Interview with Jon “Maddog" Hall about the upcoming LinuxWorld UK

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I was lucky enough to interview Jon “Maddog" Hall, one of the speakers of the upcoming LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in London.

TM: Your name is so well-known that you don’t even need an introduction. How are you keeping yourself busy these days?

JH: I do consulting for a number of companies, as well as trying to switch Linux International from a vendor organization to an end user organization. Linux International has never been a paying position, I have always had it as a volunteer job. I still travel ’round the world talking about free software, but lately I am talking more about techniques of migration and integration than just how to make money, save money and increase software value with free software.

TM: You were working for Digital and managed to get Linux’s first port (to Alpha processors). So, you must have been truly excited about Linux from day one. Are you still as inspired today?

JH: It was interesting. I met Linus at a DECUS in New Orleans in 1994, and when I first logged into Linux I felt it was a really good implementation of a Unix system. It was responsive, and the systems I expected to find were all there. It all just “felt" right. And of course the warmth and the welcoming of the FOSS community was also great. I liked Linus immensely from the very beginning, and I still do today.

Jon “MaddogJon “Maddog" Hall

I continue to be astounded by the things that the free software community develops. Asterisk, Firefox, other projects. I look forward to the constant improvements that go on in the community, and I am looking forward to the improvements in the TCP/IP stack that were discussed at the Linux Conf AU conference last year in Dunedin, New Zealand.

TM: It’s universally accepted that conferences are important. What do you think makes LinuxWorld especially crucial for Linux? Which aspect is the most valuable one?

JH: I think that Linuxworld is the place where free and open source software technology comes together with the business community. It is where the person who is not fully into spending their entire lives following all of the web pages, mailing lists, forums and other news media of the FOSS community can find out what is crucial and interesting for them. It is a place where people can be exposed to multiple solutions instead of just “the one", and get help in understanding which is the best solution for them. It is a place where people new to FOSS can “kick the tires" and listen to those who have boldly gone before them, for both what has worked and what has not worked.

TM: What’s your talk at LinuxWorld going to be about?

JH: I am actually giving two talks, one a keynote and one a “master talk". The keynote will be about how to convince a Windows user to use free software, and the “master talk" will be about how to generally integrate free software into your existing environment in a relatively painless way.

TM: When did you write them, and why?

JH: Who says I have written it already? I hardly ever give exactly the same talk twice. Sometimes I write the talk the night before. I may reuse some slides from other talks to cover some similar ideas, but I really try to tailor the talks to the environment, audience and time allocated.

TM: One last question. Can you give our readers three reasons to come to the LinuxWorld conference?


  • It is the place where you can quickly compare different choices in FOSS software and choose the one that is right for you.
  • It is the place where you can get advice on how to tackle a particular situation with FOSS software.
  • It is the place where you will get to talk to me! :-)(and other FOSS knowledgeable people).

TM: Thanks a lot for talking with me and answering my questions.



Henry Zhu's picture
Submitted by Henry Zhu on

It would be very interesting to know what new ideas TM will talk to convice a Windows user, who are usually very sticky and stubbon, to Linux. And also what TM will tell us how to integrate (politically or technically?) free software smoothly.
Even I have been using Linux for many years, I could not get rid of Windows. It is simply because many software vendors only release Windows version of their software. For example, I do some stock trading, but my brokerage only support Windows. So, I think it is the same important and even harder I believe to convice software vendors to release Linux versions otherwise the regular customer will have no choice in such case.

Tony Mobily's picture


well, if by "TM" you mean Tony Mobily, I can tell you that I will not talk about any new ideas, since I am not giving a speech at LinuxWorld this year...!
However, the best way to find out is... by going to the Linux World ans listel to Jon “Maddog" Hall's speech!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Most Linux users where Windows users in the past and many multi boot between Windows and Linux. I am a multi booter too, only I have not booted Windows for several years.
The problem is not that Windows users are against using Linux.
The problem is more about windows users who do not know there is a choice, company policy where Linux is not a choice and the mere fact that you get a windows machine when you bye a PC.
Also, among those who know about Linux, is this fear that you have to be moore "educated" to use Linux.
Basically, on the desktop part, it is about the pre installed OS.

