Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

The press will believe anything about open source

Matt Asay | June 21, 2016
A recent Canonical announcement about Linux packaging shows how the press gives a pass to open source proclamations, no matter how unbelievable

It's standard operating procedure for corporate PR departments to regularly tell the world that X or Y feature will solve world hunger, establish world peace, etc. It's less standard for the tech press to slavishly repeat such press releases and uncritically treat them as canonical truth. Or, at least, it should be.

Take the case of Canonical's recent pronouncement that it has ended decades of dissonance between competing Linux package management solutions. The lack of thoughtful scrutiny of the claims by the tech press beggars belief. Fortunately, a swelling chorus of critics is rising to put the claims in context, separating the wheat from the chaff in Canonical's attempts to unify Linux distributions.

It's all good

Maybe this whole thing isn't that surprising. As one open source insider confided to me, "There is literally zero critical analysis of so much that comes out of open source land." The reason, Apache Software Foundation board member Jim Jagielski adds, is that "by adding the magic buzzwords 'open source' and 'community' to any offering, people will assume it's true."

In other words, because intentions are presumably good, "the right thing to do" is simply to regurgitate open source PR schlock.

In the case of Canonical's press blitz, who doesn't want to believe that the packaging wars have come to an end? That peace, love, and a unified Linux community has been achieved in our time? And so we see headlines like these:

Much of the "analysis" then goes on to parrot Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth's claim that "different communities and developers started asking Canonical if they can port [Snaps] to their distribution." The problem, however, is that it's not true. At least, not in the way it's being presented.

Or maybe it's not all good

Perhaps the most persuasive counter to the Canonical PR machine comes from Adam Williamson. Though hardly unbiased -- Williamson works for Red Hat and is part of the Fedora development team -- Williamson actually represents the very communities that Canonical claims can't get on board the Snaps train fast enough.

Yet here is Williamson's assessment of the news: "The press release and the stories together give you the strong impression that this thing called Snappy is going to be the cross-distribution future of application delivery, and it's all ready for use today and lots of major distributions are buying into it." Unfortunately, he goes on, "This is, to put it diplomatically, a heaping pile of steaming b------t."

Well, that doesn't sound promising.

One problem with Snappy, Williamson continues, is that for all its "unification," it's actually a single-vendor project. Every contributor works for Canonical and any outside contributions require assignation of rights to Canonical. In other words, this "collaboration" between diverse distributions is really a one-way highway into Canonical, a Hotel California of code contributions.


1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.