Linux Weekly News1 is a long-running online publication (found at http://lwn.net/ ) devoted to free/open source software (FOSS), in particular the Linux kernel and its derivative systems.In addition to the eponymous weekly publication, LWN runs a news ticker which mainly links to germane news articles, more specific news publications (like the Debian Weekly News), and security advisories. The focus here is narrower than the general interest of Slashdot and broader than specialist tickers like KDE.news and MozillaZine.

The Origins and History of LWN

Linux Weekly News was first concieved by Jonathan Corbet and Liz Coolbaugh in late 1997, as a promotion for their fledgeling consultancy Eklektix. The first edition of LWN was published on January 29, 1998. Initially, the only feature of LWN.net was the weekly edition, published on most Thursdays, with the occasional feature article published alongside of it. Soon the weekly publication was joined by daily updates, mostly links to outside articles that would later be mentioned in the weekly edition.

After it became apparent that the news publication was more popular and indeed useful than the consulting services it was created to sell, the question of funding for LWN came up. Advertising was introduced to the LWN site, and later, in the height of the dot-com cash boom, LWN was acquired by Tucows. This arrangement served the LWN team well, until the tech crash inevitably led to their spinning-off in October 2001. Returned to advertising and donation revenue, they had to cut down their staffing and later, on July 25, 2002, they announced that LWN would be shutting down to lack of funding. The $25,000 in donations that they recieved in the following week convinced them that they might be able to continue on a subscription model, something they had originally rejected.

Starting in September 2002, the LWN weekly edition was, on initial publication, made available only to LWN subscribers. After a week has passed, a previously subscriber-only publication is then made freely available. More recently, subscriber-only articles other than the weekly edition have been published: usually excerpts from an upcoming weekly edition, but sometimes special articles like conference reports. Presently, there are about 4000 LWN subscribers.

The Format and Content of LWN

The LWN weekly edition is divided into several sections: the front page, security, kernel, distributions, development, Linux in the news, announcements, and letters to the editor. The front page consists of breaking stories and editorials, which are generally renowned for their insightful, informed commentary on current events. The security page collects all the security advisories issued by major distributions. The kernel page monitors Linux kernel development by linking major new patches and hosting articles on the content and ramifications of recent or pending kernel changes. The distributions and development pages generally just collect links to various external sources with an in-depth section article outlining a topic of interest, and the press and announcements pages simply collect external articles (most of which have been posted in the daily updates). Since the advent of comment posting in 2002, there have been fewer letters to the editor, but there is usually at least one per week.

There are a couple series of articles that have appeared in the last two years. Starting with a comparison of web browsers, the "Grumpy Editor" series has editor Jon Corbet comparing various Free Software entries in a variety of software categories, from email clients to image viewers. Grumpy Editor articles are invariably both popular and controversial, as readers whose priorities differ from the grumpy editor dispute the article's conclusions and fans of software not covered in the article weigh in in the comments section. The other continuing series is the driver porting series, an outgrowth of the editor's work on the book Linux Device Drivers dealing with changes in the driver API before and during the 2.6 kernel series. This series is only part of LWN's excellent kernel coverage, both through editorial articles and articles written by prominent kernel hackers.

LWN's comments feature was greeted on its arrival by fears that it would degenerate LWN into a Slashdot-like den of flamewars, trolling, mindless catchphrase memes, and poorly-informed fanboys. Fortunately, this has not happened, with the occasional perpetrators of such nonsense generally finding a small audience. A number of well-known 'open-source personalities' frequent the LWN comments, including Bruce Perens, Havoc Pennington, David A. Wheeler, and Rick Moen. Comment moderation has found to be generally unnecessary, although there have been occasional discussions of restricting comment privileges to subscribers.

Conclusion

LWN is a valuable resource for followers of free software news; its well-researched articles and comprehensive links provide a welcome summary every Thursday morning. As a regular reader for the past five years and a subscriber for the past two (to the day!) I have always found it one of the highlights of my Internet week.


1: Since LWN covers more than just Linux, the LWN editors have deprecated the name "Linux Weekly News" in favour of "LWN.net"; everybody else still uses the original name which is why I've used it here.
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This writeup is copyright 2005 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ .

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