Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

Tech Journalists and CIOs, Buck Up Your Act

I've been pretty disappointed over the past year or so with the quality of reporting from tech. journalists, both those on the web and those working in the more familiar world of print.

I used to be a regular reader of PC Pro (indeed, I used to subscribe to it), but over the course of the past year I started to see a worrying trend… the articles were becoming less and less informative, less and less useful and more and more full of pointless speculation on Longhammer, Clawhorn or whatever bizarre codewords were the current Microsoft/Intel/AMD flavour of the month. Typically, a less-than-technical “IT professional” would make ridiculous predictions about how Intel would be adding instructions to allow Microsoft to create a database file system that would subsume all content and make way for an SQL Server-based panacea under which the One True Operating System would finally sink all competition and leave us with the glory that is the Wintel monopoly, ending all compatibility issues once and for all (I mean, they were all created by awkward Linux and Mac users anyway, right?). Purleease.

I also think that tech. journalists have lost their objectivity. Many of them may as well be on the Microsoft payroll, for all they write about the industry as a whole; I am quite certain that there are now sections of the IT press who wouldn't even know who SGI or Sun were (other than perhaps observing that “Sun make Java, the competitor to .NET”). Indeed, a worrying proportion of them are so pro-Microsoft that they make unsubstantiated (and irrational) claims about competing solutions in the marketplace. I am referring, of course, to wild claims of “better support” or “lower TCO” for Microsoft-based solutions; the former is simply not true (IBM, HP, Red Hat and Sun all provide excellent support), and the latter is a fiction of almost biblical proportions, the belief of which can only be an act of faith, certainly not grounded in financial reality. I mean, factor in the licensing costs, the client licenses, the cost of anti-virus software (per machine, remember), the additional downtime, the fact that even commercial UNIX (Solaris, HPUX, Tru64, AIX or IRIX) comes with basic features like DNS and mailserver software for no extra cost, the extra hardware costs because of Windows' unnecessarily high system requirements, the cost of year-on-year upgrades, and even the costs of things like backup software which are included in competitors' offerings. Then factor-in the lock-in; the difficulty of switching away from Microsoft-based solutions once you've got them. They don't seem quite so attractive now, do they?

As for the age-old “Microsoft is the industry-standard”, granted, a lot of business users use Microsoft Office because they feel that that's what business users do. But given the extent to which many users actually make use of Office, they'd probably be better off with Wordpad. Or, for a full office suite, something like OpenOffice or its proprietary brother, StarOffice; the former is free, whilst the latter costs between $50 and $25 per user ($80 retail). Both of them support the majority of the day-to-day features from Office, and both are capable of reading and writing Office-compatible document files. Indeed, in some areas, they are actually better than Microsoft's offering, not least because of features like built-in PDF export, an XML-based file format, FLASH export for presentations and OpenGL support for 3D elements. Yet many IT departments don't even think of switching their companies to OpenOffice or StarOffice at the next round of upgrades. Personally, I find this failure to properly and objectively evaluate alternatives unprofessional, not to mention a highly questionable waste of companies' (and therefore shareholders') money.