|By Martin C. Brown||
|March 10, 2005 12:00 AM EST||
Dee-Ann LeBlanc's classic Linux for Dummies takes the new user from the basics of the operating system through installing and using it. Now in its sixth edition, I talked to Dee-Ann about the book, her thoughts on the direction of Linux and how she manages to fit all of the work that she does into her busy schedule.
A sixth edition of a book on a relatively "new" technology is quite an achievement. Are things really changing that quickly in the Linux market?
As technology goes, they're changing quite rapidly, especially in the desktop space. As of the fourth edition I made an "executive decision" (with the support of my editors) to focus the book entirely on the desktop. In barely over 300 pages you just can't do justice to both desktop and server. As it is, it's difficult to do justice to the desktop!
When people tell me they tried Linux on the desktop a year or two ago and that it wasn't sufficient, I tell them that you can't compare Linux on the desktop as recently as a year ago with what it is today. Desktop Linux is growing in leaps and bounds, it's a wild and fun ride.
Without going into too much detail, how much has changed since last year's edition?
Fedora's look has changed significantly. It's gone for more of a "traditional" Gnome and "traditional" KDE, which I really like. The tools some distributions prefer have changed, which has meant that what I cover in detail has changed, and I've added three more distributions to the mix to try to cover a wider range of what people are using. In the previous edition I covered Fedora and added some Mandrake and SuSE in there. In the sixth edition I've added Linspire, Xandros and Knoppix.
Even cooler, in this edition the DVD can boot into either the Fedora installer or into the Knoppix no-installation desktop. We've also got ISOs for the other distributions so people won't have to download them. Some are full versions (Fedora, Knoppix, Mandrake and Linspire) and some are evaluation versions (SuSE and Xandros). Since even DVDs fill up we were really pushing the boundaries of what would fit.
Obviously, in such limited page space I can only cover one distribution in huge detail, and that's Fedora. However, I cover installations for each of these in as much detail as I can, and I cover how to update the systems and add software for each of them as well again in as much detail as possible.
Your opening chapter helps to dispel many of the myths of Linux. Is it true to say that many people, including IT professionals, still have misconceptions about Linux?
It's not as bad as it used to be but it's still pretty confusing out there. I talk to a lot of people because I travel so much and I teach online, and I'm constantly debunking myths. I had a student try to tell my other online students that Microsoft bought a major Linux company and was going to be the biggest producer of Linux software. I was glad it was online so I could keep a "straight face" with my response.
What I do find is that many more people have a vague notion of Linux' existence. If a cab driver or my seatmate on a plane ask me what I do, and I mention Linux, five years ago I would have gotten a glazed, blank look. Now people nod and even if they don't really understand what Linux is, they know it's out there. That I find very cool.
The Fedora Core is used throughout the book, although you also cover many of the other distributions. How do you choose a Linux distribution suitable for your needs?
Choosing a distribution is a very personal choice in a lot of ways.
Some of the distros are designed specifically for newcomers (think Linspire and Xandros). If you don't want to install anything, then something like Knoppix is great. Others are what I consider more "general purpose" that have nice desktop offerings (among those I cover, those are Fedora, Mandrake and SuSE). If you're really into technical stuff and server stuff and want to really work at a low level, then something like Debian or Slackware might be your preferred distribution.
I also like to point out to people that sometimes your best choice revolves around what your Linux-using friends know. If your friends all use Debian, and you find it too techie, you can choose Linspire, Xandros or one of the many other beginner distributions that are built on top of Debian. That way, your friends can help you with the lower-level stuff like adding apt repositories. If you don't know anyone who uses Linux, then you want a distribution that has decent support and/or a good online community. What you consider good here is more personal. Developers might like something more like Gentoo, along with those folks who are nuts about eking out the very most performance possible and are willing to wait out (nicely automated) compiling software?and figure out their not so automated installation process.
Sometimes you'll find that a distribution just does NOT get along with your particular hardware. People rave to me about Mandrake and yet it has given me problems through the 10 years I've been using Linux, so while I cover it because so many people have a good experience with it, it's not my favorite.
So, all in all, it's hard to give a cut-and-dried answer. One thing I tried to do in this edition is to let people see what's in each of them and give them a feel for what each is like to help them make that choice.
A lot of attention in the Linux arena is given to "emulating" the look-and-feel of Windows and/or Mac OS X to help adoption. Is this a good strategy?
