Interview with Mark Rais
Author of the Book Linux
for the Rest of Us
Mark, thanks for taking the time to join us for this interview. Id
like to start by asking you some of the questions most Linux newbies have
asked to find out your thoughts, then get into talking about your book.
Rais: Go ahead and
err, I mean go ahead and ask. <smile>
Okay, if I was a total newbie and I was thinking of switching to Linux,
which flavor would you recommend?
Rais: Next question
Well, okay, how about your thoughts on the easiest way to connect Linux
to an Internet Service Provider?
Rais: My favorite way
to do so is to simply establish a ppp connection with my KDE tool kppp.
In an x-windows prompt I just type /usr/bin/kppp assuming that the ISP
Im using allows ppp connections and that they have provided the necessary
IP and DNS information. Most ISPs, even those who dont cater to
Linux users are glad to help if you explain what youre trying to do, although
often they preface the answer by telling you it is not a supported feature.
Jumping to another common concern new Linux users seem to encounter a lot,
what are your thoughts for users who seem to have an unsupported PCMCIA
CD-ROM or CDRW drive often used on older laptops?
Rais: This is a bit
more complicated. One suggestion is to make sure when youre booting
for installation to use the pcmciadd.img image file for booting.
This is straight from the redhat documentation site. Otherwise you
may need to force on boot your PCMCIA drives configuration and there are
some tips out on the web that can help with this for a particular type
of drive. The problem really has to do with antiquidated hardware
that has no specifically written drivers in Linux. Most newer drives
dont encounter this issue at all.
While on the topic of common issues, may I ask what are some of your suggestions
for those trying a dual boot between Linux and Windows ME verses Windows
XP? It seems a lot of mix up is happening among users here.
Rais: Youre right!
In fact most of the issues stem from people simply not being aware that
XP uses the NTFS (Windows NT File System) rather than ME that is configured
to use the vfat or older Win98 FS. The answer to the issue is simple,
To mount a Windows ME drive
under Linux type this command:
mount -t vfat /dev/hda1
To Mount a Windows XP drive
under Linux type this command:
mount -t ntfs /dev/hda1
Thanks for passing this along Mark. I know I am pestering you and
you really thought this whole thing would be about your book but now that
I have you here I really wanted to get some answers.
Rais: No problem.
Well, if you really think so then let me ask you another question about
common issues beginners face. When someone who has been using Microsoft
Outlook wants to switch to Linux and use Evolution how can they retrieve
an address book and e-mail messages from Outlook and Outlook Express?
Rais: Okay, I am not
sure about Outlook Express, but the standard way to get this done for Outlook
is by first importing your email files into Mozilla then converting them
to mbox format. Evolution can import mbox formatted data NOT directly the
.pst files Outlook makes.
Again, I have no idea this
would even work for Express since there are differences. Also, to
download Mozilla for this you go to:
Thanks Mark, youve been entirely too patient with my questions.
Now to ask about your book. But first, can I ask one more question
that seems to come up a lot among new Linux users? It seems that
a lot of people have trouble sharing their Windows files using SAMBA.
What is the most common issue with getting SAMBA properly running on a
Rais: The issue I hear most
often has to do with SAMBA file shares not working. This is almost
always a result of improperly set SAMBA permissions in the fstab entry.
If someone you know is having this issue the first place they need to look
is in the fstab file and check the permissions which should usually be
=0775 to allow. Oh, and you may have to assign the group owner of
the share using gid= followed by the owner name. Obviously this is
a bit convoluted unless someone is actually using and familiar with SAMBA
shares, which frankly is not a beginner level issue!
Yep, thanks Mark, true indeed. Now, its wise for me to ask why did
you write a starter book for Linux beginners titled Linux
for the Rest of Us?
Rais: I had three core desires
in mind at the time I began the book project back in November 2002.
First, I wanted to end the ridiculous debate that Linux was some kind of
convoluted mess that only technologists could comprehend. Second,
I wanted to find a way to donate money to charities in a unique way.
This gave me the idea to commit the proceeds of the book to charities that
help the poor. And finally, I was sick and tired of having to personally
go and flip through thousands of pages of my computer manuals to get the
answer to some simple reoccurring question.
In part then you wrote this book for your own convenience?
Rais: Absolutely! I
had friends who would just pop into my life at times and ask questions
like why doesnt my ftp connect, whats wrong with my webserver, and so
on. I wanted to find a way to answer this barrage of questions in
a concise and productive manner. No lectures, no long discussions
on the thousand options, just the answers I know they were looking for
in their context.
How well has the book been received in the Linux world?
Rais: I think it runs
the spectrum. To Linux experts its pieces of trash with ink on them.
People whove memorized their Emacs commands dont need a starter guide
nor will they even appreciate it. On the other hand, Ive had several
people commend me for keeping to the dang answer and not trying to present
the world of options. One person in the IT field even declared it
makes a great gift to give friends who are still afraid to try Linux.
Overall, reviews like the one on The Linux Journal were very positive.
Whats been the biggest criticism of your Linux book?
Rais: People dont
know what to do with such a short and inexpensive book. Ive had
people tell me, what happened to the other 400 pages? Im thankful
that the publisher didnt put up with the marketing baloney that books
need to be an inch thick so their spines stand out on a store shelf.
Im glad no one asked me to put in several hundred pages of details no
beginning Linux user would ever need or use so that we would meet industry
As I sit here thumbing through
my favorite manuals, look how many useless blank pages are tacked on to
the end of the book, ten, fifteen, a few advertisements. I was grateful
to work with people who knew what a concise and straightforward computer
manual for beginners should look like brief and to the point.
What are some of your personal joys and regrets with the book project?
Rais: Ill start with
my regrets. As I completed the final editing rounds, I realized there
are other concerns beginner Linux users will have. But, between the
time constraint and the need to create a brief introductory guide, it was
necessary to leave some things out.
Specifically, I would have
loved to include more details on the various desktops and tools and also
to add a brief chapter on connecting to an ISP with Linux.
At the same time, Im really
thankful for how well this book has been received among the many non-technical
folks who wanted to get into Linux, but had to overcome a major barrier.
It seems this book did what
I intended, reducing the hesitation for folks to just try Linux.
I knew that if I could convince someone to just try it, they would find
out first hand how exceptional the Linux OS really is!
Whats on your plate for future Linux projects?
Rais: My biggest focus
now remains on motivating small businesses to switch to Linux. Theres
still a lot of work to be done in the Linux community to promote the vast
treasures that exist in Open-source for small businesses. I keep
reminding folks that Linux and Open-source is now about depth and breadth
-- we need to make sure people know this reality.
Mark, thank you for all of your time, especially in answering those
unannounced questions and also for your intense passion to get Linux on
to the Desktop!