What happened to the guts?

What happened to the guts in mainstream publications? I recall back in the 80s InfoWorld pressured Lotus into ditching its copy protection scheme by docking Lotus 1-2-3 several points in reviews because of the inconvenience. I believe Lotus was the first to buckle, but other vendors jumped on the bandwagon and abandoned copy protection. Fast forward to today. Not only has copy protection come back from the grave, it has risen like a juggernaut zombie bent on eating everyone's brains. Worse, many consumers and writers alike seem to be unscrewing their scalps and willingly offering up the meal. "I want the latest iThing, it's so cool!" Sure, you'll find appropriate outrage in Linux Journal and a handful of renegade publications like the Register. But what happened to the mainstream journals with the guts of yesteryear?

Of one thing I am fairly certain. Microsoft all but eliminated mainstream software competition. As a result, Microsoft became the primary source of advertising revenue for mainstream publications. You don't bite the hand that feeds you. So instead of publishing issues calling for a worldwide boycott of Vista because it focuses more on what you can't do than what you can do, you see special editions praising Vista as the greatest advancement in computing since Windows 95. Granted we all know that Windows 95 was a dog from day one, but by the 90s, the mainstream press had already become rampant with Microsoft sycophants and they pushed Windows 95 like it was the second coming.

That may explain why the press still pussyfoots around Microsoft, but it doesn't explain why you don't see the mainstream journals applying pressure to other vendors which also focus more on what customers cannot do than what they can. Perhaps advertising revenue has dropped so much that publishers are afraid to offend virtually anyone.

However, while Microsoft may have all but eliminated competition in Windows software, competition still exists in categories like media players, cell phones, and more. Wherever there's competition, vendors can't afford to pull advertising for very long. Competition helps publications to be honest, because if Vendor X doesn't advertise, Vendor Y will, and Vendor Y will sell more products. Therefore, Vendor X may throw a fit and pull ads for a few issues, but Vendor X knows it has to advertise once it cools down.

I would love to see mainstream publications exploit this competition. Review media players and give the lowest scores to those devices that limit what customers can do with the music they download. Review cell phones and flunk practically every phone and provider for locking customers into restrictive plans. (Who does that leave? I'm not really sure, but that should tell you just how bad things have become.)

In short, I'd love to see a mainstream publication become an advocate for the consumer once again.

As noted above, there are exceptions, including Linux Journal, most other FOSS-centered publications and even The Register. But we're the little guys. When it comes to the big publishers, I'm afraid there's just a bit too much truth in a joke I heard on a Nickelodeon cartoon called Kappa Mikey. The character Guano cries in anguish and says something along the lines of, "Oh, no! If I'm exposed as a fraud I'll be unfit to work in any industry except business and journalism!" I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I heard that line. If it weren't for the small guys, like us, I'd be ashamed to work in this field.


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don't sweat it...

B. grant's picture

i guess you spend too much time worrying about the hazards of your job...aren't you supposed to just stick it to them and uphold truth in journalism? get out of your corner and start making a difference. refer to the power of journalism then with the Lotus 1-2-3, but never expect the road to be identical...make your difference using your own path...you whine much

InfoWorld was one of the first publications to lose its "guts"

Brett Glass's picture

Nick Petreley was at InfoWorld when my column with the magazine was terminated... and immediately replaced with one that purported to be similar but avoided controversial issues and said only flattering things about Microsoft. See the story at http://www.thetwowayweb.com/stories/storyReader$56

Linux vs Windows

pctek's picture

Sigh..........you Linux fans.
It will never take off until:

There is one, maybe two versions, not half a hundred bits and pieces.

It supports DirectX for gamers. Serious gamers.

Its friendlier.

Meanwhile Mr Gates will continue to grow richer.

DirectX vs SDL

knox's picture

Or if more game companies would convert their DX games to SDL with OpenGL. Why force use of a proprietary media layer when you could use a free one which also ports to MacOS and Linux? Not to mention how far back Direct3D set the industry when OpenGL already existed.

Sample of games using SDL and DirectX:
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Tribes 2, Descent 3, Soldier of Fortune, UT, Civ: Call to Power, Sim City 3000, Heroes of Might and Magic III, Railroad Tycoon 2, Ultima 7, . . .

