December 19, 2001

Why NewsForge hasn't written about Lindows

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
I've been writing about Linux on the desktop and generally advocating increased Linux usability for non-technical people since 1997, but I am not going to write about LindowsOS quite yet. Or about Xandros or about any of the other unreleased "E-Z Linux" distributions that seems to be getting large quantities of "advance buzz" elsewhere. Sorry, folks, but I think we've already seen enough Linux vaporware to last at least 50 years, and Linux is only 10 years old.
Shall we talk about (commercial) Linux software companies that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on trade show displays before they had any products to show or sell? Most of those companies are gone now, as in bankrupt, because their products either never made it to market or were so disappointing that no one bought them.

Or shall we talk about promises of future software wonders that will make this or that possible that was never possible before? We don't need commercial, for-profit companies (or press releases) for that. In and among the many useful projects hosted on SourceForge.net, there are ruins of many that never took off or didn't even make it to the launching pad; that have only one developer listed; show no updates in the last year; and show few or even no downloads.

This winnowing process is by no means limited to Open Source or Linux software; plenty of Windows and commercial Unix software projects are started and later abandoned, but we don't hear about them because their deaths take place behind closed doors, not in public.

Advance notice from proprietary software companies of "a release early next year" (or whenever) is common. I haven't had a call from a PR person about one of those for, oh, about an hour. She was nasty, too, when I told her that Linux.com, NewsForge, and Slashdot were not interested in writing about a product that wasn't going to be out for at least another three months. "But it runs on Linux, she stressed. "So your audience will be interested in it!!!"

She tried, very rudely, to make me feel guilty about "depriving my audience" -- that's you -- of essential information about her company's "revolutionary" product, the name of which I have already (mercifully) forgotten.

Please accept my apologies, Mr. and Ms. Audience Person, for the terrible wrong I did you by failing to write a breathless, "Isn't this wonderful!" story about whatever piece of vaporware was being (unsuccessfully) shoved down my throat.

I finally got the PR person to hang up by saying, "Why don't you call ZDNet? They like to do that kind of story. We don't. When your product is released, send us a copy and maybe we'll review it." (Apologies to my many friends who write for ZDNet; but your sites do run product "advance announcement" stories we won't touch.)

Maybe Ms. PushyPR will send a review copy, maybe she won't. Maybe I just lost a chance to run the first online review of something that will save the world from cancer, Microsoft, racism, and other evils. I'll take that chance.

We have no problem directly publishing the full text of legitimate press releases we get -- clearly identified as press releases. We figure you are smart enough to realize that a press release is glowing by definition; that it is not the same as an actual, reported story about a company or an honest review of one of its products.

And now we come back to LindowsOS. Note that I have deviated from our standard practice and have not included a link to their site. That's because there is nothing there except pure, unadulterated hype. Buried in the FAQ page (which contains no more technical information that any other page on the Lindows site), I found this sentence: "Credentialed press can obtain a copy of the LindowsOS Preview Release by contacting pr@lindows.com." I sent off an email, and since I have plenty of press credentials I suppose I may get a review copy sooner or later.

But until then, you will see no staff-written stories about LindowOS on Linux.com or NewsForge. Nor will you see much writing about other "someday" products. There are just too many of them out there for us to track, and we've had so many of the most-hyped ones disappoint us when they were finally in our hands that we are almost at a point where we expect that any product that comes to us only after months of aggressive PR buildup is not going to measure up to the advance boasts we heard about it.

I almost never directly ask for comments on a story, but this is a case where Linux.com and NewsForge editors really need to know what you think (on the discussion board for all to see rather than by email, please).

Here's the question:

Are we right to avoid almost all "prerelease" product announcements or should we start running more stories about them?

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