End of the road, the journey begins (Linux Weekly News)

"The end of the road', read the surprising headline on the front page of the Linux Weekly News (LWN) of 24 July, 2002.1 Founded in 1998, it had established itself as the most reliable, expert, and analytical Web publication of the Linux community. Today, Linux Weekly News, like Linux Today and Slashdot, publishes daily links to various Linux news sites, but its mainstay was always a weekly issue consisting of original articles.

As usual, in the last July issue it published articles relating to the world of Open Source, and included stories on: RealNetworks' decision to switch to the Open Source development model; US plans for legislation that would give film studios and record companies the right to harass and possibly break into the computers of Internet users of their choice without any police or court order; security problems at PHP and SSH; the cli() and sti() functions of the Linux kernel, and the publication of Ogg Vorbis 1.0 and Debian GNU/Linux 3.0. Then, out of the blue, at the end of the main page was an article under the heading "The End of the Road'.

Linux Weekly News had come to the conclusion that banner advertising wasn't a viable way of financing a free webzine.2 For some time, LWN accepted donations from its readers through the PayPal system, and even though the income generated was somewhat bigger than the advertising revenue, it still wasn't enough to finance a staff of five. Having considered the option of making LWN a subscription webzine, the people behind LWN finally decided to call it a day. The issue of 1 August, 2002, would be the last. There was nothing else to be done; the decision was final.
The reaction of LWN readers to this announcement surprised everybody, including its editors and the readers themselves.3 Naturally, the demise of the most esteemed journalistic publication focusing on Linux caused great disappointment, even shock, but the response to the announcement being what it was, on a practical level, was historic.

Posted Jul 25, 2002 20:26 UTC (Thu) by other-iain
I've read LWN for about 4 years. My guess is that a reasonable subscription price would have been $30 a year. That's $120. I gave $20 earlier, so that leaves $100 unpaid. I've just put that $100 in through PayPal. Consider this payment for services rendered. I'm sorry to see you go, but I understand why [...]

Good luck in your post-LWN ventures. Let us know who you're writing for next so we can tune in.

Posted Jul 26, 2002 0:46 UTC (Fri) by BogusUser
I did the same, registered to donate, and to say thanks for the great work over the years. If these extra donations do not make enuf of a difference I smile thinking of you having a beer on me.

Posted Jul 26, 2002 14:19 UTC (Fri) by jgm
I hope you find your miracle. I've donated my US$100. I hope it helps keep you going. If not, consider it my late :-( subscription fee for your fine publication.

I've found LWN to be the best site for keeping up with what is happening in the GNU/Linux, Free Software, and Open Source Software world. I'm really going to miss you!! I especially enjoyed the Kernel section. My Thursday's are just not going to be the same without LWN!

In any case, best of luck to you all and thanks for the great work you've done on LWN. I hope you can find a way to continue.

By the time the following week's issue was published, a total of $25,000 had been donated! For a staff of five editors, that would only cover expenses for about six weeks, but it did make the LWN staff rethink their decision to close LWN down. After a week-long break, they decided to turn LWN into a subscription webzine. The daily newslinks and the accompanying user forums would remain open to all, but the weekly publication of original articles would be available to subscribers only, and the price was set at $5 a month. However, LWN's loathing for the closed model proved so strong that the staff decided that all articles over a week old would be made available to non-subscribers.

After this decision, although LWN had to slightly reduce the number of permanent contributors and partly make do with freelance writers, life went on virtually unchanged. In 2003, LWN showed what it was made of when SCO claimed that Linux contained code that was illegally copied from SCO. While other IT publications at first accepted SCO's allegations as the truth, from day one the LWN editors knew what was what. When SCO published two examples of code sections "illegally copied into Linux', Bruce Perens and the readers of LWN were able, in less than a day, to trace the real origins of the relevant source codes and prove that one of them was a product of the seventies and, ironically, the other was written by the Open Source community and illegally copied by SCO.
Investigative journalism had shown that it was worth the price.

Verdict: The Open Source community has been criticized for taking a free ride in the world of IT. There is much talk of freedom, but nobody is willing to pay for anything, opponents claim. If nothing else, the LWN case showed that this is simply not true. Linux users may not be prepared to hand over their cash to monopolies whose prices are 90 per cent air. No way are they ready to give up their basic freedoms, such as the free sharing of source code. But they are willing to pay for something that is of real importance to them. The $25,000 in LWN's account proved that.

  • 1. https://lwn.net
  • 2. This may not sound like a very surprising conclusion, but in the golden nineties even banner advertising seemed like a smart idea.
  • 3. Readers' reactions are still available in the comments to the article at https://lwn.net/Articles/5409/
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