Welcome to Free Software Magazine—again!

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/2164


As many of you already know, I founded Free Software Magazine in 2004. The idea was to create a printed magazine about free software. Our focus was on the paper version, and therefore the website was somewhat neglected. The way the magazine evolved showed us that that initial decision was a mistake. People clearly didn’t want another paper magazine—the popularity of our web site, and the lack of interest in the paper magazine, showed clearly that we needed to focus more on the online audience.

The first version of the web site was static, with (rather ugly) Perl scripts generating files. On top of it sat b2evolution, which allowed our authors to keep blogs. We had to personally assign articles by hand, and the system was messy to say the very least.

Then I started researching CMSes (Content Management Systems). I knew what I was looking for—but what I didn’t know, was that I wasn’t going to find it. I needed something that automatically managed the article’s workflow—from the author to the editor, back to the author, and so on—and would allow everybody to see what had changed. The system needed to send assignment emails automatically, and publish the articles on a web site—on the front page, and in an organised issue.

It was a lot to ask. In fact, it was too much. What I needed, was a CMS that offered a lot “out of the box", and still had the possibility of extending it to implement the workflow I wanted.

I could describe how I picked Drupal after extensive research and testing. I could describe how I discovered that it was the easiest CMS to extend, and basically allowed me to create exactly what I wanted in exactly 4 weeks, day 1 to deployment (I am a terrible programmer, and I am slow...!).

The truth is, I picked Drupal because many sites seemed to use it, I knew a little bit of PHP, and because Linux Journal used it. If it was good enough for Linux Journal, it was definitely going to be good enough for Free Software Magazine! So, I did it: I brushed up on my PHP skills, I installed Drupal 4.7 (it was still an early beta), got the documentation out, got the critically important node_example.php file, and... got started.

The end result was something that worked fine. However, because of a few key factors (see: poor programming skills, lack of time, an approximate understanding of Drupal, and so on), the system was anything but state of the art software.

It worked! It allowed us to run the magazine, revisions, and the workflow the way “it should be". However, because of the key factors I listed above, our jewel still had problems: the code still had comments from node_example.php; a few things were hard-coded when they should have been configurable; a few things were just plain wrong from a Drupal perspective; the module expected several key patches to Drupal, which made upgrading “less than optimal" (read: a complete nightmare); the system wasn’t tidy: several functionalities were duplicated in the theme and in various Drupal modules; unfortunately, the list goes on and on, and unfortunately this is precisely why the first version of our custom Drupal modules were, quite simply, bad software.

It took me personally four months to work through everything I wrote, reorganise it, comment it properly, document it, port it to Drupal 5, and release it. The custom modules are now perfectly commented, there is pretty much nothing hard-coded, they play well with Drupal, they don’t require patches, there is no duplication, and so on.

I am in the process of releasing these modules to Drupal 5, so that everybody out there can create their own magazine and have a neat system to organise the contents in issues and use a state-of-the-art workflow system. This will get people to improve the modules further, and will give something back to the same community that has been supporting us for such a long time.

Free Software Magazine's web site now runs on Drupal 5; we can now comfortably add many more features and know that we are using a fantastic CMS that will stay around forever. So, to sum up this editorial: we upgraded everything to Drupal 5, ported, improved and released our custom-made modules, and are preparing to roll-out more and more exciting features.

So... enjoy!



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Good job. I love the feeling of finishing writing a piece of really elegant code. Glad you're sharing it too. :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Great job! Good luck.

ErnieDV's picture
Submitted by ErnieDV on

Issue 16 had a printable view added after so many comments about the need for such. Issue 17 seems to be missing this feature. I assume this is just part of the growing pains of moving to the new setup, but just to make sure... a printable view is absolutely mandatory for FSM to be useful.

leoyw's picture
Submitted by leoyw on

Is there a feature to still download the mags like previous issues, lots of time, I like to read it when I am travelling
and have no internet access.

raseel's picture
Submitted by raseel on

I really never imagined there was so much work behind getting an online mag up and running... successfully !!
I always thought, the editors just wrote the articles and handed it over to the Web guys to be included on the website.

