The Refactor Factor

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Kyle Rankin, Tech Editor, announces our "new" monthly digital publication and describes how you can help the LJ community.

Back in December, I wrote what I thought was my last piece for Linux Journal. I meant it to be a retrospective and farewell letter, but as I wrote it, it morphed into something more like a manifesto:

We've won on so many fronts, but we've also lost our way. It would have been unthinkable and scandalous even a decade ago for a presenter at a Linux conference to use PowerPoint on Windows, but you only have to count the MacBooks at a modern Linux conferences (even among the presenters!) to see how many in the community have lost the very passion for and principles around open-source software that drove Linux's success. A vendor who dared to ship their Linux applications as binaries without source code used to get the wrath of the community, but these days, everyone's pockets are full of proprietary apps that we justify because they sit on top of a bit of open-source software at the bottom of the stack. We used to rail against proprietary protocols and push for open standards, but today although Linux dominates the cloud, everyone interacts with it through layers of closed and proprietary APIs.

Linux has become the vegetable we batter in proprietary software and deep fry—sure more people will eat it that way, but it's not nearly as good for you. Over time we've all started eating our vegetables that way, and it's made our community unhealthy. In our healthier days, we fought and won against proprietary software giants like Microsoft, Sun and Oracle, but in the meantime, our appetites have changed and other giants have taken their place.

With Linux Journal shutting down, we've lost an advocate for Linux, Open Source and open standards that we need now more than ever. We've also lost a rallying point for those of us in the community that still believe in all of the principles that brought us to Linux to begin with. We may have won a few battles, but the fight ahead of us is more insidious and subtler. Are there enough of us left who remember what we were fighting for? Are enough of us still in fighting shape?

After a decade of hacking and slashing, I have to accept that this era is over. Instead of losing heart, for me this marks the start of a new era and a chance to refocus on the things I've always valued about this community. I hope you don't lose heart either, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Eat your vegetables,
Kyle Rankin

[On a personal note, shortly after I wrote that piece I re-examined how I could do more for this Linux community that I felt was losing its way. That soul-searching contributed to my decision to accept a position as Chief Security Officer at Purism a few weeks ago. While I had supported the company's mission ever since I reviewed its laptops here (and here) at Linux Journal, I felt that the time was right to make promoting Free Software and user privacy and security my full-time job. That still left a Hack and /-sized hole though, and I was left wondering where to direct my writing now that Linux Journal was dead.]

Then, Linux Journal announced that it wasn't dead after all! Since that announcement, everyone has been working both publicly and behind the scenes to figure out exactly what a refactored Linux Journal 2.0 looks like. Refactoring a magazine raises a lot of questions. Would there still be magazine subscriptions? If so, how often? What about the website? What writers are coming back?

Anyone who's been involved in the Linux community is familiar with a refactor. There's a long history of open-source project refactoring that usually happens around a major release. GNOME and KDE in particular both use .0 releases to rethink those desktop environments completely. Although that refactoring can cause complaints in the community, anyone who has worked on a large software project will tell you that sometimes you have to go in, keep what works, remove the dead code, make it more maintainable and rethink how your users use the software now and how they will use it in the future.

Some refactors have been failures (admit it, you have at least one in mind right now), but some do work, and when they work, it's because the developers not only focus on cleaning up unmaintainable code, but they also really listen to their community. That's been our approach here for Linux Journal 2.0. We aren't just cleaning up things behind the scenes, we truly are depending on you to let us know what parts of Linux Journal you loved and want to keep, and also what new things you'd love to see us do now that we never could do before. While the refactor isn't complete, based on your feedback so far, we are ready to give some updates.

What's New

First, if you haven't already noticed, we are updating the website with fresh articles and news almost every day. Second, we understand that not everyone wants to read Linux Journal from daily updates on a website. Some of you prefer to have all of the best articles carefully curated and organized into proper magazine, and you told us you'd pay a subscription to get it. The subscribers spoke, we listened, and the monthly digital issue is back. Although there were some very interesting ideas around extra-large quarterly issues or "deep dive" ebooks focused on a specific topic, the majority preferred the monthly cadence.

And although the monthly digital issue is back, we also listened to your suggestions on how to make it better. For instance, the ebook idea was great, so we are also adding a Deep Dive article series in each issue that explores a topic in depth—think of it like an ebook inside each magazine. In addition to depth, you also asked for breadth, so in along with the Deep Dive, we are making the magazine bigger overall with more articles in each issue on a wider range of topics.

I'm also being refactored. In the past I wrote Hack and / as a freelance writer, but in the spirit of refocusing on this community, I'm taking on a new role as Tech Editor. This means that I'll be writing extra articles each month in addition to my column. I also will be helping behind the scenes with new ideas and to make sure we keep publishing articles that are relevant to everyone in our community from the hard-core Slackware user, to the security- and privacy-conscious, to the developers writing and advocating for Free Software, to the new Linux users trying to figure out how to set up a server in the cloud and everyone in between.

How You Can Help

So that's what we are up to, but we are only part of the community—where do you fit in? First, keep the great ideas coming—we all want to make Linux Journal 2.0 something special, and we need this community to do it. Keep an eye out on our site for specific requests for feedback—sometimes when we are between a few decisions (like when we contemplated going monthly or quarterly), we'll post our request there.

Second, subscribe. So many of you reached out asking how you could help raise money to keep Linux Journal alive, but magazines already have a built-in fundraising program: subscriptions. It's true that most magazines don't survive on subscription revenue alone, but having a strong subscriber base tells Linux Journal, prospective authors, and yes, advertisers, that there is a community of people who support and read the magazine each month.

Finally, write for us! We are always looking for new writers, especially now that we plan to publish more articles more often. We've even announced a $25k Linux Journalism Fund to, well, put our money where our mouth is and support the kind of deep, new and interesting Linux journalism that is going to make Linux Journal 2.0 different.

Currently eating his vegetables,
Kyle Rankin

For more specifics, visit our Linux Journal 2.0 FAQ page. Current subscribers can find out what happens to their subscriptions there and much more (it's all good news).

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Kyle Rankin is a Tech Editor and columnist at Linux Journal and the Chief Security Officer at Purism. He is the author of Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting, The Official Ubuntu Server Book, Knoppix Hacks, Knoppix Pocket Reference, Linux Multimedia Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks, and also a contributor to a number of other O'Reilly books. Rankin speaks frequently on security and open-source software including at BsidesLV, O'Reilly Security Conference, OSCON, SCALE, CactusCon, Linux World Expo and Penguicon. You can follow him at @kylerankin.

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