LXer Feature: Rant Mode Equals One: Microsoft Media Bias

Posted by PaulFerris on Oct 25, 2005 6:53 AM EDT
Lxer.com; By Paul (FeriCyde) Ferris
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I'm a fan of GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS). Most readers that write me, even ones that disagree with my perspective, count it toward the plus side. They understand my bias -- there's never been any question of it...

We, at LXer.com, don't have all of the answers. I'm not paid to give them to you and I certainly don't even begin to think that if I were, I would have them all. But I can speak about what I do know. I have some friends here that share the same opinions. They know that to speak the truth, to be true to your own beliefs -- to call them like they see them -- that is where the true power is.

FeriCyde Chat

Will I wake up?
Is it a dream I made up?
No I guess its reality
What will change us?
Or will we mess up
Our only chance to connect
With a dream?
--Sponge Plowed

Let's be truthful here: I am not a balanced journalist, in the strictest definition of the word. Scratch that, in the most liberal interpretation of the word. I read a lot of press that attempts to be "balanced". The latest (and laughable) attempt came in John Dvorak's column entitled: "Media Bias and Technology Reporting"

If there's one criticism of my writing (rightly so), it's that I'm very biased. I see the world through (mostly) pro-Linux glasses. For all my usage of Windows in the corporate world, I'm still tilted squarely in the Linux direction. This, despite having used Windows, albeit mostly to launch programs to view proprietary file formats, and as a badly debugged device driver for Cygwin.

Is this a major fault? I'm being overt, I'm a fan of GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS). Most readers that write me, even ones that disagree with my perspective, count it toward the plus side. They understand my bias -- there's never been any question of it.

Let's take a look at the kind of stuff John Dvorak churns out. He likes to take opinionated stands that make him appear unbiased (at least, this is my synopsis). He's said some rather "controversial" things. Most recently, there were a couple of pieces, one devoted to the insanity of the Microsoft "protection" racket (I.E., they're charging people to protect the PC software that contains vulnerabilities that are the direct result of bad operating system design -- it's an obvious conflict of interest), and then the most recent one, claiming, get this, Apple bias in the media.

Oh, please. What a load of bias-ship. There should be a comedy soundtrack available for every Microsoft executive parrot piece that even jokingly references security. How many articles do we read (yearly) that Microsoft is going to "go after" or "crush" Google?!? That's true media bias, and it's brought on by a multitude of factors, not the least of which might be related to the amount of advertising dollars they spend.

Okay, that's my opinion. It's not a fact, but if you do some simple research of your own -- looking for who's buying the most ads for things, you'll see what I mean. You see, when you've vanquished most of the competition, you can charge what the market will bear, then you can take the extra cash and do PR work on the crappy job you've done designing new product.

Let's leave the issue of whether or not Microsoft has done a crappy job on their stuff to about a million on-line blogs, articles and security posting sites -- you'd have to be blind as a bat not to see the problem.

But I digress.

Dvorak, in my humble opinion, is missing the boat here along with a lot of journalists that strive to be "unbiased". The world needs honesty in this regard (when it comes to FOSS). Striving to be "unbiased" when it comes to "Linux versus Windows", for example, is akin to instilling long-term distrust in your readers.

I read a lot of press. Microsoft gets trashed all the time -- but no where near enough. The true story still isn't being told. Acting like it's because the media is somehow lopsided in the Apple direction is laughable at best. The piece may make Dvorak (momentarily) sound unbiased about the whole technological landscape -- but I doubt it. I'm calling foul.

I try to tell the story as I see it, and sometimes the story is bad. Do I get flamed for it? The occasional disagreeable user says something to me from time about my humble opinion, yes. But mostly people agree. That's because, even though I'm talking about Linux, to the Linux faithful (preach onnn Brother!), at the core of what I speak is a basic truth about software and reality in general. I speak about facts and experience when I see them staring in the face of other people's misinformed criticism of Linux.

Part of what typically motivates my writing manifests itself when I read things that I know to be completely contrary to the truth, or to a reality that could be (for example, articles that "predict" that Linux will not X or Y in the face of some pressure Z).

When this kind of stupidity collides with my reality I have every right to say something. My experience using Linux as a desktop for over a decade. My contrasting experiences with Windows as a desktop and in server contexts. My experience using Linux and other Free Software products to solve enterprise-scale corporate problems. These things I draw upon.

You can say, (as has been said to me) "Apache will never be mainstream", and I will laugh in your face and point here. All of the biased opinion in the world does not alter the basic facts -- Free Software is as mainstream as it gets. It's all over the place. The core of this trivial thing we call "the Internet" is based upon it.

