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Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Analyst Forrester Changes Its Policies -- Will the Media Follow?

Forrester Research has decided a change of policy is in order, after Microsoft funded a comparison study between the cost of developing certain applications on Linux and Java to a Microsoft-based approach and then used the results to say total cost of ownership was higher with Linux. The policy change was announced in a letter written by CEO George Colony and posted to its web site. They won't allow comparison studies like this to be used publicly any more. IDG gives some details:

"The survey was widely seen as a blanket statement about the cost of ownership of the platforms, rather than a more qualified statement about their relative costs for running certain types of applications, according to Forrester analyst John Rymer, the author of the report.

"'There was a huge outcry about the Microsoft study,' said Rymer, who blamed the way the media covered the report for much of the criticism. "Microsoft cheaper than Linux:" That was the basic headline. There were a dozen variations on that. Obviously, if you read the report, the conclusions in the report are much more qualified than that,' he said.

"In addition to Microsoft having funded the study, critics also took exception to the small sample size (12 companies) that Forrester's results were based on, as well as the study's methodology."

Ah, the sweet smell of FUD going splat. It seems Microsoft was using the study to sell reporters, and a lot of the media just chewed and swallowed. But when their headlines were read by more careful and knowledgeable folks -- that would be us -- the outcry followed. Here's what Microsoft was doing, and as you read it, file it under "This is how FUD is done" so we can react appropriately every time FUD lifts its ugly head from the mud:

"In Microsoft's case, the study was offered as the latest data point in the company's 'fact-based' campaign against Linux, an initiative promoted by Microsoft's general manager of platform strategy, Martin Taylor.

"'Martin Taylor went out and visited with a bunch of reporters, and he was referring to the study and using it to advance his case that Linux doesn't have a lot of advantages,' said Rymer. 'George (Colony) was uncomfortable with this'."

As are we all, friend, as are we all.

FUD only works if you let it. That "outcry" is us at our best. And as you see, FUD can never stand the light of day, so all we have to do is shine the light in the nicest way possible, and FUD wilts and dies. Now, as for the media, let's just keep educating them in a pleasant way, and the analysts too. Microsoft's entire business is built on the proposition that they know more than the rest of us do about tech, and with FUD, they try to capitalize on a lack of accurate information. Maybe that proposition worked when they started the business, because there weren't a lot of folks who understood computers, which gave rise to Clippy and other obnoxious MS hand-holding. But a lot of us are technically adept now. The world has changed.

FUD is MS holding the media's hands and handing them a pre-written story, which any reporter is glad to have, because they are always struggling to meet deadlines and sometimese having an uphill time of it understanding the issues, being usually generalists rather than specialists. PR is based on recognizing that need and filling it.

But reporters can learn, and one thing is for sure: most reporters will tell the truth if they know it and if they are sure they are on solid ground. That's what they want to do; it's a job description, after all.

Forrester is to be commended for what they have done. The beauty part is that with the internet, FUD has become just another name for shooting yourself in the foot, because the light always shines here, thanks to those of us who don't just read the news and accept it as true when we happen to know better and are willing to devote a little time to patiently and politely correcting the record.

Groklaw is, therefore, preparing a list of questions for reporters to ask SCO. We are preparing it as a public service, because we recognize that there is a need for some help with this very complex story. We also recognize that FUDsters are at work, that Microsoft is actively working on a campaign against Linux and pushing their view on reporters as if it were "fact-based", and we intend to present clarifying information on Groklaw to counter the FUD.

The list of proposed questions for journalists will be posted here within the week, and to you reporters who read Groklaw, welcome, and we hope our list proves useful to you. If you need anything else, just ask and we'll try to provide whatever it is you need. If MS or SCO bends your ear, you might want to give us an opportunity to fill you in with The Rest of the Story.

comment [] 8:29:12 PM    

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