And I'm not a Linux fan by the way; I'm far too lazy to switch from Windows. But in the long run MS is bad for consumers, which is more what the OP is about anyway.

win v. penguin

mathieu_'s picture

no, actually, it'll never take off until everybody's doing it. that's pretty much it.



Lucas Philippidis's picture

There is a Greek myth that I would like to share with everybody. The story of the Hydra is a good business model. So all you university conmen and open source "fanatics" read closely and completely.

The hydra is a mythical beast with only one head when born, and any attempt to cut off its monstrous fascade will grow two in its place. Heracles was commisioned by Hera to destroy this beast, as one of his twelve labors. What guts he had to face this fearsome behemoth, and his might to match. Now the trouble is the philosophy of this Greek hero was to use his brute strength to defeat the monster. Unfortunately, to cut the head off would not kill the monster. He had to burn it. To defeat the monster he used his brains; he lured it from its water habitat, cut the heads off, and burned the wound.
That was nice, but what is the point you might ask.

Windows may be the hydra in your opinion, or it may be Linux. The moral of the story of the hydra is we need a hero in the world of computing, someone to guide us with this powerful device. Also, the hydra may be powerful, but it has too many heads. When it comes to support, Windows wins. When it comes to price? Linux. So what should free operating system distributors do? Offer cheaper, better support. To offer cheaper, better support requires education or guidance. If they do not need Linux, do not give it to them. Even if they ask for it. If Microsoft decides to abandon a product, pick up support.

Now comes stability. If you need a basic platform to launch, build your own. Proprietary hardware is just that. Stuff costs time and money. And remember, computers run on electricity. Ones and zeros are what we use to design them, not what they are full of.


H1B VISAs Anyone? (Real GUTS in Reporting - Located)

Common Sense's picture

The Corporate CONmen seem to have been doing some effective soliciting with Washington COWARDS. Here are the GUTSY details, thanks to real Americans with GUTS. ("Lou Dobbs Tonight" CNN M-F 6pm) ...

DOBBS: The United States citizenship and immigration service finally released its report to Congress on the H1B guest worker visa program. But Congress still hasn't seen fit to release that report to the public, perhaps because the numbers are much higher than the government has authorized.

Bill Tucker reports.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The number of H1B visas an existing guest worker program for skilled workers is capped by Congress at 65,000. Another 20,000 foreign students who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees are also eligible for the visa.

That's 85,000 visas a year. But the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service approved 116,927 applications in 2005. It approved 130,497 in 2004.

The reports in 2004 and 2005 were not released until November 20th of last year. A release date that activists find disturbing.

JOHN MIANO, ATTORNEY: I think it's odd that it occurred after the election. Somewhat suspicious that while there were bills pending to have an H1B increase, that the information about the actual numbers of H1B visas was not available.

TUCKER: A spokesman for USCIS admits the reports were late, but he calls the oversight "honest," explaining that in the transitions from INS to the Department of Homeland Security they neglected to file the reports.

"We notified the oversight by a member of Congress. They quickly produced the reports."

Some critics see a pattern.

RON HIRA, ROCHESTER INST. OF TECHNOLOGY: There's been a pattern by the administration to -- to keep, you know, this data that they don't particularly want out bottled up, and we've seen this with the Commerce Department offshoring report, and we've seen it in other areas like NASA (ph) and the like.

TUCKER: And there is intrigue. These reports were obtained by LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, not off a Congress Web site, not from the House Subcommittee on Immigration, but off the Internet, where activists are distributing them by e-mail. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: The reports are real. USCIS acknowledges publishing the reports and giving them to Congress in late November. But USCIS says it's not their job to distribute the reports to the public, that's up to Congress.

And, you know, Lou, it may serve in the congressional interests to not make the report widely available to the public, because there are some disturbing facts in that report, and Congress is about to take up debate on doubling that program again sometime this next couple of months.

DOBBS: Well, if they are going -- permitting -- I mean -- I mean, it's just mind-boggling. The program is under such intense criticism.

TUCKER: Right.

DOBBS: Just allowing employers to go over by 40 percent over the quotas, more than that, in point of fact, 40 to 70 percent, without effect -- the USCIS does not explain why it's not enforcing it, doesn't have the information, and is holding information back. And now Congress as well?

