Internationally renowned IT expert, and award-winning author,
writer, and editor...
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the internationally
renowned IT expert, and award-winning author, writer, and editor,
Preston’s 20 book credits include: How Wireless Works, How to Expand
and Upgrade PCs, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Protecting Yourself
Online, and the recently released, How The Internet Works.
Together with authoring best-selling books, Gralla is an executive
editor and columnist for CNet and ZDNet with extensive writing
credits for publications such as the Dallas Morning News, USA Today,
PC Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Magazine, PC/Computing,
Computerworld and FamilyPC. He also writes the free newsletter,
Gralla’s Internet Insider. In addition, he has appeared on the CBS
Early Show, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, TechTV, National Public Radio’s All
Things Considered, and CNet Radio.
Considered the foremost of computing magazines, Preston was the
founding managing editor of PC Week and founding editor of
many achievements include the award for best feature article from
the Computer Press Association, and as a finalist for General
Excellence (for PC/Computing) from the National Magazine Awards.
Preston, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
You’re welcome. Thanks for the time.
have such an extraordinary history with so many milestones. Please
share your most important challenges and how you overcame them.
Getting a start in journalism was probably the biggest challenge of
all. I had graduated from college with a degree in English (that and
a quarter will get you a cup of coffee) in the middle of a
recession, and there were no jobs to be had. I set myself a goal of
getting meetings with every newspaper editor within a 30-mile radius
of where I was living, and coming up with 10 story ideas for each
editor, in the hopes of landing freelance work. Ultimately it
worked, and led to a full-time job as a reporter at one of the
those considering a writing career, how does one become a columnist,
editor and author? What lessons can you share?
First, learn how to write. Everything after that are details.
Newspapers are a great place to start out, because you learn to
research and write accurately under deadline pressure, and learn how
to do it in a very noisy and distracting environment. Once you have
that under your belt, you’ll be able to write anywhere and in any
Which qualities led to your many writing and editing awards?
Curiosity, honesty, accuracy, and hard work. If you’re constantly
curious, you’ll be always on the look-out for things you didn’t know
before and that might amaze you – and more often than not, readers
will be interested in the same things as well. Readers can also tell
when you’re writing from the heart, and when you’re writing for
effect, so honesty is important. Accuracy, especially in writing
about technology, is all-important, because people need accurate
information. And hard work.
have authored so many best-selling books. Which four books are your
favorites and for what reason?
“How the Internet Works” is a favorite because it explains in clear
detail virtually every aspect of the Internet – and does so with
beautiful illustrations, and without talking down to the reader, and
with in-depth, but easy-to-follow explanations. “How Wireless Works”
does the same thing, but for wireless technologies. I’m always
fiddling with hardware and customizing my PCs, so “How To Expand and
Upgrade PCs” is a favorite — it shows anyone, regardless of
expertise, how to do things such as add DVD drives and motherboards.
And “How To Get More Out of Your PCs and Add-Ons,” which I
co-authored rather than having written alone, I favor for the same
the Internet Works,” now in its 7th edition, is a national
best-seller. It’s considered the best book of its kind explaining
the Internet in crystal-clear language. Can you provide a few
insights from the book?
most amazing thing about the Internet is that it’s based on much the
same principles that mothers teach their young children — how to
play well with others, and how to share. The very protocols that
underlie the Internet are based on cooperation among different types
of devices and computers, and the entire structure of the vast
Internet are based on these very principles.
your experiences with this book series, do you have any tips about
the writing process?
a schedule, follow it, and never allow anything to interfere. Never
wait for inspiration to strike; sit down at the keyboard even it
feels like the words will never come. Find out your best working
conditions — music or silence, morning or night-time — and follow
them. Writing is hard work; if it was easy, everyone in the world
would be a writer.
Where is it all heading? What do you see as the major technologies
in the future? How about predictions about their implementation? Who
are the winners and losers?
