started this series
When your editor
, the idea was to have four
installments covering the ten-year life (so far) of LWN. Well, this is the
fourth installment, and it gets less than halfway there. This is not, it
seems, a topic which inspires brevity. So this series will continue past
the anniversary, though your editor anticipates picking up the pace a bit
for the second five years. There is less to be learned, arguably, by
looking at events in the relatively recent past.
Anyway, at the end of the third installment, LWN had been unacquired
by Tucows and was, once again, on its own. The worst of the dotcom bust
may have passed, but it was still a somewhat scary environment in which to
be attempting to restart a business. It was, in fact, even scarier than we
had thought when we so naively set out to show that we could do a better job
of bringing in the cash than Tucows did.
- February 7, 2002: Linus
tries BitKeeper at last.
- February 14, 2002: Sun
states that it will "ship a full implementation of the Linux operating
system." Dave Whitinger joins LWN.net.
Dave Whitinger was, of course, one of the founders of LinuxToday. He
joined LWN with the intent of helping us develop the advertising side of
the business. That did not work out as intended, but it is hardly Dave's
fault; it was a terrible time to be trying to sell advertising.
- February 28, 2002: Sun
cuts off free access to StarOffice, but we had OpenOffice.org by then
and didn't mind. BitKeeper starts to settle in as the kernel's source
Linus stuck with BitKeeper after his initial trial, setting a number of
things in motion. For the next few years, the use of proprietary software
at the core of the kernel development process would be a constant source of
unhappiness and worry - and, in fact, the story had just the sort of
unhappy ending that some observers had feared. But this was also the move
which rationalized the kernel work flow and made the whole system scale;
the incredible rate of change we see now would not have been possible
without it. The use of BitKeeper also made the community aware of what
distributed source control could do and, eventually, inspired the creation
of a number of free programs with the same essential features. One could
say that the community would have eventually developed these systems on its
own without the push from Larry McVoy and BitKeeper, and that's probably
true. But the fact is: we didn't do it at that time, so we had no real
alternative to BitKeeper.
- March 7, 2002: Martin
Dalecki's "IDE cleanup" patches start to raise concerns among kernel
developers, who have this strange notion that their disks should
actually work. A petition against the use of BitKeeper circulates on
the net. Eric Raymond goes around telling the world that the kernel
development process is "in crisis."
- March 14, 2002: Richard
Stallman claims that the GNU HURD will be ready by the end of the
year. MandrakeSoft pleads for donations to keep the business alive -
and LWN does too. Martin Dalecki officially takes over IDE
maintenance - and breaks more systems.
We got about $5,000 from our initial plea for donations. It was a real act
of generosity on the part of our readers, but one does not keep a business
with five employees going for very long with that sort of money.
- March 28, 2002: The
proposed "consumer broadband and digital television promotion act"
would require DRM technology in all software which touches digital
media. Lineo lays off more staff.
- April 25, 2002: More
BitKeeper flames. Lineo goes through a "recapitalization" effort to be
able to do things like pay its employees.
- May 2, 2002:
OpenOffice.org 1.0 is released.
- June 6, 2002: LWN switches
to the "new" site code. Red Hat applies for a few software patents.
ADEOS, a real-time system which avoids the RTLinux patent, is
released. UnitedLinux launches. Mozilla 1.0 is released.
It is amazing how many readers hated the new code. Certainly there were a
lot of silly things in the initial version of the site; we fixed a number
of them in a hurry. Many readers disliked the ability to post comments -
often posting comments to that effect. The addition of comments was
something we thought about carefully for a long time; we were quite
concerned that they could ruin the feel of the site. In the end, it seems,
trusting our readers has paid off; the quality of the conversation here is
often quite good.
UnitedLinux was a cooperative effort between Caldera, Conectiva,
SuSE, and Turbolinux; the idea was to join together to create a common
base from which each could then craft a separate product. The effort was
never all that successful, and the presence of Caldera would, of course,
doom it outright in the end. But it was a big deal at the time. It is
interesting to see that Mandriva (despite MandrakeSoft's refusal to join
UnitedLinux) and Turbolinux are now attempting a very similar
sort of arrangement.
- June 13, 2002: Secure
Computing Corporation claims patents on SELinux.