TUCKER: It gets better, actually, Lou, because when you talk to USCIS, they say, "It's not our responsibility to issue the visas. That falls to the State Department. We just approve the petitions."

DOBBS: And the relationship, of course, between the petition and the -- I mean, this is -- if the American people have not figured out that there is a corporatist agenda at work in this administration and throughout the bureaucracy, then I don't know what more we could possibly report.

And this Congress, whether Democratically controlled or not, has an absolute responsibility to ask, why aren't immigration laws being enforced? Why aren't the laws passed by this Congress being enforced? And the American people need to ask why does neither Congress nor the executive branch fulfill their duties, their constitutional duties?

It is remarkable what is happening in this country. It is on the verge of tragic.


Can the Linux Journal shine a spotlight on the H1B visa game and how it is destroying tech jobs for legal U.S. tech workers ?

Might take some extra GUTS.

Slight correction regarding copy protection

Sum Yung Gai's picture

Hi Nick,

Actually, the first big software vendor to begin to forego copy protection was Ashton-Tate, with dBase II. Microsoft followed suit back in 1986 with Microsoft Word. Remember, back in the day, WordPerfect was king, and MS wanted that market share. To quote Bill Gates, "as long as they're going to steal anyway, then we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted..."

Lotus kept their copy protection into at least the early 1990's. As a result, in 1989, they lost a major contract with the US Dept. of Defense. The DoD, due to the nature of its business, does not like copy protection or anything else that they view as restricting them from getting a system up quickly in a pinch. Their mindset is, "lives might depend on this." The DoD even promised Lotus an automatic court-martial of whomever was found illegally copying Lotus 123. Lotus still said no, we won't take off the copy protection, take it or leave it. The DoD then said, "OK, bye" and went with SuperCalc.

Too bad the DoD won't flex its purchasing muscles again. GNU/Linux makes a terrific--and believe me, battle-ready--alternative to MS Windows. No copy-protection with Free Software, no activation problems, etc.

Byte, PC Rag

Pat Lamb's picture

Back in the middle 1980s, almost all the PC owners I knew subscribed to PC Magazine, and lots of us subscribed to Byte. Now, if I look at PC Rag on a news stand, it's because the thing is hiding something I'm looking for. I think Nicholas is right; there's nothing in there to read now. Looking for, say, a printer? You have your choice of great, greater, greatest, and editor's choice. What's the difference? You sure can't tell from the articles.

To be fair, software and hardware have improved to the point I expect whatever I buy will work, in some sense. But that means I need more in-depth comparisons and descriptions.

Linux Journal and Linux Magazine should take note. Many of the reviews I've read in the last year in these magazines focus more on setup, rather than features, "does it work?", and bugs or inoovation that works. That should be in a table: does the default install of Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu, etc. (maybe multiple versions), include this as a .rpm? Does the program conflict with library requirements for other commonly used programs? Does compiling and installing require some other, off the wall, program or utility? Cover the installation in no more than two paragraphs and move on, please. I'm more interested in why I should try it, or install it, than how this new thing wasn't included in your old Redhat 6.2.

Reviews about Lightweight Hardware Please

Common Sense's picture

Say you wanted to build your own "commodity parts" Linux laptop ...

or, needed to better understand the new TS-7400 from Technologic Systems ...

Thank You for all your efforts.

I was in high school back when PC Mag was actually good

Sum Yung Gai's picture

You're right on; this was the mid-1980's. We had just bought an IBM PC (yep, ye olde model 5150), and I was in heaven. I used to read PC Magazine cover to cover, and that's where I got my initial inspiration to learn 8086 assembly language. They would have articles in which you actually would type in programs in assembler (or even machine language!) and get some *real* value out of the magazine. Yes, I used debug.com to write and run basic programs. Peter Norton's column was a wonderful thing for a curious high school student like me.

In my senior year, I watched PC Magazine start to go from a publication about *computers* to a publication about *Wintel*. Gone was the geek/nerd spirit that made the magazine good in 1985. I let my subscription lapse many years ago and haven't respected or read it since.

