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Tuesday, 28 October 2008 05:21

BoycottNovell: just another website pushing a point of view

Four days ago, an article purporting to analyse the raison d'etre behind the website BoycottNovell.com appeared on the linux.com site. The author, Bruce Byfield, who styles himself as a "computer journalist", however, failed to tell his reading public that the piece was just a thinly disguised and veiled attack on the person who runs the BoycottNovell site.

Byfield revealed the reason for the article only in the third paragraph from the end. There he wrote: "...especially since in the past I have been mildly demonized by Boycott Novell myself."

Both Byfield and the people behind BoycottNovell concern themselves with FOSS, hence my decision to comment on the article.

There is no problem with a writer seeking to attack somebody who has disagreed with him in print, online or in any other medium. When journalists indulge in such things, they state the reason for the attack right at the start of their diatribe. (Here's a classic example.) They do not seek to mask it behind a lot of verbiage and pretend that they are trying to do the world a lot of good.

For those who are not aware of the background, BoycottNovell was set up in the wake of the deal which Novell signed with Microsoft in November 2006.

As the name implies, the people behind the site, Shane Coyle and Roy Schestowitz, are opposed to the deal and initially used the site to provide material to tell people about the real nature of the deal and how it posed a danger to FOSS.

Over the (nearly) two years of its existence, BoycottNovell has morphed into a site that provides links to a huge number of articles which are of interest to those who like to read about free and open source software.

This is in addition to links to other general technology articles; Schestowitz, who does practically all the writing, concentrates on links that expose what he describes as Microsoft's real agenda and Novell's increasing dissociation from the FOSS world in general.

Byfield's bid to pretend he is taking an objective look at the BoycottNovell site, when he has had a long-running feud with Schestowitz, is deception at its best and finest.

For one, Schestowitz has got his own system of ranking FOSS writers on a so-called credibility index and Byfield has, in the past, taken a swing at this list, probably because he isn't ranked very highly.

Additionally, Byfield once got involved in a radio show in which Schestowitz was supposed to debate the GNOME Foundation media spokesman Jeff Waugh at a time when GNOME's stance on OOXML was very much in the news and being questioned. And Byfield clearly came down on the opposite side to Schestowitz.

In the article on linux.com, which was headlined "BoycottNovell: Champion of freedom or den of paranoia", Byfield got hold of a few so-called supporters of the website and a few who don't like it.

His game fell apart slightly when tacking those who oppose the site for he called on Waugh - who, as has been mentioned, is a known foe of Schestowitz. Indeed, quotes from Waugh occupy a fairly big part of Byfield's article.

This is subterfuge at its best - if he wanted to attack the site, all he had to do was to say it out straight and go for the jugular. But no, Byfield likes to appear balanced. Or maybe he wants to appear fair and balanced - like Fox News.

BoycottNovell does not adhere to the highest standards. It sometimes carries badly researched news. It sometimes makes accusations that are later shown to be incorrect. Of Byfield it can be said that he has defended the Microsoft-Novell deal, defended OOXML and also changed his stance on Mono, the contentious open source effort to produce a clone of Microsoft's .NET development environment.

The good thing about the BoycottNovell site is that when Schestowitz does get something wrong and it is pointed out, he generally makes a mea culpa right there on the site. I haven't seen any such inclination from Byfield.

BoycottNovell is neither a beacon of freedom nor a den of paranoia. I don't think it ever aimed to be either. But then no website is a beacon of freedom - we are not fighting world wars here. BoycottNovell is a site which is used to propagate a certain point of view - and if you disagree, then agree to do so and behave like a mature adult.

Nobody who styles themselves as a journalist - Byfield is not one, he is merely a writer - should ever misuse the access one has to technology news websites to try and attack people whom one dislikes. However, if someone has done something which is against FOSS and against segments of the FOSS community, attack what he or she has done.

But do not try to style it as some kind of balanced writing. People within the community can easily make out what the writer's real intentions are.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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