Grid computing, peer-to-peer technologies, always-on, high-speed
wireless access, and Web services will be the future. Wherever you
are, that’s where the Internet will be; and wireless access will be
built into every consumer device you can imagine, including kitchen
appliances. As always with the Internet, the winners will be those
willing to make the leap into the unknown; the losers will be those
who try to hold back technology because a new technology may eat
into their existing “market share.”
are the major problems and successes with Open Source?
major success is the process itself; some thought it would lead to
chaos, but instead it has led to superior and more secure
technologies. The major problem is commercial — how do companies
make money on it, because without commercial success, Open Source
will remain a niche.
you make future predictions about specific products and services
coming from the Open Source movement?
Linux will continue to thrive and grow and increasingly grab market
share from Microsoft. Open Source, through efforts like the Globus
Project, will play a major role in Grid computing, and become part
of mainstream, enterprise computing.
you have comments about Web services, its impact on traditional
business models, current trends in business models for Web services,
creating a successful long-term Web services business model, and its
impact on ROI?
services is clearly the future for enterprises, and most likely for
consumer-level Web sites at some point as well. Currently, it’s
primarily being used for application integration within companies,
and has a substantial ROI. There’s no better way to integrate
disparate systems, including legacy systems. Ultimately, it will
become the glue that holds together all enterprise applications
because of the ability to re-use modules. It’s unclear how it will
affect desktop applications, if at all, but for corporations, it’s
the way to go.
you have differing recommendations for small, medium and large
Smaller companies should look closely at outsourcing as much
technology as possible, since it’s tough to have the right-sized IT
staff when you’re a company with not many employees. Medium-sized
companies need to look at a mix of outsourcing and in-house
resources, while large companies need to be careful that they don’t
fall into the trap of thinking they can do everything by themselves.
All, however, should be looking toward pay-as-you-go computing
models, in which they only pay for the actual computing resources
they use, much like you only pay a utility company for the actual
amount of water or electricity you use.
you provide your list of the ten most important issues facing
corporations and IT professionals today? How can these issues be
is tough, so I won’t be able to name that many. Balancing future
technology needs versus maintaining existing technology is a
constant problem. How to decide on which technologies to develop for
is always an issue. Aligning the vision of IT folks with the vision
of businesspeople in a company is a constant battle, and one that’s
often lost. Version control on the desktop is a constant problem.
Balancing allowing individuals to customize their computing
resources versus requiring standardization because of support needs
is almost impossible. Security, of course, is top of the list for
many IT folks, and there are books and books that we could talk
must have both interesting and funny stories to tell from your many
rich experiences—please share a few.
Well, I’ve had someone from Iran email me asking if they could
translate and sell “How the Internet Works,” but without actually
paying licensing or royalty fees. (I of course answered no.) And I
received a very moving letter from an 18-year-old in Lebanon who
after reading “How the Internet Works” told me how he thought the
use of the Internet may end up solving many of the world’s problems
--- and he even asked if he could name his pet rabbit after my
daughter’s pet rabbit! (I of course answered yes.) And I’ve received
all kinds of odd comments related to my books, including a lengthy
dissertation on the difference between the various kinds of Alaskan
malamutes, huskies, and related canines, because a screenshot in one
of my books called a group of canines huskies, when in fact they
Which ten resources do you find the most useful?
Google, Google, Google, Google…seriously, though, Google is the top
one. In no particular order, others are : instant messaging
technology; email, of course; ftp; Amazon; PriceGrabber.com;
TechTarget.com; Microsoft Knowledge Base; the online catalog of my
local library and its associated network of libraries; and
do you do what you do?
get a chance to follow my curiosity wherever it leads me, play
around with hardware and software, learn something new every day
(and sometimes every hour), and then write about it all — I can’t
imagine a better way to make a living.
you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of
someone in your position and what would be your answers?
ask whether you ever get tired of having to constantly be on the
lookout for new technology, and the answer would be “No, that’s what
gets me up in the morning.” I’d ask what kind of computer setup you
have, and the answer would be “A combination wired/wireless network
at home, connecting four desktop PCs, three laptops, and four
printers.” I’d ask, with all the work you do, how many hours do you
sleep at night, and I’d answer, “In the words of the unfortunately
recently departed Warren Zevon, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
you have any more comments to add?
that covers it.
was a pleasure interviewing you. Thank you for sharing your wealth
of knowledge with our audience.
Thanks for interviewing me. I hope your readers are helped by what
I have to say.