...making Linux just a little more fun!

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A Brief History of Linux Gazette

By Rick Moen

-- Several LG Editors contributed to this article.

July 1995 (#1): Linux Gazette ("LG") is created by founding editor John M. Fisk — back in the Slackware 2.0 days — as part of his Linux HomeBoy Web pages in Nashville, Tennessee, while studying as a General Surgery resident and Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center — as a magazine to "pass along some of the ideas that I've tried, liked, and have worked for me".

Local Internet provider Tennessee CommerceNet graciously offers to host it at http://www.tenn.com/fiskhtml/gazette_toc.html.

Over a large part of the Gazette's history, John also authors the magazine's Weekend Mechanic column.

August 1995 (#2): John introduces our signature line, "Making Linux just a little more fun".

September 1995 (#3): Linux Gazette's tradition of simple, lightweight graphics and markup is introduced. The "Two Cent Tip" and MailBag (later, "Mailbag") columns also make their debuts, as does an early version of the Linux Gazette FAQ.

October 1995 (#4): With help from Matt Welsh and Greg Hankins, John's growing magazine becomes officially adopted as a publication of the Linux Documentation Project. At the same time, LG clarifies that copyright will remain with individual contributors, but that issue contents will be redistributable under a BSDish licence. The first official mirror is volunteered by Donnie Barnes, Marc Ewing, and Erik Troan at Red Hat Linux, Inc. (later renamed Red Hat, Inc.).

November 1995 (#5): Additional mirrors are introduced by Phil Hughes of SSC, Inc. and by Alan Cox in the UK. More are invited. ftp-able copies appear for the first time. Michael J. Hammel's popular monthly column "Graphics Muse" debuts.

January 1996 (#6): The tradition of including Linux Gazette issues on CD-ROMs was launched by Pacific HighTech, Inc. (later renamed TurboLinux, Inc.), on its monthly "Linux Archive Monthly CD-ROM".

March 1996 (#7): John invites broader participation (more editors), having been somewhat overwhelmed.

August 1996 (#8): SSC, Inc., publisher of Linux Journal, volunteers to become the primary hosting site, replacing Tennessee CommerceNet, and allowing it to remain a non-commercial magazine.

September 1996 (#9): Linux Gazette switches to an open license, roughly BSDish, fairly similar to the later OPL. Marjorie L. Richardson becomes editor (very ably assisted by Amy Kukuk, and sometimes others).

October 1996 (#10): John M. Fisk's Weekend Mechanic column first appears (later revived by Thomas Adam).

January 1997 (#13): Jim Dennis submits a feedback letter to the editor, in which he offers to answer questions sent to the LG editor of a more technical nature. Marjorie forwards such questions from readers, and then publishes Jim's replies as the "Answer Guy" column, much to Jim's surprise. The column becomes one of the Gazette's most popular features.

February 1997 (#14): The first translated edition (Italian) is launched by Francesco De Carlo and other volunteers at LUGBari.

March 1997 (#15): Linux Gazette picks up a commercial sponsor, InfoMagic (a now-vanished mail-order CD house).

October 1997 (#22): Viktorie Navratilova serves as editor.

December 1997 (#23): Riley P. Richardson fields the editorship, assisted by Marjorie Richardson and Amy Kukuk. Marjorie takes it back in March 1998.

May 1998 (#28): Many more mirror sites have been joining the network. Heather Stern reworks the growing "Answer Guy" column's design to improve its graphics and make the column more Web-functional — and becomes the column's maintainer. Jim Dennis begins offering Greetings as editorial blurbs, in addition to his answers.

June 1999 (#42): Webmaster Mike Orr takes over as editor, assisted by Marjorie Richardson, Heather Stern, and Jim Dennis.

October 1999 (#46): The final "Graphics Muse" column appears, as Michael J. Hammel consolidates his diverse writings onto his own Web site.