But it was truly inspiring to read your struggle , albiet in brief.

Keep up the good work !! You are doing an awesome job !!!


johneb47's picture
Submitted by johneb47 on

Did you get a chance to try out the seaside application? From all reports it seems to be an easy system to implement, but I can not speak from personal experience be cause I have no need for a CMS system. Google "squeak: seaside" for best results or better yet Raymond Leon's Blog http://onsmalltalk.com/ and follow his journey on setting up a seaside server.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I know you probably need to cover your costs somehow, but the prominent advertising for "freeware" and "shareware" (in the right hand column), various Google adverts (in the left hand column and embedded in articles), and banner adverts presumably selling proprietary software really undermine the message of this site.

Tony Mobily's picture


I will only write it once.

Advertising is advertising. Open your local newspaper, open the New York Times. You will see ads.
Advertising is how we pay FSM's bills, and that's how we plan to pay authors in the future.

No magazine has ever endorsed the advertising it carries. Advertising is not endorsement, and a magazine with ads is better than no magazine at all.


Tony Mobily

Terry Hancock's picture


There is of course, a very simple way to not have advertisements -- produce a version of FSM without ads that you have to subscribe to to see. If people really value eliminating the ads, they'll buy into it.

Of course, past experiments suggest that such complaints are all mouth -- the previous subscription based models for FSM were not terribly successful. Unfortunately, you have to pay attention to what people do, rather than what they say, in order to know what they really think. That's just the way it is, though -- no worse here than anywhere else.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

If the advertisers are happy with advertising a proprietary product on Free Software Magazine then I say take their money. Let's be honest how likely are they to get a real return from the people reading this?

if they can't target their advertising to the right demographic - let them pay up :o)


Paul Boddie's picture
Submitted by Paul Boddie (not verified) on

Yes, thanks for the lecture on the "hard rules of business". You will find, however, that newspapers are generally obliged to label advertising content clearly as such; this site's adverts (in the right hand column) merge into the site content without so much as a disclaimer, so people who don't know what Free Software is might think that "Shareware Pages - A directory of newest and quality shareware" or "Free Downloads - Archive of free shareware and freeware downloads daily updated" is something related to that topic when we (the insiders) know that this is not the case.

A simple disclaimer plus some kind of visual separation between the content and the adverts would go a long way to fixing this issue, even if you can't control the adverts on your page. Personally, I can't understand sites who don't try and exercise some control over advertising, but then I'm neither in the publishing business nor looking to subsidise my hosting costs through advertising.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

I notice the avatars are all set to the default one now. Does the new design mean we have to resubmit them or are they just disabled for a while?

Lopo Lencastre de Almeida's picture

I am in the process of releasing these modules to Drupal 5, so that everybody out there can create their own magazine and have a neat system to organise the contents in issues and use a state-of-the-art workflow system.

When ready warn us :)

mykeyspace's picture

The site might look the same, but it really, really isn't...

Thats a bit like those wireless NICs with the same model number, but a different chipset :)

Dave Walker's picture

1st off - congratulations on a top rate mag. Good and enjoyable reading. 2nd - I travel a lot and don't want to cart large amounts of paper through the clusterf that our airports have become, let alone struggle with such on planes. I can generally balance my laptop on top of the plastic food so a saveable full copy of the current issue would be magic - I tend to agree with ErnieDV comment on a a "printable" version - or full doc in one html page view.

Would make the journey so much easier - keep up the good work - DaveW

aanset's picture
Submitted by aanset on

I Love this site. The font is my lovely font so I read the page with heart :)
Unfortunately, I can't keep it in my computer except I doing something like "karma"?
I don't know. But until now (15 minutes) after subscribe/register. Everything looks OK.

Great jobs guys.aanset

Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine