After much deliberation, here are our choices for 2001.
The Linux landscape has been altered considerably since last year's Editors' Choice Awards, which were given at what was somewhere near the peak of the technology/dot-com boom from which the economy is still attempting to recover. Last year we remarked at the difficulty of choosing winners among such a numerous field of competitors, and you'd think that a reduction in competitors necessarily would make the decisions easier. But it ain't necessarily so. Though there's been a decrease of vendors in some categories (most notably hardware), there are still numerous quality offerings (free and otherwise) that, along with the Linux kernel, have improved in quality during the last year.
The Linux Journal Editors' Choice Awards are open to both open-source and proprietary software, and among this year's picks in the software categories you'll find representations of both. While all of us may now be smug in being able to choose among so many open-source products for our software needs, let's not forget to do our best to ensure this choice continues by guarding against the dangers of SSSCA-like legislation that would require mandatory Digital Rights Management, making a free or even source-available operating system illegal. Write directly to Senator Hollings and Senator Stevens and to your representatives if you are a US citizen (you can look your representative up on congress.org), support or join the Electronic Frontier Foundation and educate friends and associates.
Contrary to last year we won't encourage the use of alcohol in reconciling you to any of our choices that may not be in accord with your own. But if you find yourself piqued in the extreme with any of our selections, may I refer you to our Readers' Choice Awards?
Server Appliance: Filanet InterJak 200 802.11b
Do you want to set up an 802.11b network with high-performance antennas for inexpensive WAN connections? Do you want an 802.11b base station with VPN functionality to keep users' laptops secure? Do you want to deploy centrally managed mail, Samba and VPN boxes to all your company's home office users? Filanet makes a series of inexpensive, fanless embedded Linux network devices, based around a custom ASIC with an ARM CPU core and hardware 3DES, that will solve a lot of problems for companies and ISPs at only a little more than the price of a dumb DSL box.
Security Tool: Nmap
You know your program has caught on when people start to use its name as a verb. Running Nmap every time you set up a new Linux server, and periodically to see if anything has changed on your network, has become a standard security practice. It's no coincidence that the spread of Nmap has coincided with Linux distributions finally paring down the menu of potentially exploitable services offered by default. For providing an easy-to-use “security idiot light” to Linux system administrators and distributions everywhere, Nmap, we salute you.
Web Server: APPRO 1124
We put this system's dual Athlon MP motherboard in our Ultimate Linux Box but APPRO, working from an original design by VA Linux Systems, put it in a thin, rugged 1U server with four hot-swap SCSI drives plus a thin CD-ROM. Powerful blowers and a custom power supply make this the web server we wish was on the market when there was still such a thing as a web server budget.
Office Workstation: Thinkpad T Series
Any of this year's notebook computers are cheap enough and fast enough to be a primary workstation for almost anyone. But when you have a machine that you need to work and can't fix yourself, you need really good service. The following is a true ThinkPad service story for a 1998 model with a broken display cable: IBM sent a padded shipping box at their expense; we returned it with the computer inside on a Tuesday. It came back that Thursday. Our cost: $0. Got to love that three-year warranty.
Other things we like about ThinkPads include the keyboard, the red nipple pointing device and the thriving user community that posts good compatibility reports to the site. The T series, which Phil, our publisher, carries now, has a nifty white LED light just bright enough to illuminate the keyboard and comes with screen resolutions up to 1400 x 1050.
Some new ThinkPads are available with 802.11b; check www.linux-laptop.net/ibm.html for the latest compatibility reports. Sadly, not all models can be ordered with Linux preinstalled, and IBM, in violation of Microsoft's license, does not offer Windows refunds.
Technical Workstation: Monarch ULB 1200 MP
This is the box spec'ed by our staff and built (and currently offered for sale) by Monarch Computer. It was one of the two Ultimate Linux Boxes described in our annual ULB article in the November 2001 issue. It's got a great looking case and features some excellent hardware including the Tyan Thunder K7 motherboard.
Web Client: Konqueror
Put down that crack pipe, I mean Netscape 4.x browser, Linux fans! Mozilla and Konqueror have both reached the point of stability and featurefulitude that we needed to drop the crusty, Motif-based old Netscape for good. We had to give the Editors' Choice to Konqueror because of its excellent integration with the KDE desktop environment, general speed and ability to easily use that Flash plugin we need to see all those goofy animations people keep sending us. And there was much rejoicing.
3-D Application Tool: Maya 4
As reported in Robin Rowe's recent GFX columns, Linux literally is taking over the motion picture industry for use in special effects and animation. In no other industry is there such a massive migration to Linux. Maya is a big part of this, porting their product to Linux in response to customer demand. It's even earned Linus' approval, and he calls it “the most complex and powerful 3-D graphics application ever to run on Linux”.
Backup Tool: BRU Pro
We thought we had lost BRU to corporate shenanigans, but thankfully longtime BRUmeister Tim Jones, formerly development VP of BRU's original vendor EST, saved the old-school backup workhorse and is offering it under the TOLIS Group brand name. BRU offers easy configuration of your backup plan to match it to the tapes you use and sponsors the linuxtapecert.org web site that lists tested and approved tape drives for Linux.
Miscellaneous Utility Software: Acronis OS Selector
This is a nifty boot and partition manager that has the great advantage of supporting ReiserFS for that added data protection.
Communications Tool: OpenSSH
We have twenty-some OpenSSH processes going on one server at our offices at Linux Journal. One workstation has six. We start up tunnels, scp stuff around and basically live in ssh sessions. It's convenient, stable, and a real pleasure to set up and administer. But the real reason for giving this award to OpenSSH is that if not for OpenSSH, we'd all have to live in Seattle.
Development Tool: KDevelop
KDevelop has a thriving user community, offers debugging and class browsing tools and even makes it easy to start up a new project in the standard GNU style. People coming from proprietary IDEs will find that KDevelop can mimic several popular interface styles. Embedded distribution vendor REDSonic chose KDevelop as the integrated development environment for their RedIce Linux.
Ported to Linux in 1999, Oracle has become quite a competitor. Last year the award went to PostgreSQL, and while it's still a strong contender and has received a lot of publicity this year, one can't ignore Oracle's sheer performance.
Office Application: AbiWord
This word processor starts up in about three seconds on a decent system and takes about 5MB of memory for a blank document. That is not a misprint—just a good, basic word processor, nothing fancy. Yes, it has printing now, and yes, it will import Microsoft Word documents. Try it—you'll either like it or you won't have wasted much time downloading it.
Desktop Environment: KDE 2
The new KDE desktop environment has a bit of a way to go as far as resource consumption and stability, but each succeeding version promises that it is on its way to a high polish. It has improved architecture and some very active development. Among the nicest features is the integration of the KDE browser, Konqueror, into the desktop as a file manager. Type any word into the address bar and get a Google search of that term. Also, KDevelop is completely integrated as well—see Development Tool.
Mobile Device: Compaq iPAQ
Linux-capable PDAs come in two flavors: capable of running minimal software only and high-powered with speed and space to experiment. The iPAQ is the best of the latter bunch, with a good industrial design except for the almost-symmetrical stylus. It's attracted quite a development community, so there are plenty of applications and documentation for people starting out with a Linux PDA. And with accessories such as a PCMCIA card sleeve and an upcoming camera/accelerometer, the iPAQ looks to be a good platform for Linux innovation into the future.
Embedded Development Tool: Lineo's Embedix SDK 2.0
Lineo has done a good job of making a product that appeals to a wide range of embedded developers. Embedix has a nice interface, plentiful features and great documentation that work to lessen the embedded Linux learning curve and allow developers to concentrate on their applications.
Real-Time Tool: Preemptible Kernel Patch, Nigel Gamble et. al., MontaVista Software
This patch is only 1,000 lines and uses the existing kernel SMP-locking strategy for respectable real-time gains at a small price. Not just for embedded systems weenies, everyone who wants to listen to an audio stream and untar a big archive at once will appreciate this.
Training and Certification: Linux Professional Institute
The LPI team did an extensive research project before beginning its exams to determine what skills Linux professionals actually use in their jobs. Then they conducted an extensive item-writing and technical review process, performed a Modified Angoff study on Linux experts and did a bunch of super-scientific Hari Seldon stuff to give the test the best possible chance of actually measuring Linux skill. Newly LPI-certified people report that the test is hard but fair.
Game: Tribes 2
This multiplayer game was developed by Dynamix and ported to Linux by the folks at Loki. As our game reviewer, Neil Doane says, “Not since Quake III have so many developers lost so much time, over so many networks and produced so little. This game rockulates.”
Book: Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolution by Linus Torvalds with David Diamond
It's a testimony to the factiticy of Internet Time that one of the Net's most influential personalities came out with his first autobiography at age 31. We say first because the fun has clearly just started.
Linus Torvalds is no less accidental as an author than he is as a revolutionary. But in a way that's the point. The book seems less published than floated, as the title says, just for fun. It's one side of a conversation about some stuff that might be worth talking about. If not, well, the author doesn't care. Viewed from an angle more native to Linus' tribe, Just for Fun is a hack, and an early one, subject to completion and revision over time. From similar angles it's not hard to see as a set of man pages or bug lists.
It's an interesting irony that the operating system best known for its founding character actually is authored by a vast peerage of other characters. It's a subtle thing, but reading this book is a great way to gain insights into what brought all these characters together, and into why it's possible for anything so ordinary as an operating system to be so darn much fun.
In today's economy a lot of people can't afford to go out buying hot geek doo-dads on impulse like some of us had been doing for a while. Fortunately, there are no new expensive must-have toys this year. Time to consolidate, become more efficient and get ready for the next boom. Velcro ties for organizing cables, adhesive-backed Velcro for putting on equipment and pre-Velcroed products are all part of living a more organized, neater life, especially if you use a laptop as your main work machine and need to bundle up all those accessories and cables. No word on whether or not Velcro is good feng shui, but if it helps tidy up messy cables it can't hurt. And it's fun.
Web Site: LinuxDevices
Recently acquired by DeviceForge LLC, LinuxDevices is back in the hands of its founder, Rick Lehrbaum. The site has done a terrific job of providing a wealth of information in the form of news, HOWTOs, product reviews and comparisons, and discussion forums. While primarily focused on embedded Linux, it has a lot to offer the average Linux geek as well.
Product of the Year: SuSE Linux 7.3
In some ways the last year hasn't been a banner one for the German company with the tropical mascot. SuSE took some collateral damage from the dot-com implosion, destaffing offices in the US and cutting back elsewhere in the world.
But while the dot-commies of the world played air guitar, pretending to have real business models, SuSE continued to produce music the old-fashioned way, and for old-fashioned customers. They were a business, and they were in business to do business. The result in 2001 was a series of 7.x distributions, each built around the 2.4 Linux kernel, that have earned a torrent of praise for their comprehensive utility, their documentation and their performance, among many other virtues, all adding up to a real winner. Plus, it's currently the only distribution to offer an encrypted filesystem as an install-time option.