Interview with Christopher Negus, author of “Red Hat Linux 8 Bible”

Christopher Negus has been working with UNIX systems, the Internet, and (more recently) Linux systems for more than two decades. During that time, Chris worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, UNIX Systems Laboratories, and Novell, helping to develop the UNIX operating system. Features from many of the UNIX projects Chris worked on at AT&T have found their way into Red Hat and other Linux systems.

When did you start working with Linux and how did you get interested in it?

In 1994, I was asked to be the technical reviewer for the book Linux Unleashed. I had worked in UNIX development labs for years and written a couple of books on UNIX. I was curious to see what a free “UNIX clone” would look like. I never did get the GUI running, but I was impressed to find many of the features I was used to having in UNIX. I stuck Linux in the back of my mind for a couple of years and went for a drive across the western U.S.

How long did it take you to write “Red Hat Linux 8 Bible” and what was it like?

I finished the first edition of the Red Hat Linux Bible in 1999 (covering Red Hat Linux 6.1) after working on it for over a year. I started by writing an outline of what I thought a great UNIX-like system should do (run applications, connect to network, offer services, etc.). Then I set out to write it. I was floored at how far Linux had come in just a few years.

The Red Hat Linux Bible sold very well from the start. It went on sale right after Red Hat went public (remember the dot-com days?) and possibly gained some audience because we gave away a Red Hat T-shirt with the book.

Its success has given me the luxury (or perhaps the curse) of being able to rewrite the book for each new version of Red Hat. I spend about four months correcting and enhancing each new edition. I go through every page myself and don’t sleep much during those times.

For the Red Hat Linux 8 Bible, I described new major releases of KDE and GNOME desktops. On the security end, I added some procedures for setting up a virtual private network using CIPE and using SSH to run remote graphical (X) applications. Lots of other stuff too, to match Red Hat enhancements.

What Linux distribution(s) do you use?

These days, I use Red Hat Linux almost exclusively. I used Caldera OpenLinux for a time when I wrote a couple of manuals for Caldera Systems (now part of SCO) and also wrote the OpenLinux Bible. I have friends who use other versions of Linux (does that count?).

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

Software development seems to be going along nicely. I would like to see more hardware manufacturers provide drivers to let their hardware work in Linux. Even that is beginning to improve.

What’s your take on the adoption of Linux in the enterprise? Do you think it will give a boost to security?

There are a lot of big companies who are backing Linux in the enterprise. A friend pointed out to me that contributions to the Linux kernel are coming from IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell Computer, and other big players who sell to enterprise markets. As for security, exploits (even theoretical ones) that are found in Linux often are patched within hours. The challenge to network administrators is to keep up with erratas and patches, since the information is public so quickly.

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

You don’t have to switch all your computers over to Linux at once. Personally, I turned off my last Windows computer that I used on a regular basis a couple of months ago. My last hurdle was getting Microsoft Word to run in Linux, which I was able to do by using Crossover Office.

Install Linux on a PC and just start trying it out. If you have a spare PC (or some free disk space to dual boot with Windows), you can install it and try dozens of games, music players, publishing tools, and graphics applications that come with Linux. You can also connect Linux to the Internet and use a vast number of tools to surf the Web, read e-mail, and exchange files and applications.

If you have a LAN at work or home, install Linux on a PC and add it to your network. That Linux computer can act as a file server, printer server, Web server, or as a router and firewall between your LAN and Internet connection. I tried to create procedures in the Red Hat Linux 8 Bible to put these powerful features in people’s hands as quickly as possible.

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

I’m working on a book called “Linux Toys” that’s due to come out in the Fall. I’m co-authoring the book with my friend Chuck Wolber. The book will contain lots of cool projects you can build with an old PC, spare parts and free software. We’re having a lot of fun putting this book together!

Where do you see Linux in 5 years?

Quite honestly, I believe it will be most everywhere. Linux is already being built into all kinds of devices, from PDAs to Tivo video recorders. Linux continues to make a strong case as a server operating system. As more high-quality applications are developed for (or made to run in) Linux, I think it will advance into the desktop market as well.