Interview with Arnold Robbins, Maintainer of Gawk

I interview Arnold Robbins, maintainer of Gawk and author of Linux Programming by Example: The Fundamentals about his book, Gawk and how maintainers like me are kept in check. Here’s an extract:

LP: Do you think there’s a need for such low-level programming guides?Robbins: Yes, I do. It’s wonderful to program at a higher level of abstraction, such as what Java and Python give you, or in a different way, what the shell gives you.But there are times when you’ve got to get as close to the metal as you can, and that calls for C or C++ and direct system calls. Besides, I think it’s kind of neat to see the clear relationship between the way the Unix system calls work and the semantics made available at the shell level (I/O redirection, piping), and that in fact it’s not really such difficult dark magic after all.

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Rickford Grant, Linux Made Easy

Getting users to try Linux is only half the battle. The other half is showing them what they can achieve when using it. Linux Made Easy by Rickford Grant uses a task based approach to show how you can use Linux to perform your daily tasks; email, browsing, letter writing, even scanning and printing are covered in detail. I spoke to Rickford Grant about the book, why he chose Xandros and how the look and feel of the computing environment are more important to acceptance than the name on the box.

The book highlights how easy it is to do your everyday tasks – email, writing letters, scanning documents – using Linux. How key do you think this is to the wider adoption of Linux? I can’t help but think that it is extremely important. Until now, the image of Linux has been of a system for people on the geekier side of the compu-user spectrum, and I’d say the majority of books out there on the subject bear this out with their focus on networks, commands, and so on.One of the reasons I wrote my first book, ‘Linux for Non-Geeks,’ and now ‘Linux Made Easy,’ was that most of the Linux books out there are so focused on that more geekish facet of Linux that it was hard to imagine a mere mortal having any reason to use Linux, let alone being able to do so. They certainly had that effect on me when I first got started. Continue reading Rickford Grant, Linux Made Easy

Peter Wainwright, Pro Apache

Apache has been a stalwart of the Internet for some time. Not only is it well known as a web serving platform, but it also forms a key part of the LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-Perl/Python/PHP) and is one of the best known open source projects. Getting an Apache installation right though can be tricky. In Pro Apache, Peter Wainwright hopes to help readers by using a task, rather than feature based, approach. I spoke to Peter about Apache, its supported platforms, the competition from IIS and his approach to writing such a mammoth tome.

Inflammatory questions first – Unix or Windows for Apache?Unix. To be more precise, BSD, then Linux, then almost anything else (e.g., commercial Unixes), then Windows — if you must.The usual technical arguments and security statistics against using Windows are readily available from a number of sources, so let me give a rather different perspective: it seems Microsoft was in discussion to buy Claria, creators of Gator (one of the more annoying strains of adware that infest Windows desktops). Coincidentally, Microsoft’s beta ‘AntiSpyware’ tool recently downgraded Claria’s products from quarantine to ignore. It seems that the deal fell through, but for reasons of bad PR rather than any concern for the customer. Call me cynical if you like, but I see little reason to place my faith in a closed-source operating system when the vendor is apparently willing to compromise the security of its customers for its own business purposes. Yes, plenty of us already knew that, but this is an example even non-technical business managers can grasp. Continue reading Peter Wainwright, Pro Apache

Eric S Raymond, Deb Cameron, Bill Rosenblatt, Marc Loy, Jim Elliott, Learning GNU Emacs 3ed

GNU Emacs has been the editor of choice for many users for many years. Despite new operating systems, environments and applications, emacs still has a place in the toolbox for both new and old users. I talked to the authors of Learning GNU Emacs, Third Edition: Eric S Raymond, Deb Cameron, Bill Rosenblatt, Marc Loy, and Jim Elliott about the emacs religion, nervous keyboard twitches and whether emacs has a future in an increasingly IDE driven world.

Well, I guess the answer to the age-old geek question of ’emacs’ or ‘vi’ is pretty much covered with this book?Jim Elliott (JJE): We pretty much start with the assumption that people picking up the book want to know about Emacs. I had fun following the flame wars for a while a decade ago, but we’ve moved on. Some of my best friends and brightest colleagues swear by vi.Bill Rosenblatt (BR): I try not to get involved in theological arguments.Deb Cameron (DC): Like all religious questions, you can only answer that for yourself.Eric S. Raymond (ESR): Oh, I dunno. I think we sidestepped that argument rather neatly.Marc Loy (ML): I think the other authors have chimed in here, but this book “preaches to the choir.” We don’t aim to answer that religious debate. We just want to help existing converts! Of course I think emacs! but I’m a bit biased.Could you tell me how you (all) got into using emacs?ESR: I go back to Gosling Emacs circa 1982 — it was distributed with the variant of 4.1BSD (yes, that was 4.*1*) we were using on our VAX. I was ready for it, having been a LISP-head from way back. Continue reading Eric S Raymond, Deb Cameron, Bill Rosenblatt, Marc Loy, Jim Elliott, Learning GNU Emacs 3ed

Joseph D Sloan, High Performance Linux Clusters

Getting the best performance today relies on deploying high performance clusters, rather than single unit supercomputers. But building clusters can be expensive, but using Linux can be both a cheaper alternative and make it easy to develop and deploy software across the cluster. I interview Joseph D Sloan, author of High Performance Linux Clusters about what makes a cluster, how Linux cluster competes with Grid and proprietary solutions and how he got into clustering technology in the first place.

Clustering with Linux is a current hot topic – can you tell me a bit about how you got into the technology?In graduate school in the 1980s I did a lot of computer intensive modeling. I can recall one simulation that required 8 days of CPU time on what was then a state-of-the art ($50K) workstation. So I’ve had a longtime interest in computer performance. In the early 1990s I shifted over to networking as my primary interest. Along the way I set up a networking laboratory. One day a student came in and asked about putting together a cluster. At that point I already had everything I needed. So I began building clusters. Continue reading Joseph D Sloan, High Performance Linux Clusters