2002 Editors' Choice Awards
This year, in order to draw upon a wider base of knowledge and experience, we made some modifications to the process of choosing the winners of the Linux Journal Editors' Choice Awards. We started by selecting a board of over 50 Linux experts, chosen largely from among the best and brightest of Linux Journal contributors. This board, after receiving the categories, was charged with coming up with nominees for each. Once we had the nominees and the board's comments on each one, we passed them on to our contributing editors for their input. Armed with this information, our editorial team made the final decisions.
This year, we see an unusual number of free and open-source software products among the winners. This is not a sign that commercial products are in decline, either in quantity or quality, but rather a reflection of the maturity of many open-source projects. There were a number of commercial products that also ranked highly with the nomination board, and in those cases where one product received a high number of nominations, but won no award, we included it as an honorable mention.
We ran a review of the SnapGear Lite in the LJ April 2002 issue (www.linuxjournal.com/article/5744) and concluded that for the price and functionality, it can't be beat. For $249-$299 US (depending on whether you get the Lite or the Lite+) you get, in addition to firewall and NAT functionality, a hardware-based VPN client that can emulate Microsoft's Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, letting you use a Linux machine to access a Microsoft VPN.
SnapGear's products are based on the SecureEdge platform, developed when SnapGear was merged with Lineo (in the days when Lineo was in the business of acquiring companies). SnapGear has spun off into its own company again for some time now and seems to be doing very well with their line of Linux-based routers, which allows them pricing significantly lower than much of their competition.
Honorable Mention: Sun Microsystems' Cobalt Qube
Did you notice how much more cryptographically signed e-mail you got during the past year? You should thank the developers of your favorite mailer for making mail signing, encryption and checking easy, but most of all, thank the GNU Privacy Guard developers for offering a compatible replacement for the original Pretty Good Privacy, which vanished in a flurry of—all together now—Corporate Shenanigans. Now, there's no excuse for not being able to send and receive secure mail.
It seems like everybody's making rackmount Linux web servers. What's IBM have that the others don't? A smooth web ordering process, whatever service and support level you desire, and they'll support their hardware running Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE or Turbolinux. Quite a choice.
Honorable Mention: Sun Microsystems' Cobalt RaQ XTR
Before the Web, how often did DBAs and graphic designers get a chance to call each other productivity-sucking idiots or worse? Ever since web site management got big and professional, we've known that graphic designers don't want to work on templates, but sites full of static luscious-looking pages get unmanageable real fast, and the answer is a database and a templating system.
Now, let the graphics people work with WYSIWYG tools if they like—Zope offers a clever templating system that makes the templates work in the WYSIWYG tool when it's time to modify them. Everyone else will appreciate the load-balancing capability and, of course, the Free Software license.
We first saw this machine at LinuxWorld New York, 2002 where it was being displayed with high-end graphics applications such as Maya for Linux. Our impressions of its high-performance capabilities were confirmed by the review we ran in the LJ June 2002 issue, in which reviewer Thad Beier used the words “shockingly faster” to describe the x4000 in comparison with machines he was used to. Thad used the machine to run resource-gobbling effects software and simply was blown away with the performance. As tested, with two 2.2GHz processors, 4GB of RDRAM, it's not hard to imagine that he would be. Of course HP ships the x4000 with Linux (Red Hat) preloaded. HP offers the x4000 in a number of configuration options, so you can get what you need regardless of whether you're running an effects studio or running complex Verilog simulations with Icarus.
As some web browsers have grown huge with features and others have gone the lean and fast route, we chose two winners. So ask yourself: do you like your web browser thick and juicy or simply as a thin component of your desktop? Either way, we don't cut the browser any slack when it comes to honoring the W3C's standards. Web standards are the only reason we can use the software of our choice to browse sites that webmasters create with the software of their choice—it's the social contract that underlies freedom. “No browser does a better job of standards compliance” is what the Web Standards Project says about Mozilla, and that's good for everyone. So pick Mozilla, the super-deluxe, super-themeable browser, and get mail, news, password management and other power features, or get Galeon, a light browser that doesn't duplicate your other GNOME applications.
Honorable Mention: Konqueror
If you're like most Linux users, you fire up The GIMP for miscellaneous image tasks such as converting and cropping photos for your web site. But The GIMP is much more than that. It's becoming one of those great platforms, like Perl and Apache, that becomes a natural starting point for a development and support community. The GIMP has a lot of functionality that takes awhile to learn, including not one but two built-in scripting languages. Check out manual.gimp.org for an on-line manual.
We've been watching our contributors' headers to see what mailers they use, and the unthinkable is happening. Linux gurus are dropping text-based mailers for a GUI mailer called Evolution (more on this disturbing situation as it develops). Besides mail, Evolution also offers a calendar and to-do list. We like the idea of being able to compose more than one message at once, but our vi-trained fingers wouldn't get very far without integrating Jason Hildebrand's gnome-vim.
With all the impressive development tools for Linux coming out of late, it's easy to ignore the extensive IDE capabilities of Emacs, as Charles Curley points out in his article on Emacs in the LJ June 2002 issue. Emacs' high level of support for customization makes it a favorite among hackers. Not only does it support many languages, but features such as Electric C (for automation of indentation and pretty printing), spell checking and the ability to act as a front end for GCC, GDB and CVS make it a sensible choice for a lot of programming needs. For those unaccustomed to the Free Software world, it's hard to believe it's free—and it's been there all along.