February 2000 (#50): Shane Collinge's cartoon HelpDex first appeared, unsolicited. Mike noticed it and LG's first cartoon series was born.

March 2000 (#51): SSC starts "talkback" Web facilities hyperlinked from each Gazette article. Unfortunately, recently (October 2003), all those forums and their contents have been erased during site reorganisation, and are lost. (This breakage illustrates one of the problems with dynamic content, which violates the Gazette staff's policy of each issue having static content in order to be mirror-friendly.)

Summer 2000 (#54-56): The Answer Guy invites some friends among the Linux Gazette crew, and a few others whose answers have been useful, to join him in handling the flood of questions. Heather Stern steps up to handle the editorial blurb and train some scripts to help keep the answers conversational. In July, a handful of people all answer, and by August "The Answer Gang" is properly established. Thomas Adam later pitches in to help out, getting cross-trained in the large Perl script she uses to manage the TAG mailboxes.

September 2000 (#57): Linux Gazette formally changes to the Open Publication License (OPL).

November 2000 (#59): In response to increasing requests from tradeshow staff, a masthead is established, listing Mike Orr as editor, Heather Stern as Technical Editor, and Michael "Alex" Williams, Don Marti, and Ben Okopnik as Contributing Editors, and Jim Dennis as Senior Contributing Editor. Over succeeding issues, Michael Williams leaves, and Dan Wilder joins. Linux Gazette is mirrored in over 40 countries at this point.

May 2001 (#66): Thomas Adam revives the Weekend Mechanic column, last submitted by Gazette founder John M. Fisk in 1998.

October 2001 (#71): Linux Journal sprouts a PHPNuke-based Web site; the idea starts kicking around the back halls at SSC that maybe LG would be a good candidate for turning into a site based on some sort of Web forum, too.

Winter 2001: SSC publisher Phil Hughes moves residences from Seattle to Costa Rica. Some months later, the entire SSC Web operation (hosting for ssc.com, linuxjournal.com, and linuxgazette.com) moves to Costa Rica with him.

September 2002 (#82): Javier Malonda's bilingual (Spanish / English) comic strip Ecol joins the Gazette. The magazine gets a fairly nice new logo.

November 2002 (#84): Mike Orr revamps Linux Gazette's technical structure, to eliminate symbolic links (problematic for MS-Windows systems), to give the single-page ASCII and HTML versions consistent URLs, and to re-do the magazine-production scripts in YAML, with fixed elements generated from Cheetah templates. Ben Okopnik introduces the Perl One-Liner of the Month column — if Sam Spade were a Perl hacker...

Autumn 2002 - Winter 2003: Marketing within SSC would like to jazz up LG. Their idea of how to do this is to create Web forums. A prototype PHPNuke-based site is created, but it doesn't work out; it's scrapped without release to the public. The Gazette staff wants veto power over any more planned changes. "Of course. You guys *are* Linux Gazette. Without you it wouldn't be anything."

March 2003 (#88): Mike Orr, editor of LG, leaves his employ at SSC. The rest of the Gazette staff are informed, and he spends a few more months editing LG as a volunteer effort. Some are concerned that SSC may not want to host us further; mild inquiries are made, and it doesn't seem to be the case. Any question of such a jump is ended by a call from Phil Hughes, clarifying SSC's commitment to keep Linux Gazette a continuing magazine, and that article submissions would continue as before, unchanged.

May 2003: Scott (SSC's webmaster) wrote Mike Orr and said Phil wanted him to take over the job of publishing the articles, to learn the spirit of the magazine while planning a better CMS engine. Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to publish an issue; he was laid off by SSC.

June 2003 (#91): Mike jumps in on short notice to release June's issue.

WorldWatch, claiming to be a daily digest of useful articles about Linux, appears as a subdomain of linuxgazette.com. This was probably the result of yet another effort towards preparing a CMS-based magazine, but doesn't particularly resemble the true Gazette focus, so, other than to mention it in News Bytes, the staff ignore it.