I have mixed feelings on this topic. Xandros in particular specializes in being set up for Windows users. That's great. However, I also feel that Linux is Linux, not Windows and not the Mac. It's great to have options for people who want to set their machine up to look and work like another OS. I feel that Linux is all about choice after all, but I'm not personally interested in making my machine work exactly like some other operating system does. I suppose the end goal is a happy medium for now.
Are you a command-line or window person?
I'm command-line when it comes to dealing with moving, copying and otherwise working with files. If I have to read a text file I'll often use the command-line as well. Otherwise, I've come to use the GUI a lot on my desktop. I'm comfortable in both environments...I have to be since I teach both.
Do the top 10 lists of tools and resources in your book reflect your favorites?
Not always. They often include some of my favorites and things that I think beginners will find pretty cool and useful.
Is there any tool, web site or other resource that didn't make it into the book that you would like to have covered?
Don't even get me started! I could easily make Linux for Dummies twice the size and still need more room.
You have a fairly hectic schedule, how do you manage to fit everything in?
Stress and chaos. In some ways I'm having to relearn scheduling, since I started doing onsite training in a big way in 2004. I have to schedule books and articles often before I know when I'll be out of town for training, so it's getting pretty "interesting" in the Chinese curse sense of the word. At the same time, some have suggested that I thrive on stress and deadlines, so maybe that's not a bad thing. I keep telling myself I'm going to slow down. Hah.
The cool thing is that I really try to do things that reinforce each other. The training I do really helps me get a feel for what people need help with when I do books and articles, not to mention what people find cool and interesting. The research for the books and articles gives me examples and experience to carry into a classroom for training. I try to always keep this in mind when choosing any project.
It's a bit dangerous as a writer not to get "out there" to a certain extent. I write so much that I don't have much time for consulting, so I have to constantly be finding out what people are doing out there in the real world. I keep a mailing list for my readers to join (see www.Dee-AnnLeBlanc.com), and use it to announce new things coming out and to ask questions. I can also poll my students and as a journalist I've always got companies wanting to tell me what they're up to, so in a way it's easier today for me to keep up than it used to be when I just wrote books. Ignoring legal battles, what do you consider the next big step will be for Linux?
That's a really good question, and not an easy one to answer. I tend to think that solidifying the desktop offerings is going to continue, and there are some gaps that need to be filled and some programs that need to be fleshed out. On the server side there are some offerings missing as well, but I understand that the big leaps in kernel development are actually slowing down, the general feel is that most of the big features are now there. This has some interesting implications to me, since if there's no 2.7 kernel tree (and there isn't right now), there's no need for developers and distributions to run on the treadmill of having to keep up with that. Those energies are going to go somewhere else. Will the software evolve faster? I don't know.
With all the work you do, how do you find time to relax, and what do you do to make the most of that free time?
Relax? What's that? I was never very good at it! It's a family problem; really, my whole family is way too wound up. I'd like to get back to doing yoga. I work on various fiction projects on the side (fantasy novels, SF/F short stories, that kind of thing), and one day will manage to get published there. I used to do a lot of stained glass work, even sold some pieces. Now I do some mosaics. I love to listen to music and have a very eclectic collection, everything from Middle Eastern to Classic Rock to Pop to Spanish Guitar.
Even in my relaxation, I'm scattered all over.
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Nov. 27, 2014 08:00 AM EST Reads: 1,660
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
Nov. 27, 2014 07:45 AM EST Reads: 1,850
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Nov. 27, 2014 07:00 AM EST Reads: 1,923
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
Nov. 27, 2014 06:45 AM EST Reads: 1,997
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Nov. 27, 2014 06:45 AM EST Reads: 1,838
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 AM EST Reads: 1,529
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 AM EST Reads: 1,561
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
Nov. 26, 2014 11:30 PM EST Reads: 1,717
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
Nov. 26, 2014 09:00 PM EST Reads: 1,721
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
Nov. 26, 2014 06:00 PM EST Reads: 1,655
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
Nov. 26, 2014 04:00 PM EST Reads: 1,713
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Nov. 26, 2014 02:00 PM EST Reads: 1,943
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
Nov. 25, 2014 09:30 PM EST Reads: 2,045
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Nov. 24, 2014 07:00 PM EST Reads: 2,159
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
Nov. 24, 2014 12:00 PM EST Reads: 1,895
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Nov. 24, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 2,259
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
Nov. 24, 2014 09:00 AM EST Reads: 2,124
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
Nov. 23, 2014 07:30 PM EST Reads: 2,248
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nov. 23, 2014 12:00 PM EST Reads: 2,194
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
Nov. 23, 2014 07:45 AM EST Reads: 2,291