Part of the Linux culture for nearly as long as Linux itself, Linux Journal has announced that its November edition was its last.
Linux Journal is no more. On Friday, publisher Carlie Fairchild wrote that unless “a savior” rides in to save the day, the magazine born in 1994, just two years after Linus Torvalds posted that he was working on an operating system, has already released its last issue.
This is a publication that’s been with us since before the data center discovered the little operating system that can and before the internet forever changed the publishing industry. Linux Journal started its life printed on dead trees, and until relatively recently was delivered to subscribers’ homes by mail or purchased by non-subscribers at the local newsstand.
It started in a time when “open source” was not yet a term. Linux and the GNU stack were “free software,” with the mantra “free as in speech, not as in beer” oft repeated lest anyone confuse software licensed under the GPL with “freeware.”
“It looks like we’re at the end, folks,” Fairchild wrote in the Journal’s funeral notice. “If all goes according to a plan we’d rather not have, the November issue of Linux Journal was our last.”
The problem, of course, is money — or the lack of it — a commodity that she admits has always been in short supply at a publication that “got to be good at flying close to the ground for a long time.” The lack of money, she points out, was made worse by the Google supported modern advertising model in which advertisers no longer support publications “because they value its brand and readers.”
“[T]he advertising world we have today would rather chase eyeballs, preferably by planting tracking beacons in readers’ browsers and zapping them with ads anywhere those readers show up,” she said.
Finances are so bad that current subscribers won’t be getting a refund, although Linux Pro Magazine is picking up some of the slack by offering LJ subscribers six free issues of their magazine. In addition, Fairchild said, “We also just finished up our 2017 archive today, which includes every issue we’ve ever published, including the first and last ones. Normally we sell that for $25, but obviously subscribers will get it for no cost.” She said subscribers will receive an email about both offers.
In a follow-up article published the same day, Linux Journal writer Kyle Rankin, who joined the publication a decade ago, pointed out that the community surrounding Linux and open source has changed over the years.
“We’ve won on so many fronts, but we’ve also lost our way,” he wrote. “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 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.”
Rankin makes a good point, which suggests another reason behind the journal’s demise might be that time and history have left it behind. That’s a sobering thought to those of us who adopted Linux not merely for technical reasons, but because we believed the free software FOSS model essential to the future of data technology. As recently as a decade ago we seemed the be the majority of Linux users, even when including commercial users. Today we appear to be a small minority.
On Saturday Noah Meyerhans, a Linux systems engineer for Amazon Web Services, wrote a farewell blog to Linux Journal in which he noted the importance the magazine had in his life during the late 90s when he had been a college student pursuing a computer science degree. Like Rankin, he notes that times have changed, but he prefers to see gains instead of losses. From his vantage in the commercial world, Linux and open source are clear winners. In this sense, he represents the modern paradigm, in which open source is seen mostly as an efficient way of developing software.
“It’s been a long time since I paid attention to Linux Journal, so from a practical point of view I can’t honestly say that I’ll miss it,” he wrote. “I appreciate the role it played in my growth, but there are so many options for young people today entering the Linux/free software communities that it appears that the role is no longer needed. Still, the termination of this magazine is a permanent thing, and I can’t help but worry that there’s somebody out there who might thrive in the free software community if only they had the right door open before them.”
That is, indeed, cause for concern.