July 07, 2003: Mike announces to the staff on the admin mail list that Jeff, SSC's webmaster, will become our new editor. He's welcomed. Jeff disclaims the editor title, and says plans include a CMS-driven site with "self-editing" features. Reaction in general is doubtful, and staff first make plans to leave if that's the best way to keep publishing a periodic magazine. Submission rate and quality noticeably declines; some authors start holding material back.

August 2003 (#93): Jeff Tinsler announces on the issue's Back Page Mike Orr's departure, saying there will no longer be an editor. However, editorial matters are still discussed on the admin list, and the masthead remains.

September 2003 (#94): The issue releases in ordinary style, minus a few articles due to missed deadlines.

October 2003 (#95): Heather Stern sends off her portion of the issue (TAG, Tips, and Mailbag) for public release. Several days later, a sharp-eyed observer notices the "Gazette Matters" topic, describing SSC's plans and the staff's concerns, is mysteriously missing from the Mailbag article. Queries to SSC about the deletion go unanswered. Most mirrors carry the damaged edition (and later it turns out that other articles are being silently deleted from prior issues, likewise reflected out to the mirrors).

As it is still unknown which CMS software is planned to be used for the release, the staff confer, with the eventual consensus that:

  1. SSC's CMS may end up being a fine Web discussion forum of some sort, but (being neither periodic, edited, nor a magazine) clearly won't be Linux Gazette.
  2. they find it disturbing that a hosting site (such as SSC) would suddenly turn completely uncommunicative towards the magazine staff and make unauthorised and unannounced edits to the published text.

They therefore prepare to move to new hosting, courtesy of software engineer T.R. Fullhart, with Mike Orr to return as overall editor.

End of October 2003: The promised CMS-driven site appears, replacing all previously existing Gazette contents at http://www.linuxgazette.com/ .

The staff notice old articles being loaded into the CMS stripped of author attribution and/or authors' copyright notices, and help SSC identify and correct these problems. At our press time for this November 2003 issue, most such copyright violations have been cleared up and only a couple remain.

The staff assemble a full set of back issues from the LG packages in Debian, which have not been corrupted by deletions or alterations, and rebuild the mirror network.

October 28, 2003: Writing on behalf of LG's staff, Rick Moen formally requests that SSC correct its damaged back issues and cede the domain name linuxgazette.com to the active Linux Gazette staff, if they are not interested in mirroring the new site.

November 2003 (#96): You are here. This is the first issue published at Linux Gazette's new home: http://linuxgazette.net/.


Rick is a member of The Answer Gang.

[BIO] Rick has run freely-redistributable Unixen since 1992, having been roped in by first 386BSD, then Linux. Having found that either one sucked less, he blew away his last non-Unix box (OS/2 Warp) in 1996. He specialises in clue acquisition and delivery (documentation & training), system administration, security, WAN/LAN design and administration, and support. He helped plan the LINC Expo (which evolved into the first LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, in San Jose), Windows Refund Day, and several other rabble-rousing Linux community events in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's written and edited for IDG/LinuxWorld, SSC, and the USENIX Association; and spoken at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo and numerous user groups.

His first computer was his dad's slide rule, followed by visitor access to a card-walloping IBM mainframe at Stanford (1969). A glutton for punishment, he then moved on (during high school, 1970s) to early HP timeshared systems, People's Computer Company's PDP8s, and various of those they'll-never-fly-Orville microcomputers at the storied Homebrew Computer Club -- then more Big Blue computing horrors at college alleviated by bits of primeval BSD during UC Berkeley summer sessions, and so on. He's thus better qualified than most, to know just how much better off we are now.

When not playing Silicon Valley dot-com roulette, he enjoys long-distance bicycling, helping run science fiction conventions, and concentrating on becoming an uncarved block.

Copyright © 2003, Rick Moen. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 96 of Linux Gazette, November 2003

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