Shifting Perception of Microsoft

I just finished reading an article about Microsoft’s antivirus offering. Due to my ongoing pain, exhaustion, and fuzzy-headedness, I will once again ask your forgiveness for my short, curt, and blunt sentences.

First, I’ve got a decent amount of experience as an end-user and as tech support with various antivirus (AV) products. I’m not a virus expert or a coder, but I know more than the average bear about viruses and their removal, as well as about different AV software. I’ve been following Microsoft’s offering and development for at least five years now.

Second, I recognize the various red flags that are put up about M$’s AV. “Do they purposely make their operating system insecure to sell additional security products?” “Won’t this make other security companies obsolete, putting them out of business? That sounds like monopoly behaviour.” Etc.

For expediency’s sake, I won’t go into a lot of detail about how M$ AV has fared in the past other than to say that it sucked. Windows Defender was piss-poor in beta and has improved, but I still don’t trust it. Combine this with my general distrust of Microsoft and their DRM, fierce anti-piracy, and privacy-invading systems and I think you’ve got an operating system best avoided if at all possible. That’s why I switched to Linux almost three years ago (following my beta testing of Vista) and now own a MacBook. I don’t like being treated like a criminal.

All that being said, there are a few new things on the M$ horizon. Windows 7 is simply a phenomenal operating system based on what I have seen so far. They keep telling me that it’s very similar to Vista under the hood, and maybe that’s true, but it just runs well. Way better than Vista. It makes me feel like they actually listened to customers rather than treating us poorly and assuming we’d happily pay to choke down whatever they deigned to throw to us. Over the last few years, they’ve relaxed their communications grip and allowed more blogging, more openness, and more honesty with the user community (and their relationship with developers has been good for quite some time). This leads to a more positive perception of them.

From what I read in the above-linked article, their AV is pretty solid now, and I think they have some good reasoning behind it. I dislike the idea of buying an insecure OS, but the more I learn about Windows development, the more I can accept its quirks and appreciate how they are working to correct the problem(s). I think they’re going about it the right way.

And to be perfectly honest, using Mac OS X, I’ve come to accept the dark side a bit more. I’m not so blindly hypocritical that I can’t realize the absurdity in bitching about M$ DRM and then accepting Apple with open arms. No one is more locked down than Apple. There’s a philosophical difference between the two, but the point stands: I am willing to accept certain restrictions because functionality and ease are superceding factors.

Vista wasn’t good enough to make up for its shortcomings. Windows 7 is, and when you bundle it with tight antispyware and antivirus software that makes it actually [more] secure out of the box like it’s supposed to be, that makes the operating system significantly more palatable.

Ever since they got trout-slapped in response to Vista, Microsoft has been working hard to clean up its act and woo users. Believe you me, I can be bought. Make me a shiny, solid, secure operating system and you might just get a user back.

Endnote:: The last sentence isn’t quite true. There’s an excellent chance I’ll run Windows 7 in a virtual machine at work to use Microsoft Outlook. I’ll keep Linux on my desktop and OS X on my MacBook. I do, and will, however have Windows 7 in Bootcamp on my Mac for gaming. There’s a decent chance I’ll even increase that partition by another 25gb come August to move World of Warcraft from the Mac to the Windows side, as I’m pretty sure it’ll perform better there. What I’m saying is, I don’t have Vista anywhere, nor will I. Windows 7 is acceptable, and Microsoft is whirming its way back onto my computers with their improved PR and OS.

Linux vs. OS X? Why are we even talking about this?

I read an article recently on ZDNet about 10 things Linux does better than OS X which was accurate, insightful, and altogether correct. It was also pretty damned irrelevant.

You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find what we like to call a “fanboi” or “zealot,” defending their chosen pile of software against all comers. I don’t know if it’s because people are insecure in their choices or because they are trying to convince themselves, but a lot of writers on the ‘net will take up arms if you choose to use a software package different than their chosen avatar. This is nowhere more prevalent than when it comes to operating systems.

To be fair, you don’t see many Microsoft Windows zealots because, let’s face it, there’s not much to defend there. They’ve got 80% or more of the personal computer market, and while their OS isn’t great, it gets the job done most of the time. Those who use it don’t really need to say anything to defend their software, they just have to point at the numbers.

But Apple and Linux certainly have their fans, of the mouth-foamy type, and it boggles my mind. I don’t particularly like Microsoft Windows, but I can see where it is sometimes necessary, and the same goes for the other operating systems. I love Linux and it’s a great OS, and I’m really enjoying using OS X on my MacBook.

