We all have our own likes and dislikes, loves and hates. Something I hate is the term "haters" — it has always seemed like the epitome of irony that those who apply the word to others are doing the very thing they claim to, well, hate. Too often, it's used to describe someone who simply disagrees with a pet belief or who dares to not embrace a favorite of one's own.
In the tech industry, in particular, it seems a bit silly to waste such strong emotions on companies or gadgets or conglomerations of code. Yet many folks get very passionate about their technology, and "hate" seems to be the only word that fully captures their ire, whether it's aimed at a piece of software that doesn't work right, a computer or device that's giving them fits, or an entire business entity that makes the bothersome products.
InSights: a retrospective
I sit in my office, writing this on the second day of a brand-new year (a day when many people I know have the "holiday" off) and thinking about some of the commentary that this column has inspired since I started doing it eight months ago. I've received lots of "thank you" emails from readers, along with a few "you're full of <expletive deleted>." A few times I've gotten both from the same person, in regard to different installments.
The public comments on TechRepublic are all over the board. They've ranged from "You're not fair to Microsoft" to "You're nothing but a Microsoft shill." Some say my criticisms of Microsoft's decisions and products are nit-picking. Perhaps, but I believe some of those nits need to be picked. Some have accused me of getting paid by Microsoft to say positive things about the company. I don't.
I took this assignment with the hope that I could bring some unique perspectives to the table in the ongoing discussions that revolve around one of the world's biggest and most influential technology companies. I have an understanding of the insider point of view, not just as a Microsoft family member, but also through my own previous work as an independent contractor for the company and my eight-year status as an MVP (something that I offered, when taking on this job, to give up if it created a conflict).
More than all that though, I am also a decades-long user of Microsoft products. I've experienced the same frustrations (and the same delights) as others who depend on the company's operating systems, applications, and occasional hardware devices to get my work done. And my background encompasses that of an IT pro, not just a consumer. Unlike some tech industry commentators, I've actually worked with the server components and am intimately familiar with the challenges involved in deploying and managing them.
Fandom and objectivity in tech writing
Something I learned early on in my career was that there is a difference between reporting and editorial/opinion pieces. Journalists dealt in "just the facts." Commentators and analysts gave their opinions. This line has become blurred today, and as a consequence many readers don't know or understand the difference. Here's a hint: Most columnists and bloggers are commentators. They may research their stories extensively and provide reference documentation (I do), but ultimately they're writing their opinions.
In the context of commentary and analysis, "being objective" doesn't mean having no opinion; it means examining both sides of an issue before forming that opinion. It means listening to the opposition and presenting facts to back up your side of the argument. It means disagreeing in a reasonable and thoughtful manner, and acknowledging that others have the right to their own (differing) opinions.
There is a lot of "fandom" in tech commentary, and that's pretty inevitable. Writers who study, use, and delve into technology will have preferences based on their experiences and personalities. Few commentators are truly vendor-neutral.
The folks who write about Macs and the iPhone/iPad tend to be Apple fans. The ones who write about how to get the most out of *NIX-based products tend to be Linux fans. Is it really so surprising that a person who chooses to write every week about Microsoft would be something of a fan of that company?
Apparently, to some readers, it is.
Microsoft-bashing: a national pastime
My last column of 2011 addressed the almost obligatory end-of-year "What might happen in 2012" topic. Based on some of the things that have happened in 2011 and some rumblings within the industry (which I documented with links to the sources), I opined that some recent good decisions, very positive sales trends for Windows 7 and Xbox/Kinect, and other factors could result in a comeback for Microsoft after a few years of being hit hard by the competition.
Many of the comments posted to the site were thoughtful, whether in agreement or disagreement. But one reader called the article "pure rubbish," insinuated that it was "directly sponsored by Microsoft," and noted that she was "seriously considering unsubscribing." And it's that kind of post that puzzles me.
It's mild, though, compared to some email messages I've received about positive comments I've made regarding Microsoft. I've been called names that I can't print here, and some of the rants about Bill Gates (who doesn't even work at Microsoft anymore) make me wonder if the writers are seriously disturbed individuals.
There are barely legible, disorganized rants and there are meticulously structured papers, complete with appendices, laying out all the reasons the author hates Microsoft. There is even an "official place to hate Microsoft," at www.ihatemicrosoft.com, which, by the way, is optimized to produce "bad results" when viewed with Internet Explorer.
I completely understand the phenomenon of frustrated customers venting their anger at spending hours trying to make something work and finally giving up. What I don't understand is pervasive, obsessive hatred of a tech company or the person who represents that company to the public. Is it envy ("Gates has all that money and I don't")? Is it the (mis)perception that Microsoft's business practices are somehow more heinous than those of the other big corporations? Is it the old "monopoly" idea (which is awfully outdated, given all the OS choices we have today)?
It's not just Microsoft
Of course, Microsoft isn't the only tech company that is a target for venomous feelings. In fact, I was a little surprised to see that a search for "I hate Apple" turned up far more results than the search for Microsoft-haters (1,070,000 on Google, 67,400 on Bing). And Google itself turns up 327,000 hits for "I hate Google" (47,800 on Bing) — although when you go to www.ihategoogle.com, you discover that the owner registered the domain "to protect Google" and also owns domains named iusegoogle.com and ineedgoogle.com.
Maybe the problem is that technology companies are much like utility companies — we're so dependent on what they provide that anytime something goes wrong, it engenders fear, which then turns into anger and hatred. It would behoove Microsoft and the other tech companies to understand this co-dependent relationship (because, after all, they're dependent on us, too, to buy their products and services) and to reach out more to their customers, even those who profess to hate them.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.