November 2005, From the Editor - dmarti:~$ logout

by Don Marti

Since this is my last column as editor in chief, I get to give a bunch of advice, so I'll cover two great inventions that we should all take a fresh look at and come up with more things like them. First, the most important technology for the Internet isn't on the Internet. Want a hint? 12:00. 12:00. 12:00. The second most important technology has a symbol that you probably look at in a Web browser several times a day.

And I get to thank people for making the Linux Journal editor job the best job ever. Edsger Dijkstra once wrote, “Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one's native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.” By this measure, our authors are competent programmers, some even in a non-native human language. There has been no better way for me to get my Linux questions answered than to assign articles to these informed, helpful people.

Thanks to the editorial staff too. Linux Journal is fortunate to have Jill Franklin's managerial, editorial and XMLitorial skills; Heather Mead's quiet but effective powers that bring in links like few other Linux sites; and of course Garrick Antikajian's eye for good design, even when it includes hairy-looking code. Thank you all for not selling out to the Mainstream IT Media and sticking with your fans.

The humble VCR clock is the Internet's most important technology because it saved civilization in 1984. The big movie studios wanted to create a standard for copyright infringement that would crush any new communications technology. In a scarily close decision—5 to 4—the Supreme Court allowed the VCR to exist because you can use it for time-shifting.

The principle got a thorough test in the Grokster case decided this June, and although the new “affirmative steps to foster infringement” test will surely scare the venture capitalists away from media-oriented startups, the so-called Sony principle gives you the right to continue inventing.

The lesson here is that lawmakers and courts look at the wrappers of things and their real uses, not just at principles. If an invention is great for freedom, put a big obvious “clock” on it—a way for it to prove itself to society. How about a virus checker updater that uses a new P2P system? Inventing has always been part showmanship, and the features of an invention let it speak for itself in debates about laws and norms.

If you thought in the 1980s that you would be able to participate in global communication and commerce using freely licensed software and high-grade crypto on a cheap computer, you should probably tone your optimism down a little. Our other invention to appreciate is the little “lock” in the Web browser. The Internet doesn't work for business transactions without strong crypto. Every big company that wants to run a shopping site, share documents with traveling employees or run a remote backup had to join the side of freedom in the crypto debate. When inventing something that makes big business sense, build in a dependency on freedom and enroll powerful interests on freedom's side.

This is really our best issue yet. We have a brand-new feature of the latest kernel, possibly the most productive Web tool ever, a Beowulf cluster in a toolbox, freedom-enabled tools for designing electronics projects and of course a real-time Linux pinball machine. Stay free and enjoy the issue.

Don Marti is editor in chief of Linux Journal.

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