Friday, March 30, 2007

Passing off opinions as fact

In the Wall street Journal on March 27, 2007 there was an article on page C12 called Microsoft's Brighter Vista. The point of the article is that while Vista is not selling well now, it may sell better in the future. The sub-title is “Soft Start for the System May Yield to Strength Ahead As Chip Glut Pares PC Costs”.

The starts out saying that Vista sales have been slow because Windows XP works well enough and hardly anyone will upgrade an existing computer from XP to Vista. Fine. But then regarding the “improvements” in Windows Vista the article says:

Those that are important, such as easier searching and stronger security, do justify using Vista on a new PC….”

This is a matter of opinion all the way around, yet it is presented as fact. Whose to say which "improvements" are important and which are not? Who's to say what justifies Vista on a new PC? There is no one right answer and no consensus amongst us computer nerds. A non-technical business person, no doubt the standard WSJ reader, comes away with the wrong impression.

Also, changes in Vista from Windows XP are referred to as “improvements”. Is this a press release or an investment article? Sounds like a press release. Anyone who has used a computer knows that not all changes are improvements. Whether a change is an improvement is a matter of opinion. Again, opinion being offered as fact.

And speaking of facts that may not be facts, the article says that “20 million copies of Vista have been sold since the January launch”. I have seen this number disputed by someone more familiar with the details than I. However, whether the number is in dispute or not, since it comes from Microsoft, which has an obvious motivation to paint a rosy picture, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, the authors state this number as fact without mentioning the source of the 20 million number.

The article predicts a wave of PC buying due to lower prices and that these sales will boost Vista since “most PCs now come with it loaded…”.

This gives the wrong impression. Pretty much all personal computers marketed to consumers come with Vista (think Kool-AID). However, Windows XP is alive and well in computers marketed to businesses. They still buy XP because of reasons explained below and they have the clout to get what they want. After all, no one would turn down an order for thousands of Windows XP computers.

The reason they say "most" and not "all" PCs come with Vista is that anyone can buy a new PC with Windows XP pre-installed, a fact that I fear too-few people know. In my opinion (note: this is not a fact) opting for XP instead of Vista is the right way to go (more below). If nothing else, it's the path of least resistance. And there are other choices in new computers besides XP and Vista: the Mac and Linux.

Since the point of the article is that Vista sales may take off, the reasons not to get Vista on a new computer are omitted. There are many such reasons:

  • Software incompatibly
  • Hardware incompatibility
  • Inevitable bugs in new software
  • The learning curve

Heck, just two days after this article appeared, Walter Mossberg answered a reader question in the same paper that started with: “I have just bought a new Dell Vista computer. None of my backup software now works”. Join the crowd guy. In his response, Mossberg complained about the lack of Vista-compatible drivers.

The choice of OS on a new computer brings up an interesting point. Since XP has been around for so long, will it be this generations QWERTY keyboard? That is, will it be a good enough, usable standard that everyone is familiar with, so much so that changing to something else, even something marginally better, just isn’t worth it? We’ll see.

The authors, Robert Cyran and Edward Chancellor don’t work for the Journal itself, they work for an organization that claims on its website to offer “punchy, relevant, timely opinion to the world's financial elite.”

One of the credited authors has a background covering the pharmaceutical industry and a degree in economics. The other specializes in finance and investment. Perhaps not the best backgrounds for offering opinions on the pros/cons of a computer operating system.

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