Interview with Mark G. Sobell, author of "A Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux 8"
by Mirko Zorz - Thursday, 3 April 2003.
Mark G. Sobell is the author of best-selling UNIX and Linux books: "A Practical Guide to the UNIX System", "UNIX System V: A Practical Guide", "A Practical Guide to Linux" and "A Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux 8".

He has more than twenty years of experience working with UNIX and Linux and is president of Sobell Associates Inc., a consulting firm that designs and builds custom software applications, designs and writes documentation, and provides UNIX and Linux training and support.

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

You really need to ask about UNIX to start with because I got interested in Linux because I was involved with UNIX. In the late '70s (we really don't need four digits yet, do we?) I was working for a microprocessor company when their genius programmer decided to implement a UNIX-like operating system on a Z-80 with each process assigned to a 64K (yes, really) bank of memory. I documented the OS and it was easy from there. Several companies put various UNIXs on microprocessor systems and I wrote my first book on UNIX in 1982. It was not a great leap from UNIX to Linux when it appeared; I've been working with Linux since just before 1.0.

You are the author of several books - out of all of your writing ideas how do you decide which ones to develop further?

I work on topics that I've found interesting or that I think people need to know about. My earlier UNIX books had a chapter on nroff/troff because I was fascinated with the program. I wrote my second UNIX book in troff using vi to edit the files. Because none of the standard macro packages gave me what I wanted, I wrote my own macro package.

I still use vi and have a chapter on vim in the Linux books. But I cannot have a chapter on everything, so I cover topics to a depth that I consider sufficient and present the reader with resources in case they want to go further.

What was it like writing "A Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux 8"? How long did it take? Any major difficulties?

The major difficulty was that the code kept changing under me. I rewrote the GNOME chapter three times. It seemed as though when I took the time to work on one part of the book, another would go out of date. The book took about 18 months to complete and three months to produce. My love of typesetting (and control) causes me to do all of the production work on the book myself. Of course there are copyeditors and such. And I was blessed with a very talented and helpful production manager at AW. Anyone want to help on the illustrations next time around?

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

Of course Linux boosts security. Take a proprietary OS that only a few people get to look at versus an open source OS that thousands of people review and update regularly. Which will have fewer bugs and security holes? If you are running a company and can use an OS whose source code you cannot look at or one that you can have your programmers review and modify as appropriate, which are you going to use? They used to say, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM," but times have changed and IBM is not it anymore. So it goes with MS. Not that I think they are going out of business tomorrow. IBM is still a strong competitor. But it is interesting to see that where IBM once jumped into bed with MS, they are taking a much different route with Linux. You can buy Linux from multiple vendors on an IBM box.

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

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