CNET’s Idea of Tech News

by Bharat Suneja

Although otherwise very readable publications/sites, some tech media outlets increasingly come up with news that really isn’t news, and certainly not worthy of publication. For instance, this item in CNET’s Georgetown University bans use of Windows 7 beta

Given such media coverage, you can’t be blamed for wondering: “Wow, there must be something wrong with Windows 7 to prompt Georgetown to ban it!”.

The fact that it’s a beta, and the title of this apparently newsworthy (according to someone at CNET) item says so, doesn’t quite register.

The writer quotes Paul McDougall’s report from InformationWeek. It’s a practice which, as you may have noticed over the past few years, absolves the quoting reporter of any responsibility to give it a serious thought or otherwise use common sense! Needless to say, “<Blah> bans the use of Windows 7 beta” is an excellent headline, bound to result in more than its fair share of page views. It sells.

Of course, there’s no debate about the underlying facts – CNET’s simply reporting what’s been reported by another reporter in another publication! InformationWeek’s original headline beats what CNET came up with: Windows 7 Beta Flunks Out Of Georgetown! It even comes with a juicier sub-title: University’s IT department nixes downloads of Microsoft’s new operating system.

A look at the source
To find out what Georgetown’s University Information Services (UIS) really stated in its policy, let’s head to the source doc on UIS’ web site:

Microsoft Corporation recently released a “beta”, or “pre-release”, version of its new operating system, Windows 7. However, UIS strongly discourages using it.

The UIS doc goes on to explain what a beta is, and why you shouldn’t install Windows 7 beta. The doc cites Microsoft’s Windows 7 web site:

Microsoft’s Windows 7 Web site states emphatically that there are risks associated with installing beta version of Windows 7 and that “it’s not a finished product.”

The doc goes on to state UIS’ policy on software support.

Not trusting my own eyes, and my reading and comprehension skills, which told me the word “ban” did not show up in the UIS doc, I also used the search feature in both Internet Explorer and FireFox. As suspected, both browsers failed to find the word “ban” in the doc!

To ensure I was well into the “beyond reasonable doubt” territory, I reached out for the dictionary (the online one @, and looked up the words discourage and ban. I am now convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that “discourages”, even when prefixed with “strongly”, is not the same thing as “bans”.

Unfortunately, CNET isn’t the only media outlet that falls to the temptation of putting headlines and page views before fair reporting. Overall, CNET continues to do a great job of reporting tech news. (I miss Brian Cooley on CNET Radio— an important part of Silicon Valley culture for many, during the tail end of the dot com boom.)

Testing beta software
Windows 7 beta continues to receive some balanced (read “favorable”) coverage, even from the naysayers.

Nevertheless, there’s a reason beta software is called beta, and what’s OK for an engineer at Intel may not be OK for the average non-technical user at large. Although the Windows 7 beta is remarkably stable, performs well, and is “production-ready” according to many testers and reviewers, it’s not a great idea to run a beta on your “production” PCs unless you’re prepared to support it yourself.

If you really want to test or play with beta software, get yourself a test box, or use virtualization software to run it in a virtual machine.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anonymous February 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Hilarious! – The State of the media these days.


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