What I See for LJ 2.0: in a Word, Community

It has been too long, but I was at least one of the founders of the Seattle UNIX User's Group. I remember the first meeting well. It took place at Seattle University, and our guest speaker was Bill Joy. He impressed me in that he had a huge pile of overhead transparencies (remember, this was in the 1980s), asked a few questions of the group, selected some of them and started talking. He was right on target.

My point is that I became a UNIX geek in about 1980, and although UNIX was hot stuff at Bell Labs, it wasn't exactly a household word. The users group was our tool to build the community.

In the 1980s, I was running a small company that published UNIX reference cards and did UNIX training and consulting. I chose UNIX because I saw a need for decent documentation and training. We were filling that void.

When the free UNIX-like systems (NetBSD, 386BSD and many more) appeared, we were running SCO UNIX on our training system. I felt like I at least needed to take a look at these free alternatives so I could talk about them in my classes. So, I tried each one.

While most were pretty marginal at the time, I felt that Linux—then at version .12—had potential. I continued to play with it and tell local UNIX folks about it. Soon after, we formed SLUG, the Seattle Linux Users Group. Our most important activity was passing around boxes of floppy disks so people could install Linux. That was community.

What was on those floppies? Slackware Linux. Thanks to Pat Volkerding for creating Slackware and, amazing as it may seem, still producing versions. Before I had ever met Pat, I was unable to get my CD drive to work. I finally figured out that the problem was the wrong interrupt. I changed a line of code and all worked well. I remember sending an email to Pat suggesting the interrupt was wrong. His response was not that of a developer with an ego. He said something like "Great, I'll fix that as I don't even have one of those drives."

This was around the time when I decided to start Linux Journal. I was a member of the Linux community and felt that expanding my reach from the Seattle area to the world was a good thing for Linux.

When issue one of LJ was published, we were invited to "hand them out" in the Miller Freeman booth at a UNIX show in San Francisco. At that show, I was chatting with Dennis Richie and offered him a magazine. His response was "I don't need it. They are all over the terminal room at the [Bell] Labs." We were a hit—so much so that a year later, big publishers, including Miller Freeman, looked into starting a Linux magazine and everyone said "but there is already Linux Journal."

Linux Was a Community...and Should Be Again

At the trade shows, you usually could find Linux vendors by looking for booths with some bearded guys in T-shirts. It was the land of Linux activists rather than salesman. I remember taking an unknown woman to an early trade show and seeing geeks being amazed that although she didn't have a beard, she seemed to know about Linux. You may be familiar with her—her name is Carlie Fairchild.

At one early show, a customer told me about how he was trying to get his boss to allow a new project to be done with Linux. His boss said Linux wasn't real. He then showed his boss some copies of Linux Journal, and his boss decided that if there was a monthly magazine about Linux, it must be real. I'm not claiming that we made Linux real, but we certainly helped expand its image.

Although Linux is just a little tick on desktop OS statistics, Linux is everywhere, starting with something like one million Android phones and tablets sold every day. All Ubiquity radios run Linux. Most web servers run Linux. And, there's so much more. That's all well and good, but it is not community. It is just good business—that is, getting a reliable OS for free to embed in your products.

The Job of Linux Journal 2.0

The way I see it, our job is to go back and help glue together the Linux community. Google is not going to be attending local user group meetings or even reading a Linux magazine, but there are a lot of us who will. LJ 2.0 needs to be the tool that spreads the word about new ideas, new concepts and new possibilities for Linux.

Personally, I have two Linux-based ideas to put into practice and could use some "community" to move forward.

My first project is to build a "media center" for the Bed and Breakfast that I run with my daughter. The files will be delivered on 5GHz WiFi to ROKU boxes on the TVs. My current plan is to use a Raspberry Pi with a 6GB disk as the server.

The other project is a "Rife Machine". If you have no clue, look for information on Royal Raymond Rife. The Linux side is no more than a controller for some hardware boxes that generate signals. An Arduino could do the work, but I want a touch screen for control. The price difference between an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi is not important, and it is so much easier to do the development on a real Linux system.

I see LJ 2.0 as the tool for Linux Activism. Sure, big guys will use Linux because it is good and it is free, but for the rest of us, we need LJ 2.0.

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