Honorable Mentions: KDevelop and Borland's Kylix
If you're one of the people who has been saying, “I can't use MySQL because it doesn't have [feature you need here]”, it's time to read up on MySQL 4.0 and try it out on a development system. Can you say, “full support for transactions and row-level locking”? “UNION”? “Full text search”?
The new MySQL is even available as a library you can compile into your application. Proprietary licenses are available if you can't use the GPL.
Honorable Mention: PostgreSQL
No matter what your backup plan is, and what hardware and software you use to handle the mundane details of copying your working files to off-line storage, you need to make a copy that's internally consistent. This is especially critical when you're backing up a database. (For a simple example, say that you keep your users' home directories by state, and Joe moves from /home/washington/joe to /home/alabama/joe while you're backing up missouri. Where's Joe's home directory on the tape? Nowhere!)
Expensive proprietary UNIX systems have had a solution for years: filesystems that support taking a “snapshot”, which looks like your working filesystem frozen in time. Instead of “shut down the database, dump it to tape, start up the database”, it's “shut down the database, snapshot, start up the database, dump the snapshot to tape”—quite a time-saver. Thanks to Sistina Software, Linux now has this essential feature for backing up busy servers.
With Sun now charging for StarOffice 6.0 (with its increased functionality and the proprietary elements that go with it), it's very nice that they support OpenOffice and continue to make it available for free. For those who can do without certain features such as document templates and a grammar checker, OpenOffice offers an amazing amount of functionality and advanced features that come very close indeed to matching those of MS Word. Some of these features are autocorrect/autoformat modes, the ability to compare documents and include cross-references, fields, an equation editor and global customization settings. OpenOffice can import OLE objects and charts and does a pretty good job of both importing and exporting files in the MS Word format.
The Linux Professional Institute reports that more than 10,000 people have taken the exams to become LPI-certified. Training is available in classroom settings or on IBM's developerWorks web site, and the exams are tough but fair. Certification can't promise you a job, but if you get a chance to go for it, it shows potential employers you are keeping your skills up to date.
This little open-source game has had more than one million downloads. It offers nice 3-D graphics, and you even can create your own courses with almost any paint program (The GIMP, for instance). As former contributing editor Neil Doane says, “If there's anything better than 3-D high-speed belly surfing downhill competition penguin racing, I haven't found it.”
Honorable Mention: PySol
With the number of political and legal issues surrounding free and open-source software, and the books written that address them, we thought it best to choose a winner for both a technical and a nontechnical book this year.
Linux Device Drivers has been a must-have book for people getting into kernel development, and 2001 saw the release of a 2.4-oriented second edition. You'll still need your Linux Journal subscription for some of the newer stuff, but this book is an excellent introduction and field guide to the source code. The paper format is handy, but you can use the on-line version for previewing and as a quick reference.
In The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Lawrence Lessig writes,
A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. Power runs with ideas that only the crazy would draw into doubt. The “taken for granted” is the test of sanity; “what everyone knows” is the line between us and them.
Thanks to Larry and his latest book, the public nature of the Net has a far better chance of being taken for granted than it ever would have had without them.
Before Larry began writing and talking about the “end-to-end” architecture of the Net and its place-like nature as a “Commons”, those ideas were taken for granted by a rather small us—a population that surely included the majority of Linux Journal readers. It may take some time before everyone knows and agrees with these ideas; but they are spreading fast. After they achieve ubiquity (and we have faith they will), Professor Lessig will be remembered as one of the Net's true heroes.
What more can you say about the world's growing dependency on more than 10,000 Linux boxes behind the most popular search engine? Never in the history of the Web has there been a site that has done more with less hype than Google. Its few self-serving messages do little or nothing to compromise the vast white space that surrounds the one thing people come there to use: the search box. Paid advertising appears alongside search results, but it never intrudes. And so much of it is useful to both seller and searcher that Google actually has a going business that makes money.
In the last year or so the company has added image and newsgroup searches to its front page, and a catalog engine has been in the works as well. And lately, the company has added an API that lets developers query web documents using SOAP and WSDL protocols for noncommercial purposes.
The search engine also acts, in an oblique manner, as an anti-censorship tool. Google will remove pages from its index in response to take-down letters written under the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but there's a catch for would-be DMCA censors. After the Church of Scientology attacked the exposé site xenu.net, Google began reporting take downs to the free speech watchdog site chillingeffects.org. When corporations try to censor Google results, they just bring more attention to their victims.
While Google's policies may not please everybody, it has kept better faith with users than any other search engine, and for that it deserves all its ample success.
Two words describe this past year: Zaurus Frenzy. We dig Trolltech's palmtop Qtopia environment, based on the popular Qt toolkit. It's got all the classic PDA stuff, such as address book and calendar, plus a selection of nifty games and good office and web software.
The Qtopia development boom owes a lot to the shining promise of the first Qtopia-based product, Sharp's Zaurus PDA, which offers all the hardware features you might want, including optional wireless networking, high-quality audio, a keyboard and a replaceable, rechargeable battery.
Our embedded Linux news archive for 2001 was full of companies committing to offer applications, services and training for Qtopia and the Zaurus. When you get one you'll know why.