Nine years ago, when I started working for this wonderful magazine, the Linux landscape and the general outlook for open source was very different.
You couldn’t use the Linux desktop to access your online bank account, you could barely play any video and audio media and mentioning Linux to strangers was akin to admitting to a criminal past.
This month, Andrew and I were lucky enough to be able to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend O’Reilly’s open source conference (OSCON). It was a good one, but after travelling all that way, one of the best talks came from a fellow Brit, John Graham-Cumming.
To some, the desktop is an anachronism; a style of input that’s increasingly redundant in a world of tablets and smartphones. But I don’t agree, and I think there’s plenty of evidence to show the desktop is going to be around for some time yet. And more importantly, Linux may become the only viable option. I’m primarily a KDE user, and as such, I’ve been mostly shielded from the turbulence created by several desktops reinventing themselves. KDE went through a similar period and I’m glad it’s now firmly in the past. But like
I think Google does a brilliant job. So too does Twitter. I use services from both everyday and I don’t see any reason for not continuing to do so. Google, in particular, has innovated while remaining relatively open. I know its ‘Data Liberation Front’ initiative, a portal designed to help people get their data out of Google’s domains, is taken seriously both internally at Google and by many of its customers, and Google’s overall effect on promoting Linux and open source adoption across the industry, albeit indirectly, is indubitable.
It’s difficult to be critical of open source software. Often, it’s created by volunteers who are motivated purely by the challenge and the desire to do something good. This
Yes, we really have installed and tested fifty different distributions for this issue’s main feature. And yet, it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface. The diversity we found in each distribution is incredible, whether for security, size, design or community support, plus any number of other unique features. Linux is unique. Just look at how many successful distributions they are, all thriving alongside one another. This diversity is a testament to both the ingenuity of the teams responsible and the rights enshrined within the GPL.
Almost without our noticing, the web has become an integral part of our lives; it’s become the hub for shopping, banking, communicating, working and entertaining. Many of us carry devices that keep us connected all the time, and we think nothing of quickly grabbing our email, checking a forum or sending a message from wherever we might be. It’s in many ways more magical than the sci-fi future I was promised in the 1970s. But many of us are also in denial about two things. The first is that we think our presence on the
Many years ago, after I first got Linux working, it took a long time to understand what it was all about and what held the operating system together. I remember, after some struggling, seeing KDE for the first time and wondering why I couldn't just download an executable and run it. I couldn't believe that USB devices didn’t simply work, or Windows drivers couldn't be installed, or that the CD-ROM wouldn't automatically mount itself.
All of those specific problems have gone, but the questions they raise are just as important today. And despite being used everywhere, from tiny black boxes and Android phones to the multiplicity of servers run by Google, Linux is still difficult to understand.
Many people have got used to the idea that operating systems are supposed to be transparent. But Linux is different, and to get the most out of it, it really does help to know your way around. This is the motivation behind this month’s main feature – What is Linux?
As a magazine, we've covered all the various components that come together to make Linux, but we've never before covered exactly how they come together. We've approached the subject in a way that we’re hoping will be easy enough for beginners to understand, but there are plenty of gory details for everyone – I never understood what those wretched dynamic kernel modules were until now, for example; and because Linux is always changing, it’s a good way of putting those changes in context.
Last year was awesome for Linux and free software. Android grew much stronger, more people than ever understood the ideas behind open source and the Raspberry Pi helped to erase any last vestige of ‘hacker-elite’ from preconceptions of Linux.
After reading Andrew’s excellent Roundup on alternative desktops (p30), I’m not sure how I feel about the way desktops are going. I’m still surprised, for example, that both Gnome and KDE developers made such massive changes to their desktops, when for many years the old versions had worked brilliantly. KDE 4.9 is stable, but it still takes a lot of effort to make the environment your own. And despite Microsoft staking some of its future on it, I don’t like Gnome’s homogenous touch interface. I accept that tablets and