Ubuntu Linux: I took the Linux challenge with my dumpster computer, after Windows froze up once too often. Red Hat, my original Linux OS, ran alright. But I had grown soft from prolonged exposure to Windows, and had a difficult time reintroducing myself to the codeline. Then my brother came by and installed Ubuntu 4. Whoah ... now we were cooking with gas!
Since then I've returned said computer to the dumpster (cracked motherboard, and a few other problems) and upgraded to Ubuntu 6.06: "Dapper Drake". Ubuntu's synaptec package is what makes the OS so very user friendly -- anything you need to install can be found quickly and efficiently. Still, as with any OS, Ubuntu is not entirely self-explanatory. But there are resources that make the learning curve not quite so steep as all that, including these two books. They get you up and running, and will likely even inject a little confidence to get you experimenting with codelines of your own.
So, overall the Linux experience has been a treat, with only one exception: Open Office. It's shabby of me to complain about something *free* -- and overall the Open Office applications work splendidly. But the folks running the message boards might want to take note: if you find yourself replying to a query by saying, "We have addressed this so-called 'problem' many, many times," I would suggest that you in fact have a genuine problem on your hands: namely a program that is profoundly counter-intuitive to the average user. Sure, it'd be swell if everyone thought the way programmers do. But we don't, so let's see if, in the next Ooo generation, we can't meet a little closer to the middle.
eMusic: it ain't free, but it's certainly as cheap as borscht. And the artists are actually getting paid, which is important. I've made some spectacular personal discoveries through eMusic, including Janiva Magness, James McMurtry, Dianne Reeves and The Reverend Horton Heat. I gave a few assorted Christmas collections a try, and didn't feel any of the usual residual disappointment for having been taken for a chump, because this time it cost me precious little money and took up very little of my energy. As Kool-Aid Man likes to say, "It's just pennies per glass, so how can you lose?"
Magazines: I'm pleased to see that Paste has become a force to be reckoned with. If you're old enough to have fond memories of reading Rolling Stone Magazine, you'll want to give Paste a look. Here are worthy profiles of Tom Waits, The Flaming Lips and Michelle Shocked, for starters.
This year saw the introduction of geez magazine ("holy mischief in an age of fast faith"). I kinda-sorta know some of the people involved; I really like them, so I'd very much like to see their enterprise succeed. But speaking frankly as a reader, geez has been a mostly ho-hum experience. I'm only going to buy so many issues advocating "living simply" before I take the advice to heart and stop buying the magazine altogether. The kids in charge of the ship are, I think, genuinely interesting; I have no doubt they know interesting people who know other interesting people. So here's my nickel's worth of advice: waste more paper on interviews. Your readers will thank you for it now, and the Lord will thank you for it later.
But the brightest spot on the magazine rack this year has been Stop Smiling. If The Believer and N+1 are the printed equivalent of the your old school's black-clad-smarty-pants' clique, Stop Smiling aspires to carry the torch of LIFE. Boomers get their due with tributes to Hunter Thompson and Lou Reed; their grandkids get meaty scraps like interviews with the RZA. Well ... more likely the old-timers are reading these interviews to figure out what's up with kids these days, but still: good on the Stop Smiling crew, say I. A little tip of the hat to America's Educated Middle is exactly what magazine publishers ought to be doing, and so far as I can see, Stop Smiling is the only rag out there aspiring to the job.