The first story I wrote for Linux Journal appeared on its website last week. My introduction to the Beaker peer-to-peer web browser received a nice reception on Twitter. I hope you find it interesting too.
Since most of what I know about Beaker is in the story, I want to tell you more about Linux Journal, and why I’m so proud to write for it.
How I learned Linux
I got my first copy of Linux from a PR person from SuSE Linux in 1999. I’d read a press release about a commercial “Linux Office Suite” (not OpenOffice, which didn’t exist yet), and I asked for a review copy. The PR person asked if I needed the operating system too. A week or so later, I got a big box of software and documentation (those were the days!). Only problem was, my computer didn’t have enough power to install the OS. So the CDs sat gathering dust.
A few months later, Corel released its own Linux distribution, which was really just Debian with a decent graphical installer. Since I’d written reviews of WordPerfect in the past, they sent me a copy of Corel Linux, and WordPerfect for Linux. I don’t know whether I’d gotten a better computer, or that the installer was better at handling the hardware I had. Either way, it ran — and I was hooked.
Books and Magazines
A few blocks away from my apartment was a technical bookstore, Softpro Books. This was obviously in the days when you could fill a modestly sized retail space with all kinds of books about computers and the variety of software needed to run them. Not all of them were in the for Dummies line; some of them were Complete Idiot’s Guides. Still others were doorstop-sized technical guides for more advanced users and programmers.
Softpro also carried a ton of print magazines covering the same territory. Not long after I had gotten Corel Linux installed on my machine, I found Linux Journal on a Softpro rack. I brought it home, and almost instantly realized that I barely understood any of it. The stories were about a variety of projects that other Linux users engaged in, and often had a lot to do with the command-line interface. The letters column would debate fine points of syntax and regular expressions. Not to mention sample code that didn’t always work.
It wasn’t long before I also realized that if I was ever going to get off the Microsoft merry-go-round, I’d have to learn a lot more about this OS. After picking up a few more issues, and getting a little more up-to-speed, I subscribed. I never quit, either.
As a writer, I was always a little frightened to propose ideas to the magazine. Eventually, I worked up the courage to do so. LJ rejected most of them, but this one got on to the LJ website (where good stories that didn’t quite make print went) in 2004.
Between the usual trial-and-error way of learning new software, the books I picked up, Linux User Groups, and Linux Journal, I got good enough at Linux that I eventually wrote one of those doorstop guides I mentioned earlier, openSUSE Linux Unleashed.
LJ’s recent history
Linux Journal was the first magazine to focus on Linux and the applications that ran on it. It’s only a year younger than Linux itself and the ecosystem it covers. It has always been an important voice in the Linux community.
As with many print magazines on pretty much any topic, the World Wide Web has wrought a ton of changes in how writers and editors communicate with their readers. LJ’s last print issue came in August 2011, but full issues in various electronic forms (PDF, epub, even mobile apps) continued to come out every month to subscribers.
Since then, subscribers get to see all LJ content first, in a format consistent with a print magazine. Some months later, those stories are published on LinuxJournal.com for everyone’s benefit.
(Not) The End of Linux Journal
We all got a scare at the end of 2017, when the publishers announced that they couldn’t support electronic releases, and that LJ would end. A month later, Private Internet Access opted to fund the electronic version of LJ for another year (at least). LJ, now with Doc Searls as editor-in-chief, would publish without advertising, and continue as a voice for the community.
I wanted to get on board, and sent a bunch of story ideas. To date, the LJ editorial team has accepted every idea I’ve sent (I’m honored, by the way). The Beaker story ran in the December 2018 issue. In January 2019, I wrote some security tips based on the Linux Foundation IT guidelines. I’m working on two other stories now; I’ll tell you about those as they get closer to completion.
Did Linux Journal, or some other magazine, help you learn the technologies you most treasure? What do you think of electronic delivery of “traditional” magazines? Do you subscribe to any magazines or newspapers in whatever form today, or do you just use the Web and/or social networks?
Drop any of your memories and opinions in the Comments section!