Interview with Michael Jang, author of “Mastering Red Hat Linux 9”

Michael Jang, RHCE, Linux+, LCP, specializes in books on Linux and Linux certification. His experience with computers goes back to the days of jumbled punch cards. He’s written or contributed to over a dozen books on Linux, Linux certification, Red Hat Linux, and even Windows 98 and XP.

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

I started working with Linux in 1997, when I realized that an MCSE and a program in telecommunications was not going to be enough to change careers. Actually, I started with a Unix course at Berkeley, but soon discovered that the course used networked terminals on a S.u.S.E. distribution. It was a good course, focusing on commands, vi, scripts, and some of the folklore behind the development of Unix. It also served as an excellent counterpoint to the book I was writing on Windows 98. I finished my MCSE and have been using Linux ever since.

What Linux distribution(s) do you use?

Because of the books I write, I’m pretty much a Red Hat Linux user now. However, I like the S.u.S.E. tools for installation and configuration. I think Corel had developed a viable competitor to Microsoft Windows on the desktop, and find it sad that their successor (Xandros) went to a proprietary model for their operating system.

How long did it take you to write “Mastering Red Hat Linux 9” and what was it like? Any major difficulties?

I drafted Mastering Red Hat Linux 9 in 5 months. Well, that stretched out to 6 given the vagaries of the beta schedule. One of the advantages of writing full time is that I can write a full-featured guide to a Linux distribution within a “standard” Red Hat beta cycle. I did have to rewrite a few chapters as the beta evolved. But that was OK, as that’s life at the “bleeding edge.” And I had a lot of help from the Red Hat developers who participate on the beta team. Now that they’ve gone public, I can acknowledge their help.

Until nearly the end of the cycle, I thought I was writing a book on Red Hat Linux 8.1, and then Red Hat changed numbering schemes. That led to a very long week where I scrambled to change references (global search and replace does not work on screenshot graphics) in the book.

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

I’d like to see more development of the Linux desktop. For the consumer, that requires applications in three areas: office suites, games, and personal finance. With, Linux is essentially there with respect to office suites. For the first time, I can use a Linux-based word processor for publishers who depend on Microsoft Office. In games, the LGP people seem to be picking up on the good work done by Loki.

Unfortunately, Linux based software does not yet cut it in the personal finance arena. But once software such as GnuCash is competitive with the latest versions of Quicken and TurboTax, watch out world! The WalMarts of the world will then help Linux take over the desktop market.

Sure, Wine and secondary tools such as CrossOver Office can help. But I don’t think Wine will be ready for the consumer for years, and I think CrossOver Office is like a crutch that gives the manufacturers of Windows-based software an excuse to avoid Linux.

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

It’s amazing how well the corporate world is taking to Linux. Many are converting their enterprises from Unix. I think the biggest endorsement is coming from Wall Street firms such as Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. They trust Linux with their client’s money. With respect to security, that’s more impressive than even the work of the National Security Agency to secure the Linux kernel.

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

Start small and experiment. There are several simple ways to start with Linux. If you don’t have a spare computer, you can start with a dual-boot with Microsoft Windows. You can install Linux inside a VMWare machine. With the Knoppix distribution, you can even try Linux from your CD.

It’s OK to start your journey from the GUI. If you’re a regular user, open your documents and spreadsheets in one of the Linux Office suites. Check out your graphics in The GIMP. Download the games that you desire. In most cases, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. And then you can count all the money that you’re saving.

If you want to participate as an administrator in the coming Linux boom, experiment with the graphical Red Hat system administration tools. See what these tools do to your configuration files. This can help you learn the basics of Linux administration quickly. But remember, these are just basics. You can do so much more when you edit a configuration file directly. Linux administrators do need to learn to work at the command line interface.

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

I’m currently working on a fairly concise Samba book for experienced Microsoft Windows administrators (Linux Transfer for Windows Network Admins). I’m hoping that Windows administrators will be able to set up Linux computers to administer their Microsoft Domains with just that book.

What is your vision for Linux in the future?

I believe that Linux will evolve into the new open standard in computing. I don’t know if a computer will be as easy to use as a toaster in the next 10 years, but I believe that embedded Linux is already taking us in that direction. With filesystem journaling, RAID, and the right cron jobs, Linux is already somewhat of a self-maintaining and self-healing operating system.

Linux will gain market share on the desktop. With open source, application developers have access to the same source code; thus, a “level playing field.” Microsoft will eventually have to port many of its applications to Linux. Then we’ll see if Microsoft can make it in a “real” free market.