So Long, and Thanks for All the Bash
on December 1, 2017
It was the summer of 2007 and I was at Linux World Expo in San Francisco. I had just finished updating the second edition of Knoppix Hacks and in addition to attending the conference I was there to promote it and my other books at the O'Reilly booth. Somehow I got word that Linux Journal was looking for new authors and was holding an event at a nearby bar later that day. To me, Linux Journal was _the_ Linux magazine and having just finished a book update I had all kinds of ideas for things I could write.
I remember that I showed up at the bar at least fifteen minutes early because I was afraid there would be limited slots and my pitch would be lost in the crowd. Fortunately I made it before the rush and soon I was able to sit down with who I would later learn was the amazing (and amazingly patient!) Linux Journal editor Jill Franklin. As we started talking I launched into a brain dump of potential article ideas I guess in the hope that with so many options they had to take at least one of them. By the end somehow it turned into a discussion about turning some of them into a column. The original idea was to provide a useful tip or "hack" each month. A few email exchanges later, and "Hack and /" was born.
It's hard to believe that I've been writing a monthly column for Linux Journal for ten years. It feels like the column has become a true brain dump of all of the crazy things I've been doing over the past decade. Topics have ranged from security topics like Tor, Tails, Qubes and password cracking; hardware projects including using wiimotes with Linux, Linux-controlled beer fridges, Raspberry Pi projects and 3D printers; traditional sysadmin topics like setting up home servers, troubleshooting and system recovery; and a LOT of mutt and command-line tips.
Along the way I've been privileged to collaborate with people like Bill Childers on a pair of columns ("Point / Counterpoint" and "Tales from the Server Room") and Shawn Powers on a Linux Journal podcast. While each of the projects were short-lived they all were incredibly fun to do while they lasted. Writing is usually a solitary act and it often feels like you are just talking to yourself so I've appreciated it all the more when some of you have shared a kind word via email or in person at a conference over the years. More than anything it's the relationships you build when you work on something like this for so long that end up meaning the most. It may be a cliché but everyone at Linux Journal really does feel like family to me (I've even slept at some of their houses!)
I suppose the hardest thing to believe is that all this is over. I mean this is the community that even the NSA thought was extreme! It's this Linux Journal community that to me best represents what I think of when I think back to the community of Linux users I originally joined. You are the people who not only use Linux and Open Source software, but you believe in the principles behind it.
One thought that has stuck with me since I got the news that Linux Journal was shutting down is just how _different_ the Linux community as a whole is today compared to when I started the column ten years ago, much less when I started using Linux twenty years ago. On one hand things today seem to have improved substantially: twenty years ago you had to fight to set up a Linux server at an enterprise, you needed help from a Linux Users' Group to install it on your computer, and it was an uphill battle to Open Source your code. These days most of the computers serving the Internet, in people's pockets, and in people's homes run Linux and GitHub is full of Open Source software projects.
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 while 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,
Boston, MA, USA
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Austin, TX, USA