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September 5th, 2011

The VAR Guy: Does Sold Mean Sold Out?

Several times a month while looking for updates for our Facebook and Twitter feeds, I run across articles by an unknown writer who pens a blog called The VAR Guy. He’s usually Linux and FOSS friendly, but not always. If you don’t know, VAR stands for “value-added reseller,” so sometimes he can understandably turn downright proprietary – right when you least expect it. Mostly, however, he’s pretty fair, or as fair as you can expect someone to be who would profit by getting you to sign up for long term vendor lock-in.

Now The VAR Guy has been sold. More specifically, The VAR Guy’s publisher, Nine Lives Media, which also publishes the web sites MSPmentor and Talkin’ Cloud, has been sold to Penton Media, a huge business-to-business media company. At last count, according to Wikipedia, Penton “publishes and produces 113 magazines, 96 trade shows, 145 websites and has over six million subscribers across 17 different market segments.” Their target markets run the alphabetic gamut from Agriculture to Wealth Management. Nine Lives will become part of Penton’s “Technology Group.”

If you’re thinking this won’t be good for FOSS, you’re probably right.

Obviously, this “VAR Guy” is a house writer, like some of the in-house hacks that churned out serial novels for U.S. publishers like Grosset & Dunlap back in the 30s and 40s. He has no name. He has no face. He exists as a person only in the way that corporations, according to the Supreme Court, are people. This means that if the new bosses don’t like the content of the blogs churned out by the present “VAR Guy,” they can replace him with “VAR Guy” number two, and if that doesn’t work out with number three….

I’m sure you get my drift.

Now would be the time, if the new masters with Penton want to maintain The VAR Guy’s credibility, to put a name and a face on the writer of the blog. If they want us to see the site as an actual source of opinion uninhibited by a secret agenda, like the mixing of editorial and advertising content, they need to show us some transparency and they need to do so sooner rather than later.

So far, since Tuesday’s announcement of the sale, all I’ve read is predictable PR hype from the nameless VAR Guy. On the day of the announcement, he exclaimed in his blog, “…The VAR Guy’s voice is about to grow even louder. A lot louder.” On Friday, he proclaims “our resident blogger promises to maintain his unique voice.” To me this reads: “We’re going to be exactly like we’ve always been, only better.”

As Rocky used to say to Bullwinkle: “That trick never works.”

If the new owners continue with a faceless and nameless “VAR Guy,” then the site risks becoming perceived as nothing but an infomercial for Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or whatever other potential advertiser is being pursued at the moment. In other words, The VAR Guy becomes irrelevant, except to a very narrowly defined audience.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

10 comments to The VAR Guy: Does Sold Mean Sold Out?

  • I don’t see why everyone’s opinion needs to live up to the standard of “will this he good for FOSS?”

    If his opinion becomes irrelevant due to unreliable arguments or whatever, let them.

    Someone else will just have that much more of a voice.

  • helios

    he’s pretty fair, or as fair as you can expect someone to be who would profit by getting you to sign up for long term vendor lock-in.

    He “profits” from enough people reading his blog that justifies his paycheck.


    My organization has distributed and personally installed almost 1500 computers to kids who cannot afford a computer. As distasteful as I find proprietary and locked-down software,
    If I were to leave out Flash, the “real” Java and other various and sundry codecs that don’t come with a “clean” Linux install, those machines would be all but worthless. Especially when Nvidia has been good enough to supply us a boatload of nice video cards.

    I don’t always agree with the guy, and we’ve crossed swords on occasion but he writes for living and he knows, like most of us know, that FOSS is not the be-all and end-all.

    I think the sooner we all come to that conclusion, the sooner we’ll start getting along a bit better. I don’t begrudge anyone a paycheck, and if he’s making a good one doing what he’s doing, power to him.

    Probably 70 percent of the American work force has “sold out” in one way or another. This guy’s no different or no worse.

  • got the point

    So you completely missed the point then Brian?

    Corporations do *not* have board meetings to discuss philanthropy (Which in this case means the betterment of FOSS).

    Their sole aim is to make money, at an ever increasing rate, not something in FOSS’s ideology the last time I looked.

    Good article Christine, thank you

  • got the point

    Helios, You do the most amazing work, and having read some of the horror stories such as having knives and guns pulled on you, some respect is due.

    If you would allow yourself to step back from the front lines for a moment, and take a look at the whole battleground, I think you would be shocked by the deepseated effects of a world for money *only*. as seen from a corporations perspective.

    You are right, FOSS is not the be all and end all of the software world, but it could be. Doesn’t betterment of self and thus, betterment of all sound much better then – ‘how can we get more from people (you and me), for doing less’.

    Isn’t it this attitude that creates the people you help, by spreading the ignorence of ever increasing profit?

  • But my point is … Christine is worrying about the loss of one pundit’s/reporter’s integrity. That she theorizes might occur. (Who knows)

    Who cares? If it does happen…he will be less listened to. That means someone else will fill his shoes.

  • But my point is … Christine is worrying about the loss of one pundit’s/reporter’s integrity. That she theorizes might occur. (What a conjecture)

    But who even cares? If it does happen…he will be less listened to. That means someone else will fill his shoes.

    He’s not sacred. And there’s also nothing about the FOSS philosophy that should be treated carefully by anyone else. We’ll get along just fine without their support.

  • Actually, Brian, I think you do miss my point.

    This anonymous writer is basically a house writer. Under Nine Lives Media, who up until now has owned the site, he’s been pretty good and objective covering his beat for the Value Added Reseller community. However, the site is now owned by a huge publishing conglomerate who will probably have a very different agenda. Because this “VAR Guy” is anonymous he can be easily replaced without the public necessarily knowing this has happened.

    The basic reason for the article is a) to report the news story that the sale has taken place, and b) to point out that with new owners we might very well expect a new editorial policy with the site, and c) to further point out that because the writer of the blog is anonymous any editorial policy change could take place without our knowledge.

    Actually, I couldn’t care less what happens at The VAR Guy. I enjoy occasionally reading the posts there, but I don’t depend on the site for information. I don’t expect the site to be 100% supportive of my concepts on FOSS, just as I don’t expect other members of the FOSS community to see FOSS issues exactly the same way I do.

    And BTW Brian, I enjoy reading your blog…

  • Greg P

    At least some of us must remain vigilant. We know that the c(r)ow(d)s out there get pulled around by the nose by some song-and-dance with a subliminal message.

    In India, there is a long history of those who disdain society, live in the wild, with no possessions, living off whatever is available to them. There is a certain purity in their point-of-view about what is important, what is not.

    Now we see charlatans who pretend to give us things for free, all in the name of some background commercial goal. But we must assess the true value of these free gifts and what freedom we give up for them.

  • Great comment Greg. Back when I was growing up, Americans used to know “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” As your comment shows, some of us still do, but the majority of folks are out there signing up for the free iPad someone on Facebook’s going to give them just for asking.

    You are correct in your assertion that we must remain vigilant. We must also try to open the eyes of those around us.

    Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • Dear Christine,

    The VAR Guy respects your freedom to share opinions and raise key questions with your readership. But The VAR Guy has also taken the time to reply to your thoughts here. Thank you for your time and consideration.


    The VAR Guy