I first discovered Linux in 1993, when I was an undergraduate physics student who wanted the power of Big Unix on my home PC. I remember installing my first Linux distribution, SoftLanding Systems (SLS), and exploring the power of Linux on my ‘386 PC. I was immediately impressed. Since then, I’ve run Linux at home—and even at work.
In those early days, it felt like I was the only person who knew about Linux. Certainly, there was an online community via Usenet, but there weren’t many other ways to get together with other Linux users—unless you had a local Linux User Group in your area. I shared what I knew about Linux with those around me, and we pooled our Linux fu.
So, it was awesome to learn about a print magazine that was dedicated to all things Linux. In March 1994, Phil Hughes and Red Hat co-founder Bob Young published a new magazine about Linux, named Linux Journal. The first issue featured an "Interview With Linus, The Author of Linux" by Robert Young, and an article comparing "Linux Vs. Windows NT and OS/2" by Bernie Thompson.
From the start, Linux Journal aimed to be a community-driven magazine. Hughes and Young were not the only contributors to the magazine. Instead, they invited others to write about Linux and share what they had learned. In a way, Linux Journal used a model similar to open source software. Anyone could contribute, and the editors acted as "maintainers" to ensure content was top quality and informative.
Linux Journal also went for a broad audience. The editors realized that a purely technical magazine would lose too many new users, while a magazine written for "newbies" would not attract a more focused audience. In the first issue, Hughes highlighted both groups of users as the audience Linux Journal was looking for, writing: "We see this part of our audience as being two groups. Lots of the current Linux users have worked professionally with Unix. The other segment is the DOS user who wants to upgrade to a multi-user system. With a combination of tutorials and technical articles, we hope to satisfy the needs of both these groups."
I was glad to discover Linux Journal in those early days, and I quickly became a subscriber. In time, I contributed my own stories to Linux Journal. I’ve written several articles including essays on usability in open source software, Bash shell scripting tricks, and C programming how-tos.
But my contributions to Linux Journal are meager compared to others. Over the years, I have enjoyed reading many article series from regular contributors. I loved Dave Taylor's "Work the Shell" series about practical and sometimes magical scripts written for the Bash shell. I always turned to Kyle Rankin's "Hack and /" series about cool projects with Linux. And I have enjoyed reading articles from the latest Linux Journal deputy editor Bryan Lunduke, especially a recent geeky article about "How to Live Entirely in a Terminal" that showed you can still do daily tasks on Linux without a graphical environment.
Many years later, things took a turn. Linux Journal’s Publisher Carlie Fairchild wrote a seemingly terminal essay Linux Journal Ceases Publication in December 2017 that indicated Linux Journal had "run out of money, and options along with it." But a month later, Carlie updated the news item to report that "Linux Journal was saved and brought back to life" by an angel investor. London Trust Media, the parent company of Private Internet Access, injected new funds into Linux Journal to get the magazine back on its feet. Linux Journal resumed regular issues in March 2018.
But it seems the rescue was not enough. Late in the evening of August 7, 2019, Linux Journal posted a final, sudden goodbye. Kyle Rankin’s essay Linux Journal Ceases Publication: An Awkward Goodbye was preceded with this announcement:
IMPORTANT NOTICE FROM LINUX JOURNAL, LLC:
On August 7, 2019, Linux Journal shut its doors for good. All staff were laid off and the company is left with no operating funds to continue in any capacity. The website will continue to stay up for the next few weeks, hopefully longer for archival purposes if we can make it happen.
–Linux Journal, LLC
The announcement came as a surprise to readers and staff alike. I reached out to Bryan Lunduke, who commented the shutdown was a "total surprise. Was writing an article the night before for an upcoming issue... No indication that things were preparing to fold." The next morning, on August 7, Lunduke said he "had a series of frantic messages from our Editor (Jill) and Publisher (Carlie). They had just found out, effective the night before... Linux Journal was shut down. So we weren't so much being told that Linux Journal is shutting down... as Linux Journal had already been shut down the day before... and we just didn't know it."
It's the end of an era. And as we salute the passing of Linux Journal, I’d like to recognize the indelible mark the magazine has left on the Linux landscape. Linux Journal was the first publication to highlight Linux as a serious platform, and I think that made people take notice.
And with that seriousness, that maturity, Linux Journal helped Linux shake its early reputation of being a hobby project. Linux Journal's coverage from 1994 to 2019 highlighted Linux’s rise to an enterprise platform that runs a majority of the world’s servers and services.
I tip my hat to everyone at Linux Journal and any contributor who was part of its journey. It has been a pleasure to work with you over the years. You kept the spirit alive. This may be a painful experience, but I hope everyone ends up in a good place.