March 31, 2005

TUX Magazine debut signals new vitality in Linux market

Author: Michael Mitton

The new TUX magazine bills itself as "the first and only magazine for the new Linux user." The 53 page first issue was released March 1, with the next issue coming May 1 and monthly thereafter. Publisher Phil Hughes says the magazine intends to show people that Linux doesn't need to be scary. "TUX will tell you how to get things done -- without having to lift the hood." But is the world ready for a Linux publication aimed at entry-level users?TUX comes from SSC Publishing, which also produces Linux Journal. Though it considered making TUX a print magazine, says Hughes, SSC ultimately decided to distribute TUX online in PDF format instead. This has a number of advantages, Hughes said, some obvious and others not so obvious. A print magazine requires costs all along the distribution channel, from the paper to the newsstand, but PDF documents can be distributed at almost no cost. In the future, the online format will also allow the publishers to enrich the content of the magazine by making it interactive or adding audio and video.

SSC also considered launching TUX as a Web site, Hughes said, but they felt that Web design limitations and problems with consistency across browsers would keep them from achieving the professional look they wanted. Hughes said they ultimately opted for the PDF format because it allows designers to extend much greater control over the look and feel of the magazine. In other words, it makes TUX feel like a magazine. TUX still has a Web site, but it focuses on reader feedback and what's happening in the world of Linux, rather than the how-to slant that the magazine has.

One less obvious advantage of online publication versus a paper-based on is that back issues, when there are some, will be immediately available. With a print magazine, unless the magazine reproduces all of its content on the Web, if a reader misses an article, there isn't much choice except to pay and wait a few weeks for a back issue. Online distribution means that a reader can always access any past article quickly, which is critical for a publication that wants to teach end users about Linux.

Another benefit of online distribution is it allows TUX to set a very competitive subscription price: free. This doesn't seem like much of a benefit when compared to the plethora of existing Linux Web sites, but TUX wants to compete with print magazines, and in that context, free is hard to beat. Hughes notes, "With print, the subscription revenue might pay for delivering magazines but that's about it." So it makes sense to provide the magazine for free. Moreover, says Hughes, "Asking a non-geek to pay for a Linux magazine when they don't even know if they really want to use Linux defeats the idea of Linux world domination."

SSC Publishing has also been able to keep down the costs of producing TUX by utilizing the other resources within SSC. Hughes says that most of the staff of TUX is dual-purposed with other SSC tasks. Hughes himself is publisher of both TUX and Linux Journal. However, they have and will hire staff that's exclusively for TUX. Nicholas Petreley has been hired as editor-in-chief for TUX and they are also shifting layout duties to an outside contractor.

Of course, SSC Publishing still hopes to make money from TUX. To that end, it sells advertising for placement both within the PDF and on the associated TUX Web site. "We're offering very competitive rates," says Hughes, without specifying what those rates were, "but rates will continue to change in these crucial circulation growth months over the next year. Happy and successful advertisers mean we can produce more and more issues of TUX, and that's something we're very determined to continue doing."

The first issue
If the primary purpose of TUX is to make Linux informative yet non-threatening, then the first issue is a success. The issue covers subjects ranging from using KAudioCreator to rip CDs, to using the Mozilla sidebar, to using the KDE Information Center to learn about your hardware.

Every article starts with the premise that the reader uses computers, but may not have any specific knowledge about the subject of the article. For example, the article on KAudioCreator starts by explaining what it means to rip and encode a CD.

It's not easy to balance the needs of someone who is a relative computer beginner with the needs of someone who may be a computer pro but is new to Linux. The first issue of TUX errs on the side of the former. The pros only need to know what exists, and they can take it from there. It's the beginners who want to know both what exists and how to use it. In other words, pros can take what they want; beginners get what they need.

Still, TUX does hope to point out quality tools that even experienced Linux users may not know about. I consider myself experienced, yet I happened to know nothing about digiKam, a program for organizing digital photos, which was covered in the first issue. Whether TUX will continue to point me toward quality programs like digiKam remains to be seen, but just one slick new program or technique each issue should be enough to keep me reading.

TUX won't send people to Linux in droves, but it may convince them that Linux isn't as intimidating as its reputation.

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At least that's the plan. Advertising is conspicuously missing from the first issue, and it's difficult to see who the advertisers are that TUX targets. The business of Linux is still heavily weighted toward enterprises, not home users, and TUX isn't the right vehicle to advertise SUSE Linux Enterprise Server or IBM's Linux-based servers. But Hughes still sees plenty of potential advertisers. "We see our advertisers to be consumer/lifestyle products: automobiles, monitors, printers, electronic toys, PDAs, ISPs, cell phones, credit cards, etc."

The focus of TUX is how-to: How to rip and encode your CDs, how to organize and play your audio files, how to manage your digital photos, and how to use all the capabilities of the desktop environment. Some of the articles are straightforward tutorials on particular software titles. Others are walkthroughs on desktop features, such as virtual desktops or applets. All of the articles are meant to be accessible to most end users, even those whose computer skills may be limited. Hughes says, "The major consideration is to make TUX non-threatening." TUX wants to change the perception that Linux is too difficult for anyone but a computer geek.

The articles may not be technical, but with TUX an experienced Linux user can still learn about new tools to accomplish end-user tasks. Not even Linus Torvalds knows about every software project that runs on Linux.

TUX was designed by Garrick Antikajian, who is also the art director for Linux Journal. He says, "For TUX, we wanted a clean look that presented the information in an accessible and readable way, since the delivery of the information is the most important thing." He wants a clean and minimalistic design that creates a nice flow through the articles, with strong color accents to brighten the page and fonts that are readable yet interesting. In short, "We wanted a look that had a 'modern technology' feel."

Primarily because the publishers wanted to use their existing infrastructure, the staff produced TUX's first two issues using QuarkXpress, a popular proprietary program used across the publishing industry. However, Hughes says, "By issue 3 we intend to be 100% open source-based, as far as tools used to produce TUX." Most of the work will be done on Scribus, an open source alternative to Quark. They'll also use Inkscape and the GIMP for working with illustrations and images.

TUX has already surpassed 21,000 subscriptions -- that is, 21,000 people have completed the short registration questionnaire that gives users access to the TUX download. And Hughes thinks the future looks bright for TUX. "People will transition to Linux. Tens of millions of them. There is no doubt about that. We want TUX to help that happen."

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