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Simplified manual a virtual bestseller

SPC professor Matt Basham has become world-renowned for his 800-page tech tome.

By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
Published July 14, 2004


[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Tech guru Matt Basham, 38, of Dunedin, has turned high-priced Cisco system training manuals into free shareware for his students.

It's been two weeks and an estimated half-million downloads since St. Petersburg College professor Matt Basham announced his free version of a high-tech computer networking manual, a move that irritated networking giant Cisco Systems.

Local techies forwarded Basham's tale across the world and stories about him appeared in the United Kingdom's Register, Slashdot.com and on tech news Web site CNet. Web site Lulu.com, which is e-publishing the book, increased its site's bandwidth to accommodate about 75,000 hits from last week alone.

The book was also made available on mirror Web sites that popped up in the wake of Basham's move. Basham estimated the total number of downloads, both official and unofficial, at half a million.

The traffic slowed SPC's Web site for several days, although it did not affect the school's administrative or online teaching functions, and Basham has since been invited to lecture at luncheons and write a tech magazine column.

Cisco's regional vice president requested a meeting to discuss the issue with the college's president.

Now Basham is talking with Cisco's publishing arm about a possible collaboration on a future book. He's also waiting on an e-mail from the only continent not represented in his inbox: Antarctica.

"Last week I got 600 e-mails," said Basham, director of the $2,000-a-class Cisco Regional Networking Academy. "I've no fingerprints now because of all the typing."

Basham's manual, entitled Learning by Doing: CISCO Certified Network Administrator 3.0, is an 800-page, two-volume, simply written study guide of all sorts for students learning how to run a computer network. Computer geeks like it because it's written in conversational English and embraces the ideal of open source codes, or free information. Plus it goes beyond the traditional Cisco text by not assuming the student already has extensive training in network engineering.

"The world needs a couple more guys like you," e-mailed Abraham Black, from the United Kingdom.

Ditto from a gentleman in Lenora, Kan.

"I am always looking for learning tools, especially ones that won't break my bank account," said Eric Patterson, an employee with Rural Telephone.

Lulu.com put Basham's book on its bestseller list where users can download it free or, starting in August, buy a $20 hard copy.

"Our traffic really spiked on the day the story went onto slashdot," said Lulu spokesman Stephen Fraser. "We had close to 80,000 unique visitors. It quintupled the norm."

Cisco asked college president Carl Kuttler about the status of the relationship between the college and Cisco. It was clear Cisco was a bit miffed, said SPC officials.

"We told (Cisco) that nothing's wrong with our relationship," said Carol Copenhaver, SPC's senior vice president for educational and student services. "This was just an extra thing Matt did in addition to using the materials that Cisco provided."

Cisco won't directly comment on its relationship with SPC, but said it is open to Basham's contributions as long as he teaches the company's core curriculum.

Basham's book - which, if purchased, awards him a $5-per-book royalty - will not hurt Cisco's bottom line, said Cisco spokeswoman Heather Goodwin.

"Cisco does not profit from funds generating from networking academies," said Goodwin. "All funds generated by the programs are put back into the programs."

Basham said the college and its students have fully supported his efforts. Still, he wonders what the future might hold.

"The first one out the block sometimes ends up being a martyr," said Basham. "I don't think any mainstream publishers will be knocking on my door anytime soon."

- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 727 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 14, 2004, 01:00:43]


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