Interview with Mark Komarinski, author of “PTG Interactive’s Training Course for Red Hat Linux: A Digital Seminar on CD-ROM 2/e”

Who is Mark Komarinski? Introduce yourself to our readers.

A nice open-ended question. Professionally, I’m a Senior Linux System Administrator for Harvard Medical School. I’ve been doing system administration for the past 10 years, usually without that actually being listed in my official job title. Personally, I live about 20 miles outside Boston with my wife, daughter, dog, and rabbit. Aside from Linux and computers, I enjoy cooking, refinishing old furnature and working in the yard.

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

I got started with Linux in 1992. I had just purchased an AMD 386/40 with a whopping 8MB of RAM. By this point, I had been using UNIX variants for the past three years: Xenix, Coherent, and UTX. Coherent was the most interesting, as I could run it on my local machine. By this point, 386BSD (or one of the BSDs) and Linux was available. One of my co-workers happened to have Linux on a stack of about 10 floppy diskettes and he let me borrow them. That was all it took.

What was it like working on “PTG Interactive’s Training Course for Red Hat Linux: A Digital Seminar on CD-ROM 2/e“? Any major difficulties? How much did it take to complete?

This is my fifth project with PTG Interactive, so I was able to build on my previous experience in writing to help. The biggest problem was shooting the video of me introducing each course. The available places I thought I could use were not available and my house is too small to create a good effect. Fortunately, my wife’s company allowed us use of one of their conference rooms.

Total time for me to write was about 6-8 months. Most of the time wound up being spent recording the audio and creating the screen captures.

You cover Red Hat Linux in your training course, which distribution(s) do you use on a daily basis?

Until a few years ago, it was just Red Hat Linux. For the most part, it works really well. More recently, I have been using Debian Linux on servers at work along with a few of my home servers. The ‘rolling release’ of Debian lets you keep the servers up and running while doing most upgrades. Red Hat has a solid foundation on the desktop, and most of the researchers I deal with ask for Red Hat more than any other distribution.

In your opinion, is Linux ready for the desktop?

That’s a very broad question. I’ll answer it two ways.

Yes, Linux is ready for the desktop. I use it on a daily basis both at work and at home. I think I booted my laptop into XP once. Maybe twice. At Harvard Medical School, one of my projects is to replace a number of SGI workstations with lower cost Red Hat Linux boxes. So far, most of the researchers are happy seeing their slower O2 machines being replaced with a 3Ghz P4 running Linux and still be able to run all the same applications.

That being said, Linux has a way to go before it gets to the “Mom” state. As in, “can I convince my mom to use it?” The answer for at least the next few years, will be no. Microsoft has a level of usability and name recognition that will be hard to overcome.

What advice would you give to new Linux users?

Tinker. Also be sure to use all the resources available to you. Red Hat provides a great deal of documentation with their distribution, and there are plenty of online sites like the Linux Documentation Project that can help.

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

An unpatched Linux box is a security risk. Not to mention a Linux box with a blank root password. The real solution to security is having vendors who acknowledge and fix security holes along with administrators who can patch their systems quickly. Fortunately, Linux distributors are very quick to patch, and most Linux users are knowledgeable enough to patch their systems regularly.

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

IEEE 1394 (Firewire) support is pretty lacking right now. It works, but has the possiblity to hang your machine, the performance is still pretty slow, and there’s little to no hotplugging support.

Linux also needs software geared more towards the non-expert (the Moms of the world, if you will). I have friends who run software like Photoshop under Wine because gimp is just too hard to comprehend. There are times that having everything including the kitchen sink is too much.

What is your vision for Linux in the future?

My vision is also my fear: Linux gets too easy to use. There comes a point where there is so much configurability that it just confuses non-computer users (the Moms if you will). They get confused, so the vendor has to make a choice: ignore this vast populace (and its sales), educate them on all the options, or just cut the configurability.

In the interests of gaining market share, the vendor would have to choose cutting the configurability. But this cuts into the ability of those who know Linux in all its fine detail to have tight control over the system. We’re seeing this already with the features being removed from GNOME in the interests of ease-of-use.

What are your future plans? Any exciting new projects?

I was hoping to start another project covering Red Hat 9, hoping that there would be 8.1 and 8.2 releases. Their jumping from 8 to 9 took me (and probably many others) by suprise.

I keep in contact with PTG so I’m sure you’ll see me on the bookstand soon.