread out over 18+ months. Writing with four other authors was not as big a challenge as I thought it was going to be. We used CVS to centrally locate our repository of chapters, which were written in HTML by the way. We all used Linux, of course. I spent a lot of time reworking the archive to meet our publishers requirements for file submissions and formats. Luckily, the publisher accepted SGML, which HTML is just a subset of. So it all worked out nicely.

In your opinion, where does Linux need the most software development at the moment?

I always have a difficult time printing things. In Windows it’s easy because Microsoft spent huge amounts of money developing a printer driver API and pumping the market full of money to develop printer drivers to the Windows API / printer subsystem. Linux needs something to support all of those printers on the market. Something that uses existing Windows DLL’s would be really cool. I also feel Linux needs a better desktop. Now I know all the Gnome and KDE fans (I’m a KDE fan) will argue that their desktop is the best. Okay, so why is it so difficult to customize KDE and Gnome? Try customizing XP. It’s easy. For Linux to succeed on the desktop, it will have to over come the little things like user account management, security management, and ease of use – and this means a better desktop. I think KDE and Gnome are a step in the right direction and I applaud the work done so far. Someday, my mother-in-law might be able to work with Linux on the desktop – that’s when I’ll declare Linux the desktop winner over Windows.

What advice do you have for people that are considering switching to Linux?

Do your homework first. Don’t just pick any distribution. Figure out which package is right for you, DEB, RPM, or some other… Then pick a distro from there. Also, know your hardware. Let’s face it – it’s a Windows world and hardware manufacturers support Windows with Windows drivers. Finding support for your specific hardware in Linux might be difficult if it isn’t built into the kernel that comes with your distro. This is really true for high end video and audio devices (which I cover in my chapters on music and video production).

What are your plans for the future? Any exciting new projects?

I’m glad you asked. My latest endeavor is building a combat robot to fight in MechWars here is the Twin Cities. My team, Team Rusty Nuts, is currently in the process of building our first robot. We’ve been volunteers for the last three MechWars events and have had a great time, but it’s time to get in the cage and battle it out. I have this idea, you see, to build a robot that has an onboard computer running Linux, which is then linked via a wireless network to a laptop, also running Linux. The idea would be to control the robot from the laptop instead of the normal R/C controller like most robot teams do. The obvious benefit is that we would have two way communication between the control PC and the on-robot PC. Just consider the possibilities there? Heck, there might even be a book on this after I get it built and working.

What is your vision for Linux in the future?

Linux, nay, the entire free software movement can only succeed. You see, I don’t use Linux because it came with my computer. No, I use it because I sought it out and wanted to use it. That’s the difference. Windows is something users default to becuase most don’t know any better – unless they buy a Mac. Even then, still another default – but less of one since most people buying a Mac do so because they want a Mac and MacOS. People who buy and use Linux do so because they want something more from their computer. They know there’s something better sitting there and they’re willing to work at it to get the rewards. Yes, I said work. Linux is not for everyone. I use the mother-in-law test for this. If my mother-in-law can handle it, then it’s ready for the world. Linux is not yet ready for my mother-in-law. But it’s ready for my father. I could not have said this four years ago. A lot has changed recently to make that happen. It’s just going to get better and I will be here with it all the way. Will I use Windows? Of course. I’m not stupid. Use what works for you. But will I ever stop using Linux? No. Will I ever stop using Windows? I’m sure of it.