Thursday, January 19, 2006

The State of IT Journalism?

A blurb on Slashdot sent me over to an article on a site called IT Observer, entitled "Linux Users May Be Violating Sarbanes-Oxley." If you're not familiar with it, Sarbanes-Oxley is a piece of US legislation, passed in the aftermath of the Enron scandal, which requires public companies to generate reams of documentation in order to prove that they're not the next big scandal waiting to happen.

Anyway, the article notes:

Companies using Linux for embedded applications may be unwittingly violating the Linux license and even breaking federal securities laws, according to a research published by Wasabi Systems.
According to the study, the problem lies with the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that companies disclose ownership of intellectual property to their shareholders. The study indicates that dozens of companies are discovered each year to have violated the terms of GPL, and if they are public companies, they are violating Sarbanes-Oxley.
Ahem. So the IT Observer headline, while it's not technically a lie, is grossly misleading. It's about as accurate as saying "Mormons May Be Violating Sarbanes-Oxley", or "Democrats May Be Violating Sabanes-Oxley"--after all, some violators might be Mormons or Democrats.

You see, "Linux developers who work for public companies and who also include GPL'ed source code in distributed products without complying with the GPL" is, by any measure, a small subset of "Linux Users." And on the other hand, GPL violations aren't only a problem on Linux, as programmers can illegally use GPL'ed code to write closed software for BSD, Mac O/S, or Windows.

Trust me--I've worked with some of them.

So the headline is not only overly inclusive, it's also overly exclusive. It's a lie that serves only to snare you into reading the article, and it's irresponsible journalism.

Now, I'm far from your average Linux zealot. I make my living by writing proprietary code for custom hardware using a Microsoft OS. But this is rubbish--I'd expect it from Slashdot, but it's unacceptable for a source that claims its mission is "to deliver insightful cutting-edge news reports, in-depth and unbiased reviews and opinions, digital downloads and information relating to computing and technology."

But maybe I'm being too hard on the authors of the article, who are listed as "IT Observer Staff". Maybe it's not intentional deception. Maybe they're just parroting what they've been told. Maybe we should see where the study originates... on a whim, I Googled for "Wasabi Systems" and found them--first link on the page, as a matter of fact. It looks like they're not a market research group (as I'd incorrectly assumed). Wasabi Systems is an OS developer, whose flagship product is:

Wasabi Certified BSD, a certified, tested, and optimized version of the BSD operating system, offers the rich functionality of BSD Unix without Linux's troublesome GPL License.
Ahem. No mention of that in the article. Maybe the "IT Observer Staff" couldn't be bothered to make one Google query for their sources. Or maybe they've never heard of checking sources.

So, which is it... duplicity, apathy, or incompetence?