Same goes for PC World and all the other Microsoft mouthpieces. I'd rather read LJ, or, if I want investigative journalism, Groklaw.

I got tired of writing to PC

Anonymous's picture

I got tired of writing to PC Magazine asking for more Linux, Mac material. After 12 years of subscribing, I dropped it and got a Linux Journal sub.


Nicholas Petreley's picture

We're having a dialog about reviews now. Stay tuned. It will take a while to ramp up to our ultimate goal, but we have some neat ideas that will show up from here to there.


linux's picture

I am one waiting for your reviews.


Common Sense's picture

Their unbridled greed is greater than their virtue. We are watching the American Dream unravel, and that is unAmerican.

The CONmen solicit those of weak character to perpetuate their dirty tricks.

The COWARDS have two things in common, fear, and they all emulate the worlds oldest profession.

The CONmen and the COWARDS don't mind the "low road". After all, they are in a race to the bottom. It's all about them.

Are the COWARDS in denial? (Money before ethics, Money before future generations, Money before freedom, just pure greed.)

This country needs more honest people with guts and integrity like Nicholas, and more "high road" publications like the Linux Journal.

Carry on.


Jeff Rollin's picture

Agreed on all counts. There is a glimmer of hope, however - Vista brings more bling to Windows desktops than they've ever had before...but mainstream users and even the mainstream press don't seem to care.

Maybe our efforts in the Linux community are finally paying off.


Anonymous's picture

Back in 2001 I bought a copy of "MSWindows 2000" to support my work. Unfortunately I had to write software for (ugh) WinDos machines. I also needed the thing so I could run InternetExploiter (eww!) so I could run the tax office's online tax return program. I still have that copy of WinDos on a hard drive which is fired up to file tax returns and the occasional game. But many modern games no longer work properly on WinDos2000. Do I shuck out $300 for XP or almost $400 for VisDuh so I can do an online tax return and play the occasional game? I don't think so. I think i'll just have to give up on 'pooter games - too expensive.

So, the only thing obviously new with VisDuh is it's full of bling, bullshit, restrictions, and it makes your computer crawl like a hobbled 1-legged dog. Oh yeah, I'm going to buy that crap. Unfortunately the next time I buy a desktop I'll probably still be paying the Microsoft Tax. Isn't Bill so fortunate to have his tax?

Pushing back - it starts with you

Anonymous's picture

Nicholas, I think you should quit your job here at Linux Journal. No, not because you are doing a bad job - you just need to being it in the main stream press.

I've searched the online archives of CNN and other large media corporations for news on the FLOSS community. Given the importance of ICT for productivity gains, there is precious little to be found. What is there is often written by ill-informed journalists.

Who's fault is this? It's our fault.

The tinker-toys and configuration advice may appeal to us, but not to those in charge of business - the CEOs and financial advisers. These are the once who decides ICT policy.

We need an attack plan, and it involves you dear reader.
1. Target = consumers
2. Strategy
* Don't be geeky! Pay financial journalists, lawyers and CEOs to write.
* Push freedom, not price. Anti-monopoly, pro-business. You can do more with freedom! Reusing commodities saves time and money when building new things. Stop using "free" to mean "at no cost" when writing.
* Push usability, not technology. Anti-DRM, pro interoperability
* Push activities, not code. Anti-performance loss, pro listening to music, watching / doing sports, life style, free culture in a main stream way, artists.
* Push public spending and tax dollars by illustrated examples.
3. Channels - just a few
* 60 minutes
News papers
* NY Times
* LA Times

Just a rough draft - now hack it!


Nicholas Petreley's picture

But even if I wanted to move back into the mainstream, I have been blacklisted from most of the mainstream publications. This is not paranoia - I have been fortunate enough to know a couple editors in chief well enough that they were honest and told me that Microsoft (and even Bill Gates, personally) pressured the publications to get rid of me. More than one publication lost millions of $ in advertising due to my columns. Only one publication actually relented to the pressure, but my reputation for blowing the whistle on Microsoft keeps me off the short list of people to hire. I don't know whether to be unhappy about that or not. ;) There's nothing fun about working at a mainstream publication with no guts.