- June 27, 2002: The 2002
kernel summit sets October 31 as the date for the 2.6 feature
freeze. GNOME 2.0 is released.
- July 4, 2002: Darl McBride
takes over at SCO.
- July 25, 2002: LWN
announces "the end of the road." The "IDE cleanup" patch series (up
to number 100) causes system lockups and file corruption. Debian
GNU/Linux 3.0 ("woody") is released. Version 1.0 of the Ogg Vorbis
codec is released.
By the end of July, we had come to realize that the advertising business
was not going to work out for LWN, and we were short of other ideas. The
bank account had reached a point where we could not pay even very small
expenses. So we
concluded that it was time to throw in the towel and try something else -
though we had no clue of what "something else" might be. It was with a
heavy heart that we announced our plan to shut down the site.
What happened next is that our donation box, which had sat mostly empty
after the initial announcement, was suddenly topped up to the tune of about
$35,000. Many of the donations came with notes to the effect of "use this
to throw a big party." This, shall we say, got our attention. We decided
that, just maybe, the subscription idea was worth a try after all, and
decided to make a go of it. It was not the end after all.
- August 1, 2002: A new
beginning. HP tries to use the DMCA to shut down disclosure of
- August 15, 2002:
Distributions from MandrakeSoft, Red Hat, and SuSE are certified to be
compliant with the Linux Standard Base.
This was when our credit card merchant bank at the time decided that all
those donations might just be fraudulent. So they seized the money back out
of our bank account. That, too, got our attention. It took a few months
and some lawyer time to get the money you all had sent in our direction;
during that time, it was money from PayPal (the subject of everybody else's
horror stories) that kept the lights on while our main source of cash was
Needless to say, we got a new merchant bank, which we still use to this
day. The new bank exhibits a rather higher clue level than the old one
did, but we also learned a valuable lesson: don't mess with the credit card
money pipeline. Every now and then, somebody asks why we don't accept
pure donations; this is why.
- August 22, 2002: Martin
Dalecki quits and the entire series of 115 "IDE cleanup" patches is
deleted from the 2.5 kernel.
- August 29, 2002: British
Telecom's attempt to patent the web dies in court. The BitKeeper
license changes. Caldera becomes the SCO Group.
- September 12, 2002: Some
patches get dropped after Linus starts running his mail through a spam
It's hard to believe that, only 5+ years ago, somebody with an email
address as well distributed as Linus's could get by without spam
filtering. There are a lot of free "productivity" applications, but,
arguably, few have actually increased productivity to the extent that
- September 26, 2002: The
release of the "Phoenix" browser is announced. UnitedLinux upsets the
community by releasing a closed beta.
Phoenix was the Mozilla Foundation's answer to (relatively) lightweight
browsers like Galeon, which had managed to turn the Gecko engine into
something which was truly usable. The Phoenix browser proved popular, and
eventually became the tool now known as Firefox.
- October 3, 2002: The
first subscriber-only weekly edition. Eldred v. Ashcroft is argued in
the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eldred v. Ashcroft, argued by Lawrence Lessig, was an attempt to roll back
copyright extension in the US; it eventually was unsuccessful. To this
day, there still has not really been a successful challenge to the
extensions to copyright passed over the last few decades - though some
especially nasty attempts to make things even worse were defeated.
With the October 3, 2002 edition, LWN adopted the new policy of requiring
subscriptions in order to read our original content prior to the
publication of the weekly edition.
That policy has stayed essentially unchanged since
then, despite the occasional temptation to increase the subscriber-only
period. Subscription rates have also stayed unchanged, even though raising
them is also tempting.
Subscriptions have certainly been successful, in that they have kept the
operation going in the years since then. And there is a real joy
associated with being truly answerable to our readers instead of
advertisers. Nonetheless, it is a challenging business; people do not like
to pay to read web-based content. The fact that so many of our readers
are willing to do so is most gratifying. Trends in other parts of
the net are moving away from this approach, though, with formerly
subscription sites moving to pure advertising models. So it will be
interesting to see how it all plays out in the future.
Meanwhile, next week's installment will look at how things went for Linux
(and LWN) starting toward the end of 2002. Stay tuned.
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