The free software story

Complete Salon Technology coverage of Linux, the open-source movement and free software's ideas and personalities.


Recent stories

Linux in every lap

Stars of the original Mac development team try to solve one of the hottest puzzles in technology today: How to make the Linux desktop user-friendly.

By Lydia Lee


DeCSS decoy

A free-software fanatic unleashes a “useless” program to foil investigators looking for the DeCSS DVD decryption code.

By Damien Cave


Free the night life!

Former Netscape programmer Jamie Zawinski has spent his life making software free. Now he wants to liberate San Francisco’s fading club scene.

By Andrew Leonard


Mozilla dreams

Can the open-source browser redeem Netscape’s name and give Microsoft a run for its money?

By Andrew Leonard


The shape of open source to come

VA Linux purchases, corporate parent to Slashdot. Will the “news for nerds” site maintain its editorial independence?

By Andrew Leonard


The Transmeta energizer

Silicon Valley’s most secretive start-up finally unveils its product — a cool chip design that’ll keep your laptop battery going and going and going.

By Andrew Leonard


Can Linux billionaires carry the free software torch?

As dot-com mania sends shares in open-source companies
soaring, the movement searches its soul.

By Andrew Leonard


Code critic

John Lions wrote the first, and perhaps only, literary criticism of Unix, sparking one of open source’s first legal battles.

By Rachel Chalmers


Who controls free software?

Does Red Hat’s aquisition of Cygnus give the company the final say on free software’s future?

By Andrew Leonard


Why Microsoft really does suck

All the warm, fuzzy feelings evoked by my gorgeous new laptop went up in smoke when I discovered the evil that lurked inside.

By Andrew Leonard


How the Web was almost won

Just how close did we come to a Web ruled by Microsoft? The “server wars” show a grim counterpart to the browser wars.

By Tim O’Reilly


Is Linux the real remedy?

The open-source camp welcomes the findings of fact. But some think that Linux doesn’t need the courts to beat Redmond.

By Andrew Leonard


The Red Hat IPO Saga

Inside the Red Hat IPO

A free software hacker gets in on the ground floor of the first Linux company public offering, but pays a price to do so.

By C. Scott Ananian


Red Hot

The open source movement basks in the glow of a successful IPO for Red Hat, the first Linux company to go public.

By Andrew Leonard


A Linux lament

As Red Hat prepares to go public, one Linux hacker’s dreams of IPO glory are crushed by The Man.

By C. Scott Ananian


Is Red Hat becoming Linux’s Microsoft?

Hardly. But as the lovey-dovey Linux business matures, elbows are beginning to fly.

By Andrew Leonard


Major stories

Apache’s free-software warriors

How did Apache become the most popular software for serving Web pages? How did its developers, collaborating online, beat both Microsoft and Netscape in this market? Salon’s first big look at the subject explains the nature of “free software” and open access to source code — and explores why this approach is gaining adherents, producing reliable and popular software and causing Microsoft and other software giants to take notice.

By Andrew Leonard


The little operating system that could

What is Linux, the flagship open-source operating system? Where did it come from, and how did it emerge as a cause? Can it really challenge Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop operating system market? Our thorough feature lays out the Linux landscape for a non-technical audience.

By Andrew Leonard


Let my software go!

The free software approach received a major boost in spring 1998 when Netscape released the source code to its browser. The company said it was influenced by “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” an article by open-source advocate Eric Raymond. Our interview with Raymond covers the distinction between “open source” and “free software” and explores differences in the movement between pragmatists like Raymond, who are interested in persuading businesses to adopt their ideas, and idealists like free-software pioneer Richard Stallman, who embrace free software for primarily moral and ethical reasons.

By Andrew Leonard


The saint of free software

Richard Stallman invented the open licensing scheme under which free software has flourished. Now the unkempt, brilliant programmer suggests he’s being written out of history. In our profile of Stallman, the Free Software Foundation founder argues that “the freedom to cooperate” is “more important than convenience and reliability” — and, on a visit to the Stanford campus to check his e-mail, gives Bill Gates the finger.

By Andrew Leonard



In a followup to this article, Eric Raymond and others respond to Stallman. (09/11/98)

Microsoft’s Halloween scare

In a memo leaked to the Net on Halloween 1998, a Microsoft developer assessed the threat that open-source software poses to Windows — and outlined a company strategy against Linux. Was Microsoft plotting to “copy and corrupt” free software standards — or just building up the open-source challenge to strengthen its antitrust case?

By Scott Rosenberg


The dumbing-down of programming

The author of “Close to the Machine” installs Linux on one of her computers — and realizes why so many engineers are embracing the joys of difficult computing. Ullman’s two-part article considers why it’s important for software developers to work closely with code — and what they and we lose when their tools “protect” them from the inner workings of their products.

