BCS Magazines: All Gloss, No Substance

I have been a member of British Computer Society (BCS) since undergraduate when the regular magazines from BCS gave me a glimpse into how working in IT might involve more than than the algorithms and computational theory being taught in lectures.

In recent times I find it is rare that the BCS’s increasingly glossy publication, IT Now, contains anything of interest. Too often an article appears to be a modified version of a corporate marketing piece with the specifics of the company’s product removed so as to maintain the illusion of being editorial rather than advertorial. The result is even worse than an actual sales pitch since all substance is lost!

A recent special issue on open source software was especially disappointing. The articles were not the usual marketing speak, but they were still vague and anecdotal rather than informative and analytical. For example, an article entitled “Cracking the Desktop” fails to mention Firefox, one of the most successful open source desktop applications.1 A case study of the challenges faced when deploying this faster and more secure alternative to older versions of IE to corporate desktops would have been informative, yet the article looks at the cost benefits of switching to OpenOffice, an obsolete technology compared to online office tools such as Google Docs.

“Can Open Source Be Secure?” also exemplified the lack of editorial rigour in IT Now. The phrase “Experts do not agree” should not be allowed without referencing at least two sources (i.e. the “experts” on either side of the argument) yet the article contains no citations at all. The label ‘Journalist hiding their own opinions…’ from http://www.tomscott.com/warnings/ should perhaps be applied here.

I have renewed my BCS membership for another year on the basis that my local branch and Specialist Groups provide some value. The new Academy of Computing project should be given a chance to demonstrate that it can be the UK’s Learned Society of Computer Science, but the chance of another copy of IT Now not going directly to my recycling bin is slim.

BCS members can participate in a discussion about the future of IT Now.

  1. As of today, Mozilla reports 127 million downloads since 21st January 2010 versus 48 million OpenOffice.org download since 11th February 2010. []