author, educator and networking IT expert...
Interview by Stephen
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive
interview with Joe Habraken, an international IT
expert, consultant, best-selling author, trainer and
educator with more than 15 years in the industry.
Joe is an assistant professor at the University of
New England teaching a broad range of information
technology (IT) courses. He also holds industry
certifications from Microsoft and Cisco. Amongst his
book credits, he has authored, Microsoft Office
2003 All-in1, CCNA 2.0 640-507 Routing and
Switching Cheat Sheet, Practical Cisco
Routers, Microsoft Office XP 8 in 1,
Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Server 2003 in 24
Hours, and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide To
Networking Fourth Edition.
Q: Joe, thank you for taking time out of your
schedule to do this interview.
A: It's my pleasure, Stephen, thanks for providing
me with the opportunity to discuss my new book.
Q: You have a most interesting background. Detail
the challenges you faced and your many successes
plus valuable lessons learned that you can share
with the audience.
A: I have been lucky in that I have worked in the
information technology field and also had the
opportunity to teach in both adult education and at
the University level. This has really helped me in
determining how to best present computer technology
topics in a book. I have also learned that the IT
field, whether you are writing books or not, is
extremely demanding in that you have to keep up with
the latest technologies. This is a challenge for any
Q: What has made your Absolute Beginner’s Guide
to Networking series so successful? How is it
unique? Why would someone want to read the book?
A: The book is unique in that we take pretty complex
information and present it a manner that even the
novice computer support professional or help desk
technician can really expand their knowledge of
networking including network infrastructures,
security basics, and some of the popular network
operating systems available. I think someone would
want to read the book because it provides a primer
on pretty much all the different aspects of working
on networks that network administrators deal with.
The book is also unique in that it tackles concepts
such as subnetting, which is something you don't
normally see in this level of book. I think the
coverage of material and the depth of information
would both be good reasons someone would want to
read the book.
Q: Can you share five useful tips from the book?
A: Network security starts at home. Have a solid
plan for how you assign passwords and user accounts.
Train your user-base. Informed users will help cut
down on user-error problems on the network.
Don't buy everyone in the organization a PDA. The
ability to access calendars, email, and other
network resources through VPN connections is still a
better way to approach working in the field. I'm not
saying that everyone needs to lug around a lap top,
but PDA technology is changing so rapidly that it
might be an area where you sit and wait and try to
take advantage of other connectivity possibilities
to the home network using RAS and VPN.
Look closely at your network needs before deploying
a new network operating system. This includes
upgrading. Weigh the new benefits provided by a
change or new release and whether these benefits
overcome the shortcomings of end-user training and
other rollout costs. I'm not saying don't ever
upgrade. I'm saying take a good look at what you are
getting into. New technology is very seductive; I
think you have to identify compelling reasons for a
Don't try to build your own clients and servers.
Q: Any additional tips you would like to share from
your other books?
A: The theme in all my books is to have a good plan
before you implement any kind of computer
technology. Make sure your plan is in line with the
overall company goals and can be justified when you
have to present or justify your budget. Finally,
maintain a good sense of humor. If you don't have a
sense of humor, get one. It will serve you well.
Q: Contrast the latest offerings from Microsoft, Red
Hat, and Novell; pros and cons of each and
situations where you would recommend them.
A: This is a tough one. Microsoft Windows Server
2003 has a number of pros, including the fact that
if you want to run Exchange you have to deploy the
Windows Server platform. I like the fact that the
more recent versions of Windows Server (2000, and
2003) moved to the concept of the snap-in so that
all the various tools and utilities share a common
interface. New innovations like Shadow Copy and the
robustness of Internet Information Server along with
Group Policies make the Windows NOS a good choice.
Security issues related to deploying the Microsoft
NOS and Microsoft clients continues to be a big
headache. Also dealing with trusts relationships
even though most are now implicit between domains is
something that I have never really enjoyed.
The last couple of versions of Novell NetWare have
been real dynamite and Novell has been getting a lot
of good press. The addition of Apache Web Server and
the new eDirectory to the platform are certainly
excellent editions. NetWare also seems to have much
fewer security issues. However, I think GroupWise
still is a con when working with the NetWare
platform. And SQL Server and some other specialized
services are still easier to deploy in the Windows
Linux is becoming much more user friendly and
powerful. One of the pros has to be the cost even
for the specialized and more expensive versions that
are being offered from distributors such as Red Hat.
As far as the user desktop goes, Linux distributions
such as Lycoris are almost at the point where even
home users may see Linux as an alternative to
Windows. The biggest pro related to Linux is that
many very creative developers are working in the
Linux environment. A big con is that the tools that
they create come and go like the seasons.
