Gig Harbor author invites you into the Linux Toy Shop

In the world of computer operating systems, Linux is like those colonial upstarts back in 1776 that wanted to be free and democratic. Linux is a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Swede Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world. The source code for Linux is freely available to everyone.

Gig Harbor writer Chris Negus is a big supporter of Linux. He is the bestselling author of “Red Hat Linux 9 Bible” and all previous editions, with more than 200,000 copies sold.

He recently co-authored a new book called “Linux Toys,” published by Wiley. The book contains 13 projects you can build with a PC, free open source Linux software, and a few odds-and-ends. His cool projects include transforming an answering machine into an e-mail converter, building an MP3 music jukebox, building a car entertainment center, and creating a TV video recorder/player.

Chris gave us a few moments during the holiday season to share his ideas on making Linux even cooler than its techie reputation.

Q: Linux seems to create a love/hate response from people in the world of computing, depending on who you talk to. Tell us why you think that is?

Chris: It’s a strange phenomenon that someone put together a clone of the UNIX operating system by writing a kernel, which is the inside of the operating system, and having a lot of hackers work over the code and make it what’s become a world-class operating system that can be shared freely. I think sometimes people fear Linux if they have been entrenched in selling certain software and they think, “Oh, my goodness! They’re giving away the software. How can I compete with free software?” Apparently it has some of the bigger computer companies a little worried about it. It has matured so dramatically over the years that it is every bit as good as any UNIX system I have ever worked on – and UNIX is the definitive multi-user, multi-tasking operating system.

Q: I also like that the cute penguins who are the Linux mascots.

Chris: Linux does have a personality to it! Whole communities of people have developed around Linux. I am a member of the Tacoma Linux Users Group. We get together and share our expertise and knowledge and a lot of people contribute code to the Linux effort. I contribute the documentation for people to use it. I have a web site to let people come in and talk about Linux issues.

Q: That would be

Chris: Yes. It’s a support site for the “Linux Toys” book I wrote this past year. The photographer for the site liked the penguins and sort of made that the theme of the site.

Q: Your photographer is Pat Scanlon, who has been a co-host of WebTalkGuys Radio for quite a while.

Chris: Yes, he’s a friend, professional photographer and a Linux enthusiast.

Q: Your latest book is “Linux Toys” and I love the tagline – “13 cool projects for home, office and entertainment” – and you invite readers to open up your Linux Toy Box. I like that because you take form the realm of this operating system into something cool you can do with your old computers that are lying around and a little outdated.

Chris: Absolutely. I’ve always tried to get UNIX and Linux into the hands of as many people as possible. With “Linux Toys,” I thought it was just the perfect time in the marketplace. We have these old PC’s lying around that can’t run the latest operating systems very well but are still very good usable computers if you want to make them into a single appliance which will run great with free software.

Q: One example in your book is making a computer into a TV recorder/player.

Chris: Yes! You might want to have a good video card but you can still do this video project on a Pentium 400. That’s a fine project – kind of like a TiVo. You give it your zip code and your cable provider it downloads all the TV listings for your area.

Q:Your book has a CD in it that has a program you install on your Linux box and it lets you download this project and others with all the functionality.

Chris: Yes. Basically you start by installing Red Hat Linux, which you can get free or in books like the “Red Hat Linux Bible,” which is another book I’ve written.

Q: It’s your best-seller book, always ranked as one of the top seller computer books at Amazon.

Chris: It’s usually one of the top five or 10 computer books for the last few years and its pretty much perennially the number one Linux book overall. It’s about 1,100 pages of everything you’d ever want to do with Linux, from using it as a desktop to a server and it comes with a complete Red Hat Linux distribution, too.

Q: Please tease us with some of your favorites of the 13 projects.

Chris: My favorite thing to do is the music jukebox. You can use a really low-end computer for this. In fact, a friend handed me his Pentium 400 computer for free and I have my entire collection of Christmas CDs loaded on it and I can play them continuously.

Q: One that I really love is your digital picture frame. You have a picture of this at

Chris: The co-author of the book, Chuck Wolber, did a great job building that one. We got a laptop and stuffed it inside a picture frame. It turned out to be a great project. I’d say that the picture frame and the music jukebox are the two projects to get the most interest. You just download a bunch of your pictures on to it and it displays them continuously.

Q: Just about anybody implement these toys?

Chris: Yes. This was made to be a first step into Linux. Even when you do have to type commands, we tell you exactly what to type. It’s made to be very straightforward and easy.

To find out more about Chris Negus and his Linux projects, go to To find out information on the Tacoma Linux User’s Group, go to The next general membership meeting: Saturday, Jan. 17, 2004. The full audio interview is available at, beginning on Jan. 3, 2004.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.