The problem I'm outlining here points to the media in general. Like it or not, large corporate interests make the equation sound unbalanced against Linux. You do get to read the occasional positive piece about Linux success, and that always makes me smile. "Good", I think, "another reporter has figured out that the world isn't flatly Microsoft." Then, I think, "I hope he gets to keep his job, unlike what happened to me and a lot of my friends."

You see, the implosion of printed media pushed a lot of freelance journalists out of print. The advertising dollars were supposedly going to the web. Tech journalism (in my humble opinion) suffered.

As print publications pushed to the web, they often lost revenue. Then, in the flash of an eye, the advertising dollars unexpected dropped for web sites. Think of an editor, in this landscape, who has the choice between paying for a writer, or getting content handed to him from people who are being paid by some corporate interest. Pick up your typical trade rag from 5 years ago -- today it's a thin pamphlet. Usually it's filled with a very small number of the same content you will find on the company web site.

And what about that content? Some of it might be accurate, but I have my doubts as to the sincerity. Yes, I'm saying that I'm sincere in my writing, and that there's often something insincere about what I read on other well-known technology sites and in their publications. It's all about me, as a matter of fact, and my viewpoint, my accuracy, my sincerity. I'm saying that there's a lot of content out there is thinly veiled PR paid for by large corporate interests.

This is why mainstream corporate media is so worried about blogging. Bloggers have no constraints -- they can speak the truth anytime they wish, and there is very little control (as of yet). They don't have the advertising yoke. There's where a good portion of news is being told and made on a daily basis.

Paid "biased" content gets create all the time. A lot of people are simply not tuned to pick up the carrier signal of deceit. That's not to say they don't sense it in their gut.

After spending some time on the journalistic side of the fence, I have a different point of view. You get controversial, opinionated facts about Linux and the software landscape being reported where? Places like LXer, that's where. Why? Because we're not doing it as much for the money -- we're doing it because we believe in Linux and most of us believe that people deserve to hear the truth. Look at this as a community blog about Linux -- a fast changing, hard charging aim at the truth, and as up-to-date as it can be told.

Is printed/written communication the only place this kind of BS is going on? Hardly. Anybody catch the piece on CNN (the Cable news channel) recently parroting the "research" about the i-Pod causing hearing damage, for example? Surprise! The next story is about Microsoft buying stock in AOL. The announcer casually mentions that CNNs parent company owns AOL -- they have to, due to the issues that might be caused by the FTC if they failed to mention the facts whilst reporting the story without the disclaimer. They even mention, in other words, the glaring conflict of interest that a cash transaction with Microsoft might have -- right after a story about (Apple) i-Pods that most of us know is a total load of garbage. Do statistics or facts get mentioned here? Oh, some basic ones.

What doesn't get mentioned is that the people a couple of decades ago that were losing their hearing from Sony Walkmans for the same reasons. Or maybe they were losing their hearing at loud rock concerts, and they just happened to own a new walkman... What about the possibly that the group of people polled might listen to i-Pod music at 140 decibels in their car? What doesn't get mentioned for sure is the fact that Apple and Microsoft are heated competitors -- and that AOL/Time Warner (the people behind CNN) might have obvious intentions toward pleasing Microsoft at this time, thank-you!

Who knows or cares how accurate the story is, in other words, given the context and the forum. CNN's parent company just happens to owns a technological company (AOL) that it is trying to unload. In a context such as this, and a climate that has been bread over time to pander (under the guise of unbiased journalism) you don't know if the story, the motivation and so on, are accurate. There are, however, enough reasons to make people like me nod their head and call foul.

Brian Proffitt is going through something similar at LinuxToday. The ads on the site sometimes (to a select few people) taint anything good he might do. The same with a lot of other news sites. I know from working with him and reading his stuff over the years, that he's trying to give the straight story, but it hardly matters to a lot of people -- they're sensing the garbage landscape and unfortunately in this instance, fingering a straight man. I speak from experience here on both sides of the fence.

Why is that? Why is being unbiased not a worthy goal in the tech landscape? Getting back to Dvorak and company. I don't know how you can "get the facts" today, and not support the Linux community or more secure alternatives to Microsoft. The fact is, anyone that's had their computer infected (as Dvorak readily admits), and is even partially tech savvy (far more so than say, my brother or my father) should not be yelping in public about bias against Microsoft.

Isn't it possible that a lot of tech journalists simply don't like to play Russian Roulette with their security? I have a another point for Dvorak to ponder: Maybe they just don't want to be constantly in the virus detection spin cycle when it comes to using their computer. Maybe they're using their computer to do things like generate articles or playing video games. Maybe they're not so enamored with the Microsoft "solution" to securing their PC.

There's a ton of positive Microsoft press. The more it gets printed, the more the public senses the foul. The mainstream media can continue this sham all they want, but the problem is going to be one of long-term credibility. The media track record of supporting this huge monopolistic interest, over time, says "TILT" in big, fat, blinking letters to Joe Public.