Consistency from release to release is still an
issue with Linux. Although, I do think it is a NOS
to watch and I can see why it makes Microsoft
Q: How will these operating environments evolve in
A: How these operating systems will evolve is
certainly a good question. So, without dragging out
my crystal ball, let me discuss what I think these
operating systems need to do. In terms of Windows
Server 2003, security holes are still an issue and
this is going to be a continuing problem for
Microsoft. Group Policy provides an excellent way
for an administrator to really control the network
environment, but there are some glitches related to
policies being overwritten when you update the
server software. Microsoft needs to try harder.
In terms of Linux, the fact that it was a product of
an open source initiative means that some very
creative people have developed tools and add-ons
that make it an extremely robust environment.
However, open source software is problematic in that
when a programmer loses interest in a tool or
doesn't have time to update a tool; some very good
Linux add-ons go by the wayside. Red Hat or one of
the other Linux distributors needs to provide some
development incentives for those programmers that
are thinking outside the box and making Linux a real
threat to these other NOS platforms. Also, there is
still a need to make Linux friendlier at the
desktop, even though it has become much easier for
the average user to work with.
Novell seems to definitely be interested in
embracing more Linux code to quickly upgrade their
NOS. The addition of Apache Web server to the
NetWare platform was an extremely good idea. We will
also have to see if NetWare's eDirectory can put a
dent in the move to Microsoft's Active Directory.
Q: Describe the different media used to connect
computers and which ones you would recommend.
A: I think connectivity really boils down to
wireless technologies and the standard cabled
network. I think any company building a new network
infrastructure would be remiss if they don't
consider a fiber optic backbone and the use of fast
switches. Ethernet is certainly the most used
architecture and it’s going to be around for a long
time, meaning understanding switching and routing
technology to protect bandwidth is essential.
Gigabit Ethernet will become fairly common place in
the next few years. Pulling wire is still a pain in
the neck, however.
Wireless networking is certainly coming into its own
with the various access technology and NICs that are
available. We actually have wireless capabilities at
our University (the University of New England) and
it provides students with laptops a lot of
capabilities in "roaming" the campus and connecting
to the network. Wireless still has some security
issues but I think small business and institutions
that keep sensitive information off of the public
network can easily retrofit with wireless.
Q: What are the best ways to safeguard your
computers and networks?
A: I think the use of firewalls and proxy servers is
essentials. If you don't upgrade your virus software
periodically, you are really asking for a
network-wide infection. Since Windows is the most
used desktop OS, I think that everyone has learned
recently that you also have to keep the OS updated.
Hackers are obviously working hard and finding new
exploits on an almost daily basis. Using strong
password protection and actually having rules
governing how users are to act on the network are
also good ideas.
Q: Do you have any tips on troubleshooting computer
and network problems?
A: Always check the physical connections first.
Don't immediately assume that it is user error.
Check the server closet to see if there is a problem
and don't forget to check the various system and
error logs that the NOS provide.
Keep good backups in case you have a major problem.
Keep your resume up to date if you don't have good
Q: Any predications about Microsoft Office?
A: Microsoft Office is going to remain the industry
leader. The only real alternative is Star Office
from Sun. Office 2003 has some very interesting
features related to collaboration and I think this
keeps the Microsoft suite a strong bet for the near
future at least.
Q: Where do you see Cisco in the marketplace in the
A: The dot bomb phenomenon hurt Cisco, even though
the company continues to be strong and provides some
great technology. I think Cisco will be around a
long time. The hub is certainly a thing of the past.
Switches, routers, and other connectivity hardware
are going to continue to be extremely important.
Cisco does need to keep pace with the fact that
wireless technology is certainly a seductive
possibility for many companies’ connectivity needs.
Q: Do you have comments on Web services: traditional
business models and how Web services will impact on
them, how new business models for Web services can
be created, business model trends for Web services,
and how one can build a long-term business model for
Web services and what will be its impact on ROI?
A: This is a very good question in that I think we
have seen a complete meltdown of the enthusiasm that
the dot com era brought to companies in terms of Web
services. I think this was really a result of
traditional business models not providing a solid
framework for how Web services can be an integral
part of a company's overall approach to business.
So, I think we need a revival of confidence. I also
think that security issues have scared some
companies away. Building a long term business model
is going to require, at least I think, a new type of
information technology professional. The
stereotypical network "expert" is also going to have
to have a business background and possibly an MBA.
This is one of the reasons that we have integrated
the information technology courses that I teach into
our Business Administration program at the
University of New England. We are going to need a
paradigm shift in both thinking and planning for
companies to be able to really take advantage of Web
services that do provide a ROI. Companies will have
to develop processes that allow them to more quickly
embrace new technologies and make them part of their
strategic plan. I guess finally, if I had a more
definitive answer to this question, I would keep it
a secret and only sell it to the highest bidder.