I had no idea, Nick

Anonymous's picture

I didn't do a background check on you before writing the "Pushing back" comment, Nick. However, judging by the comments the magazines you've worked for were all tech mags? That was not the "main stream" I was thinking about.

At least in Europe, free (as in freedom) software and open - as in ISO - standards are all the rage, as government after government - from top to local level - understand the long term implications for controlling their own data and opening oppertunities for their own ICT industry. Now, most of these people don't read LJ og Infoworld - they read regular news papers, which complain about inefficient politicians and expensive public offices.

However, quite often the "analysts" and "experts" have two left feet, making a mess of concepts, thus failing to explain anything convincingly to the lay audience. Yes, you can save money using GNU/Linux, but no, your ICT infrastructure doesn't magically come at no cost at all switching from one operating system to another. The economic dynamics of being able to reuse commodity free (as in freedom) software to build solutions more in tune with business goals might - if you do it right.

By "main stream" I really mean the regular news, not the specialists new channels - LJ and Infoworld both being examples of the genre "tech for techs sake". Pit the cost for licenses against one extra school teacher in a municipality in the local paper. Politicians hate being seen as wasting money - they may not get another term in office.


Joe Klemmer's picture

Ah, the memories this brings up. I remember back when you were in Info World. Oh the fun we all used to have. You'd call MS on some crap and we'd just love it. Then the pressure started and we could see the writing on the wall. Most of us emailed/wrote the mag showing our displeasure but who gives a frell about us.

Keep tilting them windmills, Nick. You've still got some fan support.


P.S. The "we" I mean is my brother and our techie friends. He was an OS/2 guy and I was Linux.

Indie Game Dev and Linux User
Contact Info: http://about.me/joeklemmer
"Running Linux since 1991"

This response seems to identify the problem.

Rich Steiner's picture

If IT and PC publications won't hire writers who are willing to do more than parrot press releases, then there's no reason to expect anything else being published in their pages.

Guess why most of the real computer hobbyists I know stopped reading the Bytes, PC Mags, and Inforworlds of the world a long time ago? The web is part of it, certainly, but the loss of editorial integrity was a much larger factor, at least for me.

Credit where due

Nicholas Petreley's picture

You can thank Michael McCarthy (who either just retired, or is about to retire) for the integrity that was at InfoWorld in the 80s.

It wouldn't be polite to tell you who you could blame for the loss of it. Oh, the stories I could tell, and may tell someday.

follow the money

nicho's picture

It's not about advertising but common ground. Media companies derive profit from content. They aren't about to turn around and argue for any system that makes copying content easier.


sanchiro's picture


As always, you hit the nail on the head. It seems like the fun is gone, the spice and the flavor, since your last column in InfoWorld duking it out with Bob Metcalfe. Your replacement there didn't last too long before he either left or was shutdown.

I'd bet that just as IBM's relevance in the marketplace diminished as Microsoft rose, so too will Microsoft's power and domination of the scene wane as OpenSource and other future interests rise up.

Scott S. Jones D.C.
Sandy, Utah

Control of the advertising budget

Anonymous's picture

If you can find a library where the back issues of old computing magazine like BYTE aren't yet stolen or recycled, you'll find your answer. In the 1990's MS illegal and anti-competitive activities were used to gain and abuse a real monopoly on the desktop operating systems and start even to encroach on applications.

Thus a thriving economy of software vendors disappeared quite quickly, and took their advertising budgets with them to the big bit bucket in the sky. The magazines that remain simply can't afford to be other than sycophants, even if they wanted to. That leads to the next point.

Most people think of MS first and foremost as a marketing firm. But that was a while back and it moved beyond that to mainly lobbying by the dot-bomb. By the time the dot-bomb passed, MS isn't so much a lobbying firm anymore like it was a few years back, but had moved on to being a full fledged cult-like political movement.

Just try to get a so-called IT department to even try out some non-MS software, even closed source. Go on, I dare you.

But they're technology agnostic

POLAX's picture

That's a funny comment. Every MCSE claims to be "technology neutral" and all that I've met say the following:
"I'm not hung up on any particular technology, I choose the best tool for the job..."

Right before rolling out a full blown WindowsXYZ install (IE, Office, and all) with custom SSH software for a project requiring only a telnet (or rarely, SSH) terminal in a window.

