Sometime around mid-1997, your editor and Liz Coolbaugh were discussing
ways in which one might go about starting a business around the Linux
operating system. As we watched the Unix wars and awaited the arrival of the
universally-proclaimed operating system of the future (a thing called
"Windows NT"), we realized that Linux was the best hope there was for those
who wished to avoid a future dominated by proprietary, closed systems.
Linux seemed to be going somewhere in a time when Unix-based systems as a
whole were beginning to struggle, and we wanted to help it get there. And
besides, working with Linux was a lot of fun.
The idea we went with was to form a support company joined into Red Hat's
ill-fated support partner network. But how were we going to attract
customers — and keep busy while waiting for those customers to
show up? The idea we came up with was simple enough: start a web-based newsletter
to help the world keep up with what was happening in the insanely
fast-moving Linux world (the linux-kernel list sometimes carried a shocking
100 messages in a single day back then) and, at the same time, inform that
world of just how clever and on top of the situation we were.
So that is what we set out to do. The first
LWN.net server went on the net in January, 1998, though we would not
acquire that domain until much later that year. It ran on an old machine
in your editor's basement and served its content over a single ISDN line.
We published the January 22 issue when we
had something that looked somewhat reasonable, thus establishing the
Thursday publication cycle without any conscious thought on the matter.
One week later, with a second issue written
(headlined by the timely
announcement that the Netscape browser would be open-sourced), we sent
message to the comp.os.linux.announce newsgroup telling the world of
our existence, and life was never the same
Like many business plans, ours failed to survive contact with the real
world; a number of its successors fared no better. But, through it all, we
kept LWN going. It didn't take long for the ISDN line to prove inadequate,
even on a site with almost no image content at all. Linux began to take
off for real as it led the final wave of the dotcom boom; LWN's readership
rose with it. Eventually we
realized that, while our various business schemes never seemed to get far,
people were always interested in LWN. Far too late, we figured out that,
perhaps, LWN was the business we'd been trying to build all along.
So, toward the end of 1999, we set ourselves to that task in earnest. Our
have heard much about our ups and downs over the years, but, by one obvious
metric, LWN is a success: fifteen years after that first issue, LWN.net is
still here. There is no
shortage of work to do or things to improve, but somehow we seem to have
found a way to do enough right to stick around.
We have watched Linux grow from a "hobbyist" system that few took seriously
into the platform on which much of the world's computing is based. When we
started, the number of people paid to work on Linux could perhaps have been
tracked efficiently with an eight-bit variable; now it would be hard to
even begin to guess how big the Linux employment market is. We have seen
companies try to FUD Linux out of existence; others have tried to claim
ownership of it. And we've seen Linux survive these challenges and more;
Linux, too, is still here.
When LWN started, the community had no real idea of how to run a free
software project involving hundreds or thousands of people. Those that
tried often ran into trouble; the kernel process choked several times while
others, like the project to make a workable browser out of the Netscape code,
often seemed on the verge of collapsing under their own weight. The
evolution of our software over the last fifteen years has been impressive,
but the evolution of our community is doubly so. We can now take on
projects that seemed unattainable even in the middle of dotcom boom
Fifteen years ago, we were a small, youthful band that thought it could
change the world and have fun in the process. It is fair to say that both
objectives were achieved nicely. Now we are numerous, older, professional, and
tightly tied into the market economy; the wild-west days are mostly behind
us. There will be plenty of work to do on Linux for a long time, but one
might well ask: are our days of changing the world done?
The answer to that question is almost certainly "no." We have, at
this point, succeeded in the creation of a large body of software that is
not under the control of any one person or company. That software now
forms the platform used for the growing swarm of ubiquitous devices; as
these devices get smaller and cheaper, they will only become more
prevalent. We have established the expectation that the code for these
devices should be available and free, and we have promoted the idea that
the devices themselves should be open and hackable. But we have not yet
fully created the basis for free computing and, with it, a more free
society. There is a lot of work to be done yet in that area.
When LWN got its start, our community's objective was simple, create a freer, better
Unix. We have long since crossed that one off the list; now we need a
better operating system for the devices — and the challenges — of the
future. The problem is that
we don't yet know what that operating system needs to look like. Unix
embodies a great many solid design principles, but a system that was
designed for slow terminals on minicomputers cannot be expected to be ideal
for a phone handset, much less for hardware that we cannot yet envision.
The system must evolve, perhaps in ways that cause it to diverge
considerably from its Unix roots. Guiding that evolution without
fragmenting our community or losing our focus on freedom will be one of
our biggest challenges in the coming years.
The next fifteen years, in other words, promise to be just as interesting
as the last fifteen were; here at LWN, we plan to continue to be a part of
our community as those years play out. LWN, too, will need to evolve to
best meet the community's needs, but, like Linux, we will evolve while
keeping that community's values at heart. Thousands of you, the best readers
one could possibly ask for, have sustained us for these years and helped to
keep us honest. It is our hope to serve all of you even better in
the coming years. It has been quite a ride; thank you all for letting us
be a part of it. We are looking forward to seeing where it takes us next.
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