2004 Editors' Choice Awards

by Linux Journal Staff

It's getting harder and harder to keep up with all the great Linux-related products, services and projects out there. Fortunately, we've expanded our list of contributing editors over the past year, and the panel for Editors' Choice is looking pretty distinguished. So, without further ado, here's Editors' Choice Awards 2004.

Server Hardware: HP ProLiant BL20p G2

The HP ProLiant BL20p G2, which Ibrahim Haddad recommends, features two Intel Xeon processors, onboard RAID, two hot-swap SCSI drives, three Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, plus one more Ethernet connection for management, and optional Fibre Channel. That would be nice in a 1U rackmount server, but this box is a blade, and you can pack eight of them, plus up to six redundant power supplies and your choice of two switches or other interconnect options, in a 6U chassis.

If dinky laptop drives have been your reason not to drink the blade-ade, look again at the new generation of heavyweight blade servers. Maybe it's time to save the pizza boxes for pizza.

Personal Computer or Workstation: IBM ThinkPad T41

Because each editor has different, strongly held opinions about his or her personal work environment, we all were surprised when Doc Searls, Ibrahim Haddad and Robert Love agreed on this: the IBM ThinkPad T41 is the Linux laptop to have. They didn't simply agree on ThinkPad or ThinkPad T series—they all use and like one particular model.

Doc praised the T41's “Industrial-strength looks and race-car feel”, and he loves the high performance. “Everything works in Linux”, Robert commented. What happened to the good old days, when we waited for kernel hackers to buy the unsupported laptops first and get them going for the rest of us? The T41 has a 1400×1050 screen and IBM's famous three-year warranty and fast, competent repair service.

Any hardware whose speed gets compared to greased rodents is at least worthy of an honorable mention, and Greg Kroah-Hartman made that comparison in his vote for the dual-processor version of the Apple Power Mac G5, which is one Linux install away from being a great system. “It's fast, quiet and pretty to look at. With full 64-bit goodness for a very cheap price, what's not to like?” he wrote.

Security Tool: Clam AntiVirus (AV)

Reuven Lerner writes, “ClamAV is giving the commercial virus-checking programs a real run for their money. The combination of ClamAV and SpamAssassin has reduced dramatically the amount of annoying (and potentially dangerous) mail sent through my server.”

With this year's outbreak of e-mail worms for non-Linux platforms, ClamAV has been getting quite a workout, and Linux admins on mailing lists report that database update times are keeping up with or beating the proprietary alternatives. And, yes, commercial support now is available.

Web Browser or Client: Mozilla Firefox

“I am beginning to think that Mozilla is the new Emacs—a cross-platform program that is solid and extensible”, Reuven writes. See the July 2004 issue for a tutorial and sample code to get you started on developing Mozilla-based apps, and see your nearest Linux desktop for a pop-up-free, standards-compliant browsing experience.

Graphics Software: The GIMP

The GIMP Project has released its eagerly anticipated version 2.0 and regained its top spot as our editors' favorite graphics tool. Marcel Gagné writes, “With the addition of EXIF handling, CMYK support and a cleaner, better interface, The GIMP remains unchallenged on my Linux desktop.”

Communication Tool: mutt

Although instant messaging apps and GUI mailers get all the demo time at Linux events, the text-based mailer mutt, which lets you configure practically anything, remains a cult classic. Greg writes, “without it there is no way I could get through an e-mail feed of over 500 messages a day.”

Don Marti uses Ximian Evolution for its calendar and contact list but sticks with mutt for mail. Use mutt together with Mozilla for convenient attachment viewing, or for a healthy dose of mind-blowing tweaked-out config files, try a Web search for “my .muttrc”.

Desktop Software: GnuCash

“I began to use GnuCash several months ago and was very impressed by its features”, Reuven writes. “It has an impressive array of features and can be programmed using Guile. If you've never managed your finances before or are shaky on the idea of double-entry bookkeeping, the built-in tutorial will help you get started.” A financial tool without double entry is like a paint program without layers.

Software Library or Module: Pango

This is a new category, but it's about time we recognized library maintainers. Library code saves time and prevents errors by letting people “outsource” parts of apps. We're always happy to see developers use a good library instead of reimplementing something from scratch. Reuven writes, “I want to thank all of the hardworking people who have worked on Pango and the other internationalization libraries and software that make non-Western scripts usable with Linux. Thanks to you, billions of people who don't speak, read or write English still can use open-source software. The fact that I can read and write Hebrew e-mail with the standard version of Mozilla or documents with the standard version of OpenOffice.org continues to impress me.”

Development Tool: BitKeeper

Greg writes, “It makes my life dealing with zillions of kernel patches sane. It is the only way I successfully can maintain seven different kernel trees and still have time to sleep.”

Linus Torvalds contributed a stunner of a quote to a BitKeeper company press release—“It's made me more than twice as productive”, he said. As if he was slow before. With that kind of testimonial, BitKeeper deserves a slot in any company's search for a new source code management system.

