First of all let me introduce and welcome Andrew Lack who will be doing the layout of the printed version of "Linux@UK" from now on. The first issue was just a raw dump of the web version. Under Andrew's guidance subscribers can now look forward to such luxuries as page numbers ;)
Look out for Anrdew's article introducing Tcl/Tk later in the newsletter.
Linux is a promising child growing up fast. It now has the trappings of respectable adulthood; the 1.2 kernel mans that people who don't want to participate in the construction of Linux can now have a more up to date release than the 1.0.9 that was the last production release about a year ago.
For those who don't know the way Linux kernel versioning works is that the first digit is the major release number, the second digit is even for production releases and odd for ongoing development releases. For production releases the last number should only increment for important bug fixes not for any new features - the minor release number of 1.2 has already been bumped a few times probably more by the time you read this. For odd numbered releases the minor release numbers contain new features as well as bug fixes. This makes the development kernel track the testing ground for the latest features but more of a risk as somebody else's 'must have' new feature may just have unexpected repercussions for what you are trying to do with Linux. If you want to play it safe get the latest 1.2.x kernel that you can. In the meantime the Linux community will be forging ahead with 1.3.
Other big news on the Linux development front is ELF object format compatability. This joining of the Unix System V fold has several advantages. Firstly Linux will be one of the big boys - able to run the same commercial programs as SCO and Unixware and all the huge resource of free Linux software as well of course! This will make it possible to mix and match between commercial software products with support contracts and the powerful but to a large extent 'support yourself' Linux tools. Secondly elf brings with it a much 'cleaner' implementation of shared libraries that should ease a lot of the difficulty for software developers that there has been in the past.
Linux is truly becomming Unix and going beyond that to become the leader in open operating systems. It is estimated (by the U.S. publication Linux Journal that there are now over a million Linux users worldwide and it is climbing very rapidly. If Linux is not already the most common form of Unix it soon will be! Linux is certainly the only Unix system to sell in the sort of numbers to pose a serious threat to the proprietary OS offerings of Microsoft and IBM.
Linux is, like the Internet with which it shares many characteristics, free from the control of big corporations or any one person. Linus in announcing the 1.2 kernel made a spoof usenet posting that stated that using the 1.2 kernel would now require the payment of licence fees. There were small clues to the spoof nature such as free licencing to anyone who participated in the kernel beta testing - that means anyone who has moved beyond the ancient 1.0.9 kernel! I must admit the spoof took me in for a little while :( it raised some interesting points that we must be careful to discuss and resolve as Linux evolves into a full Unix and going beyond into areas that no other Unix system has yet been. The comming of elf binary format means that Linux users will be able to buy commercial software packages to work alongside the 'Copyleft' publicly developed software that is Linux's native strength. Two things need to be balanced; firstly if software is being developed with the economic model that eventual purchasers directly share that cost of development then purchasing an appropriate licence to use such software is required. Obviously if software authors go down this path then they don't get the through testing and willingness to help with development that has been the hallmark and success of Linux up until now. We must however tread carefully: commercial software a welcome extra choice though it is, is not nirvana. In many ways the Linux way, of software comming about through users freely co-operating because they have a common need, is better than the commercial marketplace with its budgets and timescales seeming to be higher priority than being allowed to refine something until its right. The sort of quality software that we take for granted with linux such as TeX and Perl would be hugley expensive to undertake as a commercial project and would probably have to sell for a huge price tag, or else sell in such high numbers that only the biggest software giants would be able to handle the logistics of the operation. Commercial software serves a different market to Linux. Linux provides a multitude of software tools that would prove very useful to anyone with the skill to use them or the enthusiasm for aquiring those skills. What linux software is not is foolproof or particularly easy to use for someone who is just using the computer 'for a job' with no real interest in what they are doing. In these areas commercial packaged software is the way to go. The joining of the two now gives anyone wanting to use Linux the best of both worlds. Techies can have an operating system and set of tools they can really control and take an active part in the further development while the users who are supported by those techies can opt for familiar and novice friendley commercial packages.
Linux now deserves to be treated as a serious mainstream operating system. If there is any such thing as a true "Open System" then Linux, with its free licencing and access to source code is it! There was a flurry of interest about Linux in the popular computer magazines a few months ago. Apart from occasional passing remark from journalists like Chris Bidmead there hasn't been much coverage. Is there a conspiracy of silence; because Linux and its no charge software are developing so fast that magazines are scared that too much publicity for Linux will scare their software advertisers away! I would like to be proved wrong in this but it seems odd that not even the rash of magazines about the Internet that have sprung up give Linux more than a passing mention. Linux and ithe Internet go hand in glove!
A more likley scenario is just that people, and computer magazine editors in particular, are so used to Microsoft's domination of the computing scene that they are failing to see that something quite new and exciting is happening to the computer industry. Not big corporations with big budgets to fight big legal battles with each other. Instead the whole Linux scene is one of individuals and small teams, each with their own goals and own needs to make a living, but seeing the value in co-operation. It is only with Copyleft that the little guys all over the world; independent software consultants, company DP departments, academic and government institutions and the like stand anything like a far chance at producing software of comparable quality to that turned out by the very biggest and richest international corporations.
Companies such as Microsoft that employ thousands of programmers have always had the ability for developers to see other programs, reuse parts of them and generaly be free to bounce ideas around. Linux with its open conferences on the net opens up this world to anyone who can benefit from taking part. Being part of "Team Linux" carries many of the same benefits enjoyed by computer users within large computer companies, but without any of the office politics, red tape and fruitless meetings.
The bringing together of the rapidly expanding Internet with high power personal Linux systems for all could usher in a new age of human creativity and intelectual achievement. It has been said that a computer is a 'mind amplifier'. That is to say if you are really in tune with a computer and understand it enough to make it do what you want (rather than just following somebody else's instructions witout really understanding why) then you are able to achieve things that would be impossible. I certainly feel more in tune and more at ease with a computer running Linux than one running any other operating system :).
This mind amplification also helps in the area of co-operation between people. Two developers exchanging ideas by email can get on with a task much quicker than face to face meetings with pencil and paper could achieve. Multiply this factor by tens of thousands and you have the reason why Linux has come from nowhere to being so very good in a few short years. The breadth of software now available under the Free Software Foundation 'Copyleft' General Public Licence for Linux is now more than any one man could ever master. Linux is an undertaking and and an achievement of the human race as a whole. It belongs to authors individualy and to us all with the trust that we will use and buld on but not abuse the work of countless others.
This is only the beginning. Imagine what the human race could achieve with millions activley involved (in lesser or greater ways) with the Linux project? The idea that co-operation is better than confrontation could even start to spread into the rest of society. Not that likley I admit but it is nice to hope for a good start to the new melenium.
Also note unlike issue 1.1 this is NOT one big single html file. The change has been made as the paper and web newsletter production processes have now been somewhat separated. The upside of this is that access to the pages should be smoother but the downside is that it is no longer so easy to fetch the whole newsletter for later offline reading. If you want to do this why not subscribe to the SIG and get Andrew Lack's brilliant typeset version delivered to your door instead! Its only 20 quid per anum! There is a membership form for you to print out and send in at the end of this newsletter.