Q: Writing is an interesting profession. How can a
novice get into writing, what important lessons have
you learned, and do you have shortcuts to speed up
A: If you want to be a writer, you have to write. I
meet a lot of people at conventions and other events
who say, "Oh, I'm a writer too," but they haven't
really written anything. And that's not to say that
everything you write has to be published. Writing is
a craft, you have to practice it.
I think that I have been lucky in that my writing
really began as a necessity because I worked at an
institution a number of years ago that provided
computer training and we couldn't find any
satisfactory course materials. So, we wrote our own.
That allowed me to practice the craft and apply it
to information technology. So, there is some truth
in that you should write what you know. You need to
find a niche and then write. Also writing courses
are a must. I've taken them and I still don't write
as well as I would like. We consult experts when we
deploy IT, so writing should be no different. Get
feedback any way you can and keep writing.
Q: What new books can we expect from you?
A: I have a new Microsoft Office book, Microsoft
Office All in One that will be coming out in
October. I'm also looking at some Web connectivity
topics and of course network infrastructures. Either
of these areas may be fodder for upcoming books.
Q: You must have both interesting and funny stories
to tell from your many rich experiences—please share
A: I think a number of my stories relate to stupid
mistakes; for example spending hours troubleshooting
a network connection problem on a coax Ethernet
network, where the problem turned out to be a
t-connector that fell off one of the computers.
Another interesting experience was when I appeared
on Tech TV for an interview. I was in San Francisco
for the interview, which turned out to take less
than 20 minutes. Before the interview, however, I
probably spent 45 hours in the makeup chair as they
attempted to take all the shine off my face and
forehead (my hairline just isn't what it used to
be). I didn't realize until I left the studio and
jumped into a cab that I still had the makeup on. I
was wondering why people were looking at me as I
strolled around San Fran.
Q: Which ten resources do you find the most useful?
A: 1) The Web, which is really a number of resources
rolled into one. It gives you product information,
case studies and keeps you up to date on issues
affecting the IT world.
2) The SANS Website (although this is the Web,
www.sans.org. Everyone in IT should be concerned
with security and this site provides a huge
3) Conferences, particularly Fall COMDEX in Las
Vegas. Walking the convention floor will certainly
get you up to date on the newest products and
innovations. And you can always drop in few quarters
in a slot machine if you need a temporary diversion
from all the high-tech stuff.
4) Books, books, and more books. You have to read to
really keep up with IT. The fact that I teach it and
write about it means I have to do a lot of reading.
5) Beta and demo software, there is no better
resource than trying a product in a test lab.
I think we have 5 resources here, so if this was a
test question, I obviously wouldn't get this one
right. Oh, I probably forgot a very important
resource: people. You need to join and attend IT
organization meetings, even at the local level. It's
important to share ideas and find out what the other
guy (guy, not being gender specific) is doing.
Q: What drives you to do what you do?
A: Primarily a very keen interest in computer
technology. Also I love to teach and have been lucky
to teach in a variety of educational settings. I
write primarily because it gives me the chance to
teach beyond the classroom and reach a far wider
Q: If you
were doing this interview, what five questions would
you ask of someone in your position and what would
be your answers?
A: 1) I would ask, "What is the
capital of Assyria"? Sorry, that is an old Monty
Python and the Holy Grail reference and I just
2) Do you think technology is
inherently good or bad in terms of the human
I hope that people understand
that we are really dividing the world into the
technology haves and have-nots and this is going to
affect developing countries as they attempt to
become a part of the world market place.
3) What do you think people did
at work before the Web?" The problem with a strong
IT infrastructure is that it can become a novelty to
the employees. A lot of that spam is because of hits
on questionable sites by employees; it's not totally
a result of how smart the spammers have become.
4) Where do you see IT careers
going in the future? I think IT professionals will
have to be generalists more than specialists. You
won't just be able to be a router expert or the LAN
guy. As the technology becomes cheaper and more
robust, companies that can only afford a small IT
staff will want to implement more of the technology
available. And the ROI on this technology stuff is
always questionable. Outsourcing may become more
popular even for basic LAN management as the cost of
keeping an employee in-house sky rockets. At least
in the United States we have a real crisis related
to providing employees with adequate health care and
5) What was your first computer?
I had a Tandy 100 portable. It had a separate "chipmonk"
drive and a 300 baud modem. I also had an Adam that
Coleco made. It had the noisiest printer ever made,
but you could play cassette tape games on it. What
more could you want from a computer other than
printing and gaming?
Q: Do you have any more comments to add?
A: I think we have covered everything.
Q: Thank you again for sharing you valued knowledge
A: You are very welcome.