An article like the above-linked 10 things Linux does better than OS X can be helpful when deciding which OS to run, but the problem is that articles and opinions like these are usually held to be normative. That is, they are trying to say, “Here are ten things that Linux does better than OS X, therefore Linux is better than OS X.” It’s absurd.

The truth of the matter is that different jobs call for different tools. If I was a construction worker, hitting a nail with would fail. If I was handling very sensitive data that needed to be kept secure, yeah Linux would be best. But if I needed to work with advanced spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel 2007, Microsoft Windows would be the only operating system for me.

Personally, I was looking for high battery life, a good writing program, and a lightweight notebook, which led me to the MacBook. I recognize that Linux has some superior characteristics, but not for what I needed. I don’t need the most secure operating system ever, it doesn’t affect my writing one way or the other if my OS is open source, and the abundance of software available for Linux doesn’t make a difference in this case. It didn’t have Scrivener, so it was out.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ve got to use the right tool for the right job, so a better article might be, “Given X, here’s the best OS and here’s why.” That is, of course, if you can be bothered to wipe the foam away from your mouth and say something worthwhile.

I’m a debater, not a journalist

I’m pretty secure in the knowledge that a blogger is not a journalist. Bloggers don’t generally report to anyone, we don’t usually have editors, and our publication is not competitive. We have a dedicated outlet for our voices and can put up pretty much whatever we want. If you don’t like it, tough, and if it’s not accurate*, well, it’s the Internet. Deal.

But my articles are usually self-contained, which is to say that I’m usually writing about an experience or thought I’ve had, or writing about how to accomplish something with a computer. I’m not critiquing anyone directly, so journalistic integrity isn’t something I have had to deal with.

That is until recently, when I lambasted a writer for ZDNet about his article on texting. I was a bit conflicted about the piece because I wrote it somewhat hastily and with a touch of frustration†, but I still didn’t think much about it until the original author commented on my blog entry, accusing me of not reading his article closely. I’d also been reading a few apologies from newspapers in recent days for mistakes they had made and failures to check facts, and it all had me thinking.

Maybe I should have contacted Chris Dawson to ask for a clarification on his article. I could then have written a complementary piece to his own, extending his observations and clarifying his points. Through instant message and Twitter conversations, I knew that I wasn’t the only person to reach negative conclusions about the piece he had written, but perhaps my response was unjustified.

As I read just such an apology in our campus newspaper about an inaccurate headline, something clicked for me. Or snapped. I’m not obligated to contact people and find out if they had meant to sound as stupid as they did or ask what they had really meant so I can clarify on their behalf. And if someone disagrees with my conclusion, that’s fine. I’m not here to report the news. I’m not a journalist, I’m a debater.

When we were just novii in Deana Butcher’s debate room, we were told quite bluntly that we would be attacked. We would be told we didn’t know jack, our intelligence would be insulted, and our carefully crafted and researched cases would be torn to shreds. No respect or quarter would be given to us based on our personalities, looks, or effort. The other team’s job was to attack us, and they would. Our job was to defend, and we must.

As I recalled the moment–my nodding contrasted with the somewhat shocked look on my squad mates’ faces (for where they had grown up somewhat wealthy, well-liked, and respected, I was the quiet nerd who had been beat up and shouted down throughout elementary and junior high school)–I was reminded of a similar concept shared by my religion professor of several years, Dr. Charles Hedrick.

Dr. Hedrick wrote a number of critical and scholarly books about Christianity, all of which received negative criticism and praise in equal measures, and all of which were easily argued against. As he wrote, Charlie knew that there were valid arguments against his statements, just as he knew the counter-arguments, but he elected to not include that discussion in his book. Rather, he left those points open for other people to raise in their letters to newspaper editors and in books they would, in turn, publish.

Attempting to pre-empt every argument would be both futile and boring. The book would be very long and, for those who hadn’t conceived those arguments, boring. And for those who would have raised such attacks, they no longer would. Pre-emption would lead to stagnation of discussion and debate. Better to leave an opening for someone to attack than to stifle them and prevent them from raising their voice.

Inciting discussion, dialogue, and debate is more important than always being right. When I enter a conversation that is more than just sharing pleasantries–when it is more akin to a debate–I am not interested in proving myself right or in showing how my conversational partner is wrong. Rather, my goal is for us to discuss, to share our passion, and to hopefully find some sort of understanding. I debate not to win, but to learn. If I attack someone’s ideas, it is because I want them to defend and explain them to me, to sell me on the concept, and to help me understand their point. Conversely, I would expect them to listen openly to me as well.

