Pete, have you ever seen a "bagel" with that sort of dull-brown matte-finish and softish crust? That's what happens when you skip the boiling step. For that shiny, hard crust bagels are known for boiling is essential.
The controversial topic isn't whether they should be boiled. The issue, among home bagel bakers, is whether to use plain water, or to add things like baking soda or even lye.
Although I use lye for pretzels, I never have for bagels, as I've never seen a reference to the dilution rate. I've tried it with and without baking soda, and haven't noticed any particular differences. Time in the bath seems to be the main criteria.
Boiling bagels is the ideal way, but our restaurant kitchen is too small for a kettle. We sell a couple of hundred bagels a day and use a bagel (rack) oven with steam. I have never been quite sure how much steam to inject and I know it's not the same as a boiled bagel.
As a former resident from New York, and having lived on the west coast most my adult life, I can tell you that a bagel is boiled. Steam is not the same. It is kind of like most people out here ate pizza, but they had a pleasant surprise when they tried some New York pizza. There is a difference. I bake at home for farmers market and door to door sales. I mill my own flours and never bought white flour until deciding to make bagels. Boiling is not an option. Lye should not be an option either. It is not in the new york water that makes a bagel... it is boiling... WITH lye.