The Incoherent Values of Technology Journalism

Superosity, by Chris Crosby

From Superosity, by Chris Crosby.

Over at I took Infoworld to task for publishing a list of technology predictions for the coming year that were, as near as I could tell, mind-bogglingly lazy in scope. But Infoworld, it appears, is only a minor-league player in this vast wilderness of hyperbole-riddled pablum, and they have been trumped by another publication whose recent proclamations are so egregious that I was compelled to take out of the mothballs a little early (I’d planned on a 2007 revival) in order to do them justice.

CRN bills itself as “Vital Information for VARs and Technology Integrators.” One assumes, then, that the information it chooses to publish on its site is information that VARs and people who spend their time integrating technology absolutely must have. The truth of this I leave up to those VARs and technology integrators who actually read the publication, since I am neither — unless compiling the most recent version of ndiswrapper on my Kubuntu Edgy laptop in order to get wireless access counts as “technology integration.” Still, after picking up on this little tidbit from Slashdot, I have to wonder if perhaps the VARs and technology integrators are getting their money’s worth when they read this publication.

Like all publications that attempt to convince their loyal readers that they have their finger on the pulse of whatever part of society they are covering, CRN engages in end-of-year navel-gazing. Of particular note this month is their 2006 Products of the Year, a Top Ten list that purports to tell you the ten most important products that were released in 2006.

One of those products? Microsoft Vista.

That’s right. Microsoft Vista, the operating system that was released to businesses eighteen days ago, has been chosen as the top operating system of 2006. Eighteen days of availability for this operating system that businesses aren’t even that enthusiastic about adopting is enough for them to crown Vista the top operating system of 2006.

And when you read their article, you have to wonder if these poor VARs and technology integrators might be better served getting their information elsewhere. When you read their article, it becomes increasingly clear that CRN’s view of the technology landscape doesn’t exactly mesh with a little something most people like to call “reality.”

From the article:

While debate rages over whether the five-year wait was worth it, the truth is Vista is pretty much the only game in town.

The above quote is 100% factually correct as long as you ignore OS X, Solaris, BSD, BSD, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux, Linux (and Linux), and a few other BSD’s and Linuxes I missed along the line.

We might be able to take the article’s claims more realistically if they changed their justification slightly — from “pretty much the only game in town” to “pretty much the only game in town that buys enough advertising space for us to consider saying nice things about them” — but as they haven’t done that, we can only sit back and shake our collective heads as we wonder what they were smoking when they reached this decision, and whether or not it would be worthwhile to find that stash.

No, the real reason Vista made the list is because it is new and it is shiny and they thought “hey, nobody ever got fired for writing about Microsoft” (unless you’re writing bad things, of course), and it didn’t matter that it hasn’t been in use in the corporate world long enough to determine whether it meets any or all of Microsoft’s claims.

Essentially, dear friends, Vista was a “Product of the Year” not because it’s good — it’s too early to tell that yet. No, it was made a “Product of the Year” for 2006 because it was released in 2006. If it had been released in 2007, it would have won a spot in the 2007 “Product of the Year” article, even if someone else released an operating system that never crashed, was immune to viruses, ran every program ever made flawlessly and was not only free, but came with a money-back guarantee.

Microsoft’s standing in the industry of tech journalism is set in stone. Microsoft will cease to be a darling in the industry of tech journalism only after it has already been ground into dust by some other company, and then that company will become the new media darling that can do no wrong.

Why? Because with a few notable exceptions, technology journals aren’t interested in actually reporting technology-related news, or seriously researching new technology trends. By and large they exist for one reason only: to reassure the CTO that all the new technology he just bought was a good investment. Whether it was or not is irrelevant, of course. In fact, as long as he can point to a media article ebulliently lauding the latest and greatest turnkey solution, it won’t matter how much his employees in IT complain that it just isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.

Still, it’s hard to blame them. Who wants to read a publication filled with articles that tell you that your software doesn’t work correctly, you paid too much for it, and it’s a looming security hazard that will bring your company to its knees? Well, there is a market for that, but it’s much smaller than the market that will pat companies on the head, tell them they’re doing fine, all the while getting money and presents (oops — I mean “evaluation copies”) from software and hardware companies.

In fact, I’ve changed my mind about the entire thing: if companies will start bribing me (oops — I mean “sending me evaluation copies”) then I’ll be perfectly happy to come up with a top ten list and feature each bribe (silly me, of course I mean “rigorously evaluated and extensively tested product”) in it. If I get more than ten items, I’ll make it a top twenty list. Or a top one hundred list. Whatever works.

Sure, it’ll probably take some of the charm out of the site… on the other hand, I’d probably post more.

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