By Ellen Ullman


The joy of Perl

How a self-effacing programmer named Larry Wall invented a fuzzy, messy, free software language — and how that language, Perl, came to be viewed as the hacker’s best friend, and the indispensable duct tape, or glue, that holds the entire Web together.

By Andrew Leonard


You’ve got sendmail

Eric Allman’s free program sendmail makes sure your e-mail gets through. It helped make Internet e-mail the universal medium for electronic communication. Now it’s going commercial. This piece examines sendmail’s roots in the Berkeley hacker culture of the ’70s and the implications of the new company’s “hybrid” approach to free software development.

By Andrew Leonard


Linux needs help!

If you are motivated, fearless and willing to learn, the secrets of Linux will readily open up for you. But if you’re a “stupid user,” you’re out of luck. So if Linux is going to expand beyond its devoted cadre to a broader mass of users, it needs to provide usable non-geek support. That forces Linux’s advocates to confront the Achilles heel of their open-source software development model — the need to get cool people to take on uncool tasks.

By Andrew Leonard


A PC in every pot

When we have free computers in every room, will alternative operating systems like Linux, Be and Amiga rule the world?

By Janelle Brown


Do penguins eat apples?

Once upon a time, Apple dreamed of killing giants. Today, that hope belongs to a new generation — of open-source programmers.

By Andrew Leonard


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Other stories

Cartoon for coders

“User Friendly” taps the open-source movement’s collective funny bone.

By Janelle Brown


Open-source journalism

Slashdot members’ vicious response to a cyberterrorism story spurs a rewrite — and questions about geek-influenced journalism.

By Andrew Leonard


The Cybercommunist Manifesto

Are free-software hackers undermining capitalism and the free-market economy with their code giveaways?

By Andrew Leonard


Linux laptop lust

Laptop hardware is an unconquered frontier for Linux — a
place where the cutting edge sometimes slices free software to shreds.

By Andrew Leonard


Life or death software

A proposal for open-source anesthesia software heightens the drama of the question: Who’s at fault when software fails?

By Andrew Leonard


Penguin wiggles its flippers

Can an upstart Linux box-maker grow like mad — and still keep its soul?

By Andrew Leonard


Linux and Microsoft–together at last

A new round of benchmark tests pits free-software hackers against the gang from Redmond in a race for operating-system supremacy.

By Andrew Leonard


How much do I hear for this perl script?

New O’Reilly venture creates an auction scheme for open-source software projects.

By Andrew Leonard


Linux for dummies?

Caldera’s new OpenLinux 2.2 is the easiest-to-install Linux yet. But as the user interface for the free operating system gets more graphic, it moves closer to an open-source Babel.

By Andrew Leonard


Microsoft’s flawed Linux vs. NT shootout

Mindcraft’s study purported to show that NT is superior to Linux. The test lab looked for help online in tuning the operating system. But did it really want answers?

By Andrew Leonard


Rematch at the NT vs. Linux corral

The Mindcraft testing lab invites another round of performance testing between the two operating systems. But Linux gurus charge the shootout is still rigged.

By Andrew Leonard


Windows on the wane?

With open-source software satisfying the hands-on urges of hardcore geeks and easy-to-use “information appliances” beginning to satisfy the “just get me online” needs of the mass audience, where does Microsoft’s Windows fit into the computing future? A “big picture” analysis.

By Scott Rosenberg


The Transmeta enigma

At a tantalizingly elusive Silicon Valley start-up company that just happens to employ Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, secrecy spawns hopes of revolution — and a raft of conspiracy theories.

By Andrew Leonard


Martin Luther, meet Linus Torvalds

Linux and free software challenge the Microsoft papacy: historical parallels between the Reformation and today’s software industry.

By Thomas Scoville


Geek central

How a Web site called Slashdot became a teeming news and discussion community of “news for nerds” about open-source issues.

By Andrew Leonard


Free the Windows source code?

An admittedly unlikely scenario — but if Windows keeps getting more unwieldy and bug-ridden, sooner or later Microsoft may have to think the unthinkable.

By Scott Rosenberg



Talkin’ ’bout a revolution: Readers talk back to the notion of free Windows source code. (05/27/98)

Microsoft’s open-source gambit

One year after the previous article, Microsoft actually begins talking about an open-source strategy. But is it for real, an antitrust-trial ploy or a strategy designed to confuse the opposition?

By Scott Rosenberg


Consider the source

A look at the public release of Netscape’s browser source code explores why it causes geeks to swoon.

By Laura Lemay


Glory among the geeks

For serious programmers, contributing code to Linux pays off not in dollars but in respect.

By Peter Wayner


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