I've seriously seen this disgusting sight in my career more than once...more than twice...more than I'll ever care to admit

>:- |

"technology neutral"

Anonymous's picture

That must be MSSpeak for "there can be no technology but MS technology".

Is part of the MCSE exam a mantra-chanting session? You know how you can approach someone from a large firm, say Procter and Gamble, and say "hey, what do you do"? Normal people will talk a bit about what they do, but these corporate lackeys spout their sales propaganda: "We at Procter and Gamble are committed..." Yes, they should be committed.

The best tool for the job

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I always get a good laugh out of hearing that comment ("I'm not hung up on any particular technology, I choose the best tool for the job..."), especially when they follow that up with comments about how the Xbox was the best game console, etc. Softies in neutral clothing are easy to spot.

«But we're the little guys.»

grupotux's picture

Quote: «But we're the little guys.»

Not so. It's just that the real little guys can't listen, at least not yet. That's why they're still the little guys: (try to recall the «Silent Majority»).

So much for the MS «political movement».

Because... if they criticize others, they look stupid

Kurt Fitzner's picture

It seems pretty obvious. They're not stupid, they're just greedy. If they start hammering on other companies for doing what they praise Microsoft for, well, then how do they look?

At least they have the honor, once they are bought, to stay bought.

Complacent Ignorance

Bert Rapp's picture

I think the masses have become complacent and expect this type of journalism. They'd really rather be told exactly what to buy rather than told the pros and cons of two competing products.

You also have to remember that 80% - 90% of "computer users" just started using computers recenlty and aren't even aware of the good ol'days. According to them Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, Microsoft did. And anyone that says otherwise is either a Mac Fanboy or a Linux zealot!

they forget so quickly

John Bailey's picture

The rot in magazines is far from a new thing. I read magazines for the articles, and glance at the reviews, Not taking them that seriously anymore. I get most of my information from the net. User forums rather than reviews if possible. And I think this is where many people are starting to go. Alas, as was seen with the recent MS laptops for blogs, and the Wikipedia incident, this is being eroded too. Computers are big business, so reality has been outsourced to the PR and marketing departments.

Don't Underestimate the Little Guys

Glyn Moody's picture

You're right: the big publishers have sold out, and you're also right that it's because of the parlous state of display advertising (I speak as an observer of the scene and an ex-publisher of half a dozen computer magazines in the 1980s and 1990s). But the good news is that relatively few people read these titles any more: they are shadows of the mighty PC mags of fifteen years ago.

Many people are, however, reading stalwarts like Linux Journal, and they've taken - in increasing numbers - to reading the best blogs. Indeed, I'd argue that in spirit The Reg is as much a blog as a magazine. As we know from free software, the power that comes from working collaboratively, as blogs do with their constant cross-linking and cross-referencing, is fundamentally stronger than the monolithic, centralised power of companies like Microsoft - or traditional publishers.

So, think positive: we're winning, it's just that not everyone realises it yet. It's us that must stay gutsy.

New York Times

Andy's picture

Although I broadly do agree with your sentiments, I feel obligated to point out a very recent (and welcome) exception to your article. On January 14th, shortly after Apple unveiled their latest i*, the New York Times published an article titled, "Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs". You can find the link Here.

On Jan. 22nd, the NY Times published a really rather well done account of Linux titled, "Group Formed to Support Linux as Rival to Windows". You can find this article Here.

Ironically, you will need a NY Times account to read either article, but an account costs $0.


NY Times account

P.Woods's picture

Ironically, you will need a NY Times account to read either article, but an account costs $0.

OK; so what is the shared NY Times account name and password?
Or failing that, yours!


But where is their *regular* criticism of Microsoft?

Sum Yung Gai's picture

Publications like the NYT are quick to heap criticism on "open source", and they often obfuscate whether they're referring to a software package or the "open source community." However, they are equally quick to write articles on how we all should "Get Ready for Vista", telling us repeatedly that "Vista's coming! Vista's coming!"

My guess is that Apple doesn't give them quite the advertising dollar$ that Microsoft does, hence that "iHandcuffs" one-off. But where are all their articles about "WinCuffs Vista" and how that's not a problem with Linux?