Interview with Michael Schwarz, Co-Author of "Multitool Linux"
by Mirko Zorz - Friday, 20 September 2002.
Michael Schwarz has worked as a UNIX system programmer for more than fifteen years and as a Linux programmer since its emergence. He started the SASi open source project, and has been a frequent contributor to Linux Journal. He is also one of the authors of Multitool Linux.

In his own words

I am a pretty good programmer. I program well in C, C++, Java, perl, shells, and PHP. I'm not really a guru in any (well, maybe C, but there are people whose skills at algorithms utterly blow me out of the water). My real skill is seeing the potential in other people's work and jumping on the bandwagon early so I can maximally profit from the cleverness of others. This is a socially valuable skill since it prevents me and others like me from having to become actual thieves. I love technology mainly because I fear it. I *must* know how things work, otherwise I don't have the upper hand, the things do. I think most of the people who program are like me, Salieris to a handful of Mozarts. And that's okay. Sherlock Holmes didn't write the stories, it was his bright but less intelligent friend, Dr. Watson.

My father was an electrical engineer who worked at Control Data for many years. He and I started homebrewing a S-100 bus Z80A based computer in the late 1970's. I had to start by writing I/O functions for the BIOS. I learned polling and interrupts here. The first time code of mine made the big single-sided single-density 8-inch BR-803 floppy drives step out to track zero and load the head, I was totally hooked to computers. The POWER! All that technology and engineering waiting for ME to tell it what to do! Heady stuff for a 12-year-old. Now that I think about, I suspect anyone who has wanted to be a programmer from an early age probably has psychological issues that require therapy.

How long have you been working with Linux, and how did you get interested in it?

You know, I can't remember where I first heard of it. I had been a systems programmer on Unix machines for some time, a classic C hacker, so when I heard about a Unix-like OS that ran on a PC, I went searching for it. It was in 1993 some time. I stumbled across the "TAMU" distribution (Texas A&M University), I say stumbled because there was no web and certainly no search engines at the time. I spent a ridiculous amount of time downloading floppy images. I got it up and running, text mode only. I'm not sure what kernel version it used. It certainly crashed a lot back then, but I was also a clueless newbie about kernel compilation. As an aside: We take kernel compilation for granted these days, but who would have thought in 1993 that we would ever have a "kernel of our own?" The next year, I bought a CD-ROM at a hamfest (yes, I'm a radio geek) called "Plug & Play Linux" from Yggdrasil. This worked right and the GUI worked with my hardware. It looked an awful lot like Unixware. I was quite pleased. This was when I got serious. I got PPP working and I started downloading and compiling software in earnest. I upgraded to the next version of the same distro the following year. Since then, I've used Debian, SuSE, and RedHat. I've fiddled with several others. I also use FreeBSD. I remain ecumenical about distributions, and I don't join in the Linux/BSD flamewars. They each have their strengths.

How long did it take you to write Multitool Linux and what was it like?

It took longer than it should have. It was herding cats. My co-authors are good friends, and I really enjoyed working on it with them, but coordination of work when you have families and full-time jobs is difficult. We hoped to be done in four of five months and it took us nearly two years, end-to-end. That's why some of the screenshots in early chapters (like my VNC chapter) are showing KDE1.


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