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Editor's Note: Not-So Friendly Fire

Jan 05, 2007, 23:30 (38 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There's no other way to come out and say it, so here goes: Media sites--especially media outlets devoted to covering Linux, Open Source, and Free Software--should not be forced to be apologists for Linux. Nor should they try to portray everything about Linux as pleasant and rose-colored.

Reporters should try to be fair. Reporters should try to be honest. And if they happen to reveal something that is not-so-perfect with Linux, they should be listened to, not ridiculed or labeled as some pro-Microsoft flunky.

Part of what prompts this diatribe is the oh-so-predictable reaction to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' column this week on DesktopLinux, where he succinctly lists four reasons he believes Linux has fallen behind Windows.

I understand that many of LT's readers might not like the notion that Linux is behind the Microsoft eight ball for any reason (myself included), and I fully support the right of anyone to publicly disagree with any writer's assessment.

But to accuse SJVN of being a shill for anti-Linux forces? How dense can you be?

For the record, it should be noted that Steven and I work for competing media groups. Despite that, I consider his professionalism to be impeccable and I consider him to be a trusted colleague. I also know on a personal level that he enjoys running the Linux sites for ZiffDavis and has a great love for this area of IT. So, on a professional and a personal level, the idea of him being a front man for any corporation is ludicrous.

This isn't to say that everything that comes out of Steven's PC should be held as gospel. He, like any of us, can be wrong. I know I certainly fall into that latter category. But to me, there's honestly wrong and deliberately wrong. The best reporters try to be honestly wrong and right.

I realize that this is typical shoot-the-messenger stuff, and that despite a very vocal minority, most people thoughtfully read that piece and brought out agreeing or opposing opinions. I would encourage those who went into knee-jerk mode to read those comments and the article again and perhaps gain a new perspective on what Linux may need to do to improve itself.

I orginally wasn't going to stand up and defend this article. SJVN's a big boy and he can handle himself. But something else happened this week that made me think that a dose of common sense needed to be delivered: the reaction to the positive InformationWeek review on openSUSE 10.2. Here, and on other Web sites, there was quite a bit of fuss and accusations of the review being just positive PR spin for Novell.

Now, I don't know the writer of that review, Eric A. Hall. And long-time readers of LT know that our professional relationship with IW's parent company, CMP Media, has been strained at times (though normality has finally returned after the departure of certain CMP execs). But I find it highly unlikely that Mr. Hall was unduly influenced to write a positive review. He was looking for a distro to do a specific task, and openSUSE seemed to fit the bill for him.

(Actually, it's a bit weird that I am defending this particular review, because I thought it was too specific to his scenario and setup to be very useful for a broader audience. But, there you go.)

The other reaction that bugged me was this guilt-by-association that's been glommed onto openSUSE. Why does this product and its developers suddenly have to take the fall for the actions of Novell? openSUSE is a good distro--it's no more evil than any other distribution, though less evil than Ubuntu Satanic Edition.

The people who code for openSUSE didn't make the decision to partner with Microsoft. Jeremy Allison, a top-gun coder and former Novell employee, said himself that he didn't learn about the partnership until just a few days before the announcement. And by his own statements, Jeremy actually tried to be positive about the deal for the sake of his company. Does the fact that he waited for a month to leave Novell make him evil? Does leaving now absolve him?

What does that say about the rest of the open source developers still working or volunteering for and with Novell? I have seen and heard people actually accusing them of being corrupt or moral cowards.

I think these developers are, on the whole, good and decent people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. They, like many of us, may not be happy with what the Microsoft-Novell deal means. And they, like Jeremy Allison, will have to make some tough calls in the days ahead.

I completely understand the need to communicate to Novell that this partnership may not be a good idea. And, I also understand that boycotting openSUSE is one strong way of communicating this dissatisfaction to Novell. But I don't think it's necessary or worthy to malign the coders participating in openSUSE, nor the results of their hard work.

It important that we all have the ability to stand up for what we believe. Just be careful not to let the wrong people get caught in the not-so friendly fire.