Ask The Expert

Preston Brown
Director of Linux Development
Red Hat Linux 7.2

Recently, we spent some time discussing Red Hat Linux 7.2 with Preston Brown. As director of Linux development, Preston's job is to guide Red Hat's OS development organization through each release, and to help set future directions for Red Hat Linux.

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself. How you ended up at Red Hat, and what you've done.

I'm Preston Brown, Director of Engineering for Red Hat Linux. I have a degree in Computer Science from Yale University. I joined Red Hat Software (as it was then known) immediately upon graduation in the summer of 1998, becoming a member of the Linux Development team. At the time, I think there were six or seven of us. I've worked on a number of core infrastructure pieces of Red Hat Linux over the last several years:

  • font subsystem
  • the X Window System
  • KDE
  • Red Hat Network Update Agent
  • authconfig
  • logrotate
  • tmpwatch

More recently I've been spending time in various management roles. I enjoy helping bridge the communication gaps that can sometimes arise between Engineering and other departments like Marketing and Sales.

Q: Tell us about Red Hat Linux 7.2.

Red Hat Linux 7.2 is an exciting release for us. The focus of the release is on usability, stability, and scalability. Our 2.4 kernel has seen improvements in the areas of memory management, drivers, and disk I/O, giving us the ability to function well in larger configurations. We've also added support for the ext3 journaling filesystem which drastically reduces the time needed for filesystem checks, making larger filesystems more practical.

Red Hat Linux 7.2 also includes redhat-config-network, a revamped network setup layer that integrates LAN, dial-up, wireless, and VPN topologies in a single tool. We're also introducing redhat-config-users, a new user administration tool, and serviceconf, a much more friendly service (daemon) administration system. These are the latest in a series of tools designed to make configuring a Red Hat Linux system easier.

In addition, printing setup has been greatly expanded, including automatic printer model detection for easier configuration. Both GNOME and KDE have been upgraded to their latest versions, bringing solid steps forward in terms of usability and ease-of-use. Finally, the Nautilus file manager and Mozilla Web browser have both been included in Red Hat Linux 7.2, further enhancing these commonly-performed tasks.

Q: How about developing software? What does Red Hat Linux 7.2 have to offer?

Linux has a vast array of development tools and programming languages available, including traditional languages like C, C++, and Pascal. Interpreted (scripting) languages like Perl, Python, and Tcl/Tk all let a developer prototype an application much more quickly, or develop a full-blown solution. PHP is a remarkably flexible and effective web-scripting language that most people would compare to ASP in the Microsoft world. We also have a multitude of editors and debuggers available. All of these tools are open-source.

On the commercial side, there are a number of compilers and IDEs available from vendors like Intel, Compaq, IBM, Borland, and Parasoft.

What I'd really like to see on the open source side is a fully-supported, modern IDE that encompasses design, editing, and debugging. We have all these various pieces available, but they are not well integrated at the moment. Unix users accustomed to vi or emacs will be right at home, but Microsoft-programmers who are dyed-in-the-wool Visual tool users will find it takes some getting used to.

Q: What kinds of things will we likely see in future releases?

We have already taken the initial steps toward having an enterprise-ready Linux with Red Hat Linux 7.1, and this continues with Red Hat Linux 7.2. Future releases will continue down this path, integrating features such as:

  • Logical Volume / Storage Management
  • Good scalability past eight CPUs
  • Hot-pluggable processors, memory, and PCI cards
  • Next-generation compiler toolchain
  • Improved system monitoring
  • Improved, well-defined preferred development platform

Q: The traditional sweet spot for Linux has been for setting up web servers, mail servers, etc. How do you see this evolving?

I see Linux expanding out from these traditional roles into a broader marketplace. As people see that Linux performance has become good enough to run large databases and other back-end applications, its role in the data warehouse will expand.

Web and mail servers are in many ways a "transport" usage of compute power, sitting between the user (with their browser or e-mail client) and the storage (where the web pages or the e-mail messages are physically stored). We will move out in both directions from this current location.

Q: There's currently a great deal of interest in migration issues. What features in Red Hat Linux 7.2 would make it easier to migrate from UNIX to Linux?

Since Linux is very similar to UNIX, migration can be as simple as recompiling your application. Most of the APIs that UNIX developers use are also available on Linux. Of course, for more complex migration efforts, we can assist by providing consulting and training services.

Q: Preston, thanks for your time. It sounds like you've been pretty busy getting Red Hat Linux 7.2 ready. Do you get some time to relax? What do you do outside of work?

I like to go hiking and road biking, and spending time with my wife and our horses.

Click here to continue with the second part of Preston's interview.