Cisco and Microsoft networking expert, MS Office master
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
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
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 IT professional.
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
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
Train your user-base.
Informed users will help cut down on user-error problems on the
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 change.
Don't try to build your
own clients and servers. That's crazy!
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
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 environment.
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 the future?
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
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,
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
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 backups.
Q: Any predications about
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 coming years?
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 the process?
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
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 few.
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.
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, again) at
www.sans.org. Everyone in IT should be concerned with security
and this site provides a huge resource.
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
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
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 audience.
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what five questions would you ask of someone in your
position and what would be your answers?
I would ask, "What is the capital of Assyria"? Sorry, that is an
old Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference and I just couldn't
you think technology is inherently good or bad in terms of the human
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
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.
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 retirement
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
Q: Thank you again for
sharing you valued knowledge and experiences.
A: You are very welcome.