Database: PostgreSQL

“I continue to love PostgreSQL and prefer it over MySQL because of its features, stability, scalability, Unicode compatibility and adherence to standards”, Reuven writes. “That said, the MySQL team is making impressive inroads, and I expect to see them close the gap with PostgreSQL in the coming years. But for now, I strongly recommend PostgreSQL to anyone who needs a relational database.”

Marcel concurs. “PostgreSQL is still number one for me”, he writes. “This is a grown-up, powerful database, and the first I turn to when I need to create or use database-enabled applications.”

Mobile Device: Sharp Zaurus SL-6000 PDA

The latest Zaurus is Ibrahim Haddad's choice. Unlike previous Zauri, this one features USB host support, so you can use it with your USB devices for storage, networking and input. The screen is a pixel-licious 480×640, four times the area of the original Zaurus and the same as the Japan-only Zaurus SL-C700 we reviewed last year.

Game: Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Our editors are all business and turned up their noses at selecting favorite games. These are the kind of people you want to hire to roll out your company desktop systems. But even though it might not look like Quake or Frozen Bubble when the boss walks by, there's a new hit game that Linux people are playing on the Net, and whether you want to call it blogging or social software, players are everywhere. It's like painting Dungeons and Dragons figures or collecting baseball cards, but with real people.

The glue tying it all together is a simple XML-based syndication format called RSS, which sites such as Technorati and software projects such as Planet are using to bring together Web content in new ways. Who's a blog king and who's a bozo? Pop in to Technorati to check the score.

Reuven points out that the all-in-one social network sites LinkedIn, Orkut and Ryze aren't particularly useful, but he says they're “all scratching the surface of something new and interesting.” It gets really interesting when social networking info crosses site boundaries and anyone can crawl it. Game on!

Technical Book (tie): Real-World XML and Hacking the Xbox

Paul Barry called Andrew “bunnie” Huang's Hacking the Xbox “a darned good read” in our January 2004 issue. The book is a matter-of-fact introduction to current issues in making hardware do what you want and not what fits into some company's business model.

Reuven writes that Real-World XML by Steven Holzner is “another big, thick book about XML, which doesn't really need big, thick books. But it offers some good explanations, sample code and discusses applications, including SOAP.”

If you're into well formed documents, get Huang's book; if you're into well formed solder joints, get Holzner's. Expand your mind.

Nontechnical Book: Free Culture

Did some of the members of Beatallica want to be a Beatles tribute band, while others wanted to be a Metallica tribute band? We can't go see them perform “Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice” and “Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride Except for Me and My Lightning”, because Beatallica is in hiding for fear of record company lawyers.

It wasn't always like this. Back when Walt Disney directed Steamboat Willy, a parody of Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr., copyright law was different and encouraged creativity, not lawyer bills. Professor Lawrence Lessig, in Free Culture, explains copyright in a way that will help you, the Linux and Internet native, explain today's copyright issues to people who are new to the whole sorry scene. Lessig represents the often-ignored middle ground in the copyright debate.

Technical Web Site: LWN

LWN wins again. We can say the same thing about this site that we said last year: a great mix of links to the best Linux stories from other sites, including Linux Journal's, plus original technical content. A recent series profiles the various free software choices in calendars, image viewers and drawing programs.

Nontechnical or Community Web Site: Groklaw

If you sold your TV when L.A. Law went off the air, this is the site for you. Get sucked in to the courtroom drama surrounding failing UNIX vendor The SCO Group, formerly Caldera, and the company's long-shot lawsuits against AutoZone, Daimler-Chrysler, IBM and Novell. Will SCO dodge a lawsuit from Red Hat? Did Novell transfer UNIX copyrights to SCO? Will Grace get back together with Victor? Greg says Groklaw is “now the home page for more IBM executives than any other site.”

Mailing List or Other Support Forum: linux-kernel List

Greg weighs in to support the linux-kernel mailing list: “It's high volume, oftentimes rude, but always informative and never boring. And if a user is willing to be nice, quite helpful”, he says. So be nice. Or else.

Project of the Year: Ardour

The digital audio workstation Ardour was the centerpiece of the Linux-based recording studio in Aaron Trumm's article in the May 2004 issue. In his column for the Linux Journal Web site, Dave Phillips wrote, “Ardour has become a center of attention for those of us who wish to use Linux in a professional audio setting”, and “That Ardour has come so far and evolved so well is a testament to the talents and dedication of its programming crew.” Congratulations to Paul Davis and the rest of the Ardour team.

Product of the Year: EmperorLinux Toucan

Remember that IBM ThinkPad T41, the laptop everyone likes? Doc bought his through EmperorLinux, a company full of friendly people who set up major-brand laptops with your distribution of choice, with a patched and tested kernel that supports the laptop hardware. Emperor sells its Linux-enabled T41 as the “Toucan”, and it will set up the system with any of six different distributions or dual-boot with a Microsoft OS. Best of all, EmperorLinux is quick to reply to support calls on Linux issues and the original manufacturer's warranty remains in effect for the hardware.

Now that the T41 is a hit on the Linux scene, will IBM sell EmperorLinux an OS-less version so Linux customers don't have to pay for a legacy OS license? Maybe if they knock off reading Groklaw for a few minutes and do the deal, we'll get lucky next year.

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