People don't need me to tell them this. What I'm speaking to is such a fundamental truth at it's core. Their gut reaction is "I've always known this stuff is bad, now I know why no one has been saying anything.". It's called the truth. You don't need to be tech savvy to spot that there simply hasn't been enough of it being printed. People need to hear the truth.

Want some truth? Linux can be painful to learn. It's different. It's going to take some time if you've learned Windows first, to unlearn some stuff, and to learn Linux. Some of your beloved Windows applications aren't going to easily run on it. Some are not going to run at all.

More: You will have some things you don't have today. Security. Privacy. Stability. Will that security be 100% better than Microsoft? No.

The opinion (mine): It will be something like 90% better, and that's enough motivation for a lot of folks. They can use their computer, and not spend all day pruning it for viruses.

And that, my dear Windows friends that need Linux, will hit hard in your gut. You know it's true -- you don't need flashy sale brochures, marketing campaigns, TILTed Windows tech stories -- all of that, as you know from your vast experience in the virus cleaning spin cycle, is a load of dirt.

We, at LXer.com, don't have all of the answers. I'm not paid to give them to you and I certainly don't even begin to think that if I were, I would have them all. But I can speak about what I do know. I have some friends here that share the same opinions. They know that to speak the truth, to be true to your own beliefs -- to call them like they see them -- that is where the true power is.

Am I (Paul Ferris) biased towards Linux as a solution? Hell yes.

Face it. Today the media is a train-wreck of conflicted opinion. You want "unbiased" media that treats Microsoft and Linux as equal solutions for all business problems?, If so, you probably shouldn't be reading one of my columns.

Ask yourself, however, if anyone out there can tell the story if they strive to present them as equal solutions. You can't pick two more divergent methods at arriving at a technological solution. Linux is developed in a digital democracy, an Internet-driven landscape of evolution. Microsoft Windows is developed in Redmond Washington by a group of captive developers for the sole purpose of making and sustaining the cash growth of two of the largest software monopolies in the history of computing.

As outlined, the solutions are different. They solve different problems and they present a technological landscape that is frighteningly complex. First rule: Don't let the media simplify the equation. You want the truth: The world is getting more technologically complex by the minute. It's showing zero probability of getting simpler as we go forward. All those radio buttons in the Windows interface are going to sprout more and more cousins in the future.

The tech landscape is going to get more complex, and the Internet is going to grow, and daily it's going to change the way business is done. It's going to make the world just as unsafe as it goes along. Having something like Linux at the focal points of intrusion will be a good thing for the people that discover what FOSS is all about. Those that see the world through Microsoft colored glasses will spend a larger and larger part of their day securing everything from their desktops to the enterprise. As the complexity grows, so will the problems.

And the media, funded by advertising dollars, will continue to do the world a dis-service as it presents the question "Linux or Windows? -- You decide!" all the while hinting that they're some sort of bastion of equity. By the way, I don't have a problem with the answer -- I have a problem with the simplified question.

I've decided already. Join me. Linux is the answer to this one. You can continue to get infected. You can look for unbiased "opinion" out there somewhere. You're not likely to find it if the questions of value and security are of any true concern.

People like Dvorak can yelp all they want about bias in the technology media, for Microsoft, against Microsoft, and so on. Given the way our media is structured with advertising dollars, the only sure thing will be further and further retreat toward nontraditional media. LXer.com is just one example. Blogging is another. It's a given, in other words, that bias is here to stay.

The difference is that mine is overt, like a lot of bloggers, I honestly think that putting on some kind of journalistic priestly garb of pretend "non-bias" is a sham and I won't be a part of it. The alternative is to drink the Kool-Aid and believe that the media is somehow going to police itself and truly report the facts in all cases, not being persuaded to run marketing material as content, stories for hire and the rest of the crap that we all know by now is going on here and there to support huge corporate interests.

Is my way a "better way"? Who knows. I honestly don't know what the alternative is, other than the truth. That's why I do it my way. I only know that Linux and FOSS in general have brought security to myself, my family and some of my dear friends.

And that is truth enough.

Paul (FeriCyde) Ferris is a Linux professional and community member. He has been using Unix and Linux for a combined total of over 16 years. His articles have graced LXer.com, Linux Journal, LinuxToday, LinuxPlanet, NewsForge and various other Linux news and technical information sites. His recent expertise with enterprise-class implementations of Linux have lead to the creation of the the batchlogin project, his first large-scale Free Software project. A husband, father and more, yet his technical passion is Linux and has remained so for the past 12 years.

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Great article mdl 21 1,470 Oct 27, 2005 8:54 AM

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