Terry Hancock's picture

In my experience, this doesn't go away. Even when you are fairly skilled, you will constantly encounter techies on mailing lists who will berate your stupidity for not knowing that, e.g. "apt" is controlled by files under "/etc/apt", or that you can run two X11 displays on one computer with one monitor (I only discovered how to do this about a week ago).

GNU/Linux remains an "expert" or "professional" field, whose culture remains dominated by the ideas of the "BOFH" and the "luser" that originate from campus computer-center culture and form the basis of many IT professional's cultural values. Changing the meaning of the "F" in "RTFM" does not change the sentiment, no matter how many times people try to pretend it does.

Re-creating a user-centric culture around GNU/Linux is the principle marketing problem, as far as I am concerned. Windows and Apple both have succeeded at that (in different ways), and I think that is why they are regarded as "successful" in the desktop market—even though the facts may speak differently (I read recently that Linux is actually deployed on more desktops than Apple's Mac OS X. Of course, that kind of data is always a little suspect).

If you think about it, you might compare these O/Ss to cars (wait for it!): the Apple Mac OS X is like VW's "new beetle", flashy, expressive, but actually rather expensive for what it does; Windows is a bit like a mass-marketed mini-van, trying to be everything for everybody, and winding up awfully square, somewhat inconvenient, but everybody uses them anyway; and Linux is, well what? A Hummer? An overpriced gas-guzzler that can survive desert conditions, battlefields, and slopes you wouldn't drive on anyway? But is built like a rock?

No, that's probably one of the propietary Unixes. Maybe Linux is a kit-car? Used by almost no one except the kind of car geeks who read the ads in the back of Popular Mechanics and actually order that stuff? But they're quite happy with their choice, thank you very much, and the rest of the world can go hang?

I think until we know where Linux fits in that kind of world view, we don't quite know how to tell the market what GNU/Linux is or why it should want it.

Of course, it might be more realistic to realize that GNU/Linux is actually just an Engine and a kit of parts after all. From it, you can build a working car, especially if you add some custom bits to snazz it up. That's when we have to start talking about Ubuntu and Freespire, Debian and Slackware, Red Hat and Novell ("little sports cars", "panel vans", and "POS company cars").

(I knew this car thing was going to get out of control! ;-) ).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Stephenson is a much better writer than me, so I'll just quote him:

"With one exception, that is: Linux, which is right next door, and which is not a business at all. It's a bunch of RVs, yurts, tepees, and geodesic domes set up in a field and organized by consensus. The people who live there are making tanks. These are not old-fashioned, cast-iron Soviet tanks; these are more like the M1 tanks of the U.S. Army, made of space-age materials and jammed with sophisticated technology from one end to the other. But they are better than Army tanks. They've been modified in such a way that they never, ever break down, are light and maneuverable enough to use on ordinary streets, and use no more fuel than a subcompact car. These tanks are being cranked out, on the spot, at a terrific pace, and a vast number of them are lined up along the edge of the road with keys in the ignition. Anyone who wants can simply climb into one and drive it away for free."

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Though new to Gnu/Linux (only the past two and a half years) my three desktops and two laptops run Linux.

I've had a failure with a friend - Windows 2000 crashed. Installed SimplyMepis - he liked it, his boyfriend didn't (he causes all the crashes and didn't like NOT being able to 'fix' things :)) Weird;

had a partial success - step-father is still interested, he just can't yet pull himself away from the thing he complains about and has trouble with all the time (W2K), and;

had a complete success - wife's friend. On occasions she's asked some questions, but since I installed W2K under VMPlayer those odd little things she needed have not seemed to be needed so much (more of a security blanket, or trainer wheels. Now she knows it's there, she doesn't need it :))

I agree that the image of Linux needs changing from 'geek toy' to 'home desktop' and lots of the documentation needs improving too. For instance, I'd like to see it designed so that when you complete a fresh install and open your web browser, it takes you to the relevant site for installing all the other goodies you're likely to want. (I should follow this up with the various distros myself really :))

Overall though for all the time I've put into learning and reading, I have been repaid in spades.

Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine