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Point-and-Click Linux! Your Guide to Hassle-Free Computing

Exclusive Interview with Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

If you have ever met Robin Miller or "Roblimo" as he prefers to be called, you immediately realize that he's one of the endearing "characters" that make Linux colorful.

Roblimo is editor-in-chief for the Open Source Technology Group, which includes Linux.com, slashdot.org, and SourceForge.net, and is the author of the Online Rules of Successful Companies (FT Prentice Hall). He's very zealous in his belief that Linux is a great choice for operating on the server or the desktop. He's also very dedicated to Linux evangelism and his latest book, Point and Click Linux! Your Guide to Hassle-Free Computing, demonstrates that position.

One example he gives about why Point and Click Linux! makes sense is: he lives in a community in which neighbors loan each other things (tools and whatnot) but many don't understand that loaning software is not the same as loaning a lawn mower. The software he discusses in his book is a neighborly approach to sharing information on how to use Linux to do what people want to do with their computer: write e-mail, author documents, and chat with friends, not spend countless hours installing software and recovering from viruses; Linux is something he can share with his neighbors.

The premise of his book is that Linux doesn't have to be hard to use. Robin breaks down his view of Linux compu-ting into six basic commands: point, click, highlight, paste, drag, and drop. As someone who has a basic understanding of the command line and Linux system administration, this simplified approach is something I'm more comfortable sharing with my nontechnical colleagues, friends, and family. Robin's desire is to share Linux with his neighbors who may not be computer savvy and he does so in this book.

LWM: When did you start using Linux as your desktop operating system and why?

Roblimo: I started using Linux in 1997. I first tested it for a column called This Old PC that I wrote back then for Time Digital's "Netly News." The column was about reusing old hardware and generally saving money on computing. Naturally, I ended up testing Linux.


LWM: At what point did you feel you could start recommending Linux to others and why?


Roblimo: Around 2001. My first try at Linux - an early version of Red Hat - didn't end happily. I needed a lot of help to get it going. Mandrake was the first Linux version that was truly usable by ordinary people, and I'd say 2001 was the year it got good enough that nongeek humans could use it without hand-holding.


LWM: What's different about Point and Click Linux! as opposed to other books about the Linux desktop?


Roblimo: To begin with, it's not just a book. It's a complete Linux desktop migration package, complete with a custom Linux distribution - SimplyMEPIS - that is made to meet the needs of desktop computer users and it has the world's first Linux video instructions for new users to achieve wide distribution. You can literally watch the videos, then run SimplyMEPIS as a live CD and start using Linux in just a few minutes.

Almost half the book is pictures too. An average person who has used a computer at home or at work should be able to become fully proficient at using Linux the "Point and Click way" in a relaxed evening. If they have problems, they can turn to www.mepis.org/forum and get all the help they need, for free.


LWM: It's interesting that your approach is very visually oriented. Did you get a lot of feedback from users who had trouble learning Linux in the past or did you take your cues from your own intuition?


Roblimo: I wrote almost entirely based on questions I've received from new users, and I tested all my instructions on people who had never used Linux to make sure they understood them easily.


LWM: Why did you choose the lesser-known SimplyMEPIS (www.mepis.org) distribution for inclusion with the book instead of a more widely known distribution?


Roblimo: First, I was impressed with Warren Woodford's work with MEPIS. I believe he's done a great job bringing the stability and versatility of Debian to nongeek desktop users.

Second, the other Debian-based easy-to-use distributions, notably Linspire and Xandros, have licensing restrictions I didn't want to see on the CD in this book. I want people to be able to freely share the Point & Click Linux CD and video DVD with friends.

Third, Warren was willing to make the SimplyMEPIS version specifically for Point & Click users, with nothing but desktop software on it.

Perhaps I could have talked one of the others into doing something similar, but Warren volunteered to do it, and that was a big difference.

While no software set is perfect for everyone, I believe the SimplyMEPIS CD contains the best possible set of generic programs for desktop users - and they can always download more software either from the MEPIS servers for a small subscription fee or directly from the Debian servers for free.

MEPIS openly gives users this choice - and with the way Warren modified Kpackage to work with apt-get, software installation (and removal) takes only a click or two. It's very easy, even for people who have no experience installing software in any operating system.


LWM: Has the completion of this project inspired any new projects?

Roblimo: I'm experimenting with video training. This is my personal "next big thing." I'm making more training videos for assorted Linux applications, and I love videos because it's usually easier to show people how to do something than to tell them how with words and static pictures. I hope to make installation and troubleshooting videos for other Linux distributions, too.

.  .  .

Robin Miller's book was released in November 2004 and is available at book retailers everywhere. Additional information about Mepis Linux can be found at www.mepis.org.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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