When a conversation degenerates into a closed-minded roundabout where each side is just trying to prove the other wrong, no progress can be made. Understanding cannot be reached when both parties feel, not only that they are right, but that there is no possibility that they could be wrong. Such bloody-mindedness is something I neither desire nor seek out, and I do my best to eradicate the vestiges of it in my own soul. I will defend my points, because that is my job, but I will not refuse to concede defeat if I am wrong.

I do not claim to truly understand the definition of a “journalist.” I feel that their calling is somehow greater than that of a “reporter,” but I also feel that the way has become clouded, the verbiage murky. Journalism, in my perhaps idyllic view, is not what it once was, but I do think that it is something great.

It is simply not what I do. I’m not here to dig into people’s words and minds and find out what they really meant or what really went down. I don’t have the time or resources for that, as interesting as it sounds. I love the truth, but I’m not going to drag it out of you. If you can’t communicate your truth clearly and succintly, I will attack you, shredding what you have said and exposing it for the rubbish it is. And if you feel that it is not rubbish, that your points were valid, and that there is still something worthwhile to uphold, then do so. Defend. Parry. Riposte.

I’ll be waiting for the 2NC.

* I always attempt to be accurate. In this paragraph, I am relating what seems to generally be the case among bloggers as a whole. If I write something that ends up being inaccurate or wholly incorrect, I will always (and have in the past) issue a correction.

† In this particular case, when I say “hastily and with frustration,” I do not mean that I regret the core of what I wrote, but rather that I didn’t polish the piece as I normally would and might, in retrospect, have phrased some things differently. I still feel like Dawson’s article was poorly done and insulting of an entire demographic, failing to take into account that texting is just the latest take on a well-established method of using text messages to communicate and collaborate that spans BBSes, telnet, IRC, talkers, email, and instant messaging. Dawson’s ideas are not new ones, but he presented them as if they were, and essentially said that everyone of a younger demographic were wasting their time and we, on our mighty pedestals, must educate them on the proper use of these tools. I stand by what I wrote; if I wrote hastily and out of frustration, it was somewhat to vent what I believed (and still believe) to be true.‡

‡ This concept, of educating those younger than us, and why it often annoys me, probably deserves an article of its own. I’ll write one this weekend.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it. Please drop by again on Monday when I continue this development by comparing debate and discussion. The piece above, despite being written and posted, represents something developmental–these ideas form and change as I grow and learn more, and continue to change this very minute. I stand by what I write, but that doesn’t mean that any piece represents 100% of me or what I think.

So, check in again Monday to see another piece of Matthew.

When ZDNet Grasps For Legitimacy

I subscribe to the ZDNet newsletter, which is essentially an email I receive twice a day during the work week that has a bunch of headlines and excerpts from their various blogs. In general, I appreciate both the newsletter and their articles, and even though their discussion system sucks, they usually have some helpful or insightful blog entries.

But sometimes I wonder where they find these people. When you write for a tech site but have no connection to the real world, it becomes painfully obvious that you’re something of a hack. When reading The Allure of the Text by Christopher Dawson, I was stunned by both his shortsightedness and his ignorance.

Dawson essentially states that he has never texted before and, though he’s yelled at the kids on his lawn to go text somewhere else, he has trouble understanding why they’d bother typing into the tiny keyboards built into cell phones. Sure, maybe it’s more private than talking out loud, but it’s a pain and, besides, how can you see the screen without your bifocals on?

But then he has a revelation. Texting is similar to email! I can have multiple conversations going at once!

Dawson then laments the stupidity of kids, who are clearly just wasting time with texting when they could be using it for more glorious pursuits like collaboration.

I was stunned, because I don’t think I’ve ever read such a stupid piece of rubbish. The assumptions of this guy were mind-boggling, not just because they were derogatory but due to how ill-informed they were.

Texting is more prevalent with people younger than myself; I missed the cell-phone-boom by a couple of years. Yes, most of us had cell phones in high school, but not everyone did, and they were really intended only for emergencies. Now the devices are ubiquitous and a lot of people use them as their primary communication device. Students aren’t using texting to plan the next kegger, they’re using it to schedule tutoring sessions, get directions, and generally as a primary means of communication. It is replacing both email and instant messaging, powerfully influencing the way this generation will do business in the future.

If you want to connect with a younger person, you need to be texting. I can’t get my niece to even reply to messages within a week on MySpace, and forget about email, but she’ll get back with a text message in minutes. April tutors high school students, several of whom can only be reached through texting. And universities are beginning to realize the necessity for texting as prospective students request text communication over snail- or even e-mail.

Here’s a hint, Chris: the kids are way ahead of you, already doing ten times the communicating and collaborating you can imagine. And if you’re not careful, they’re going to overtake and replace you.