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An article based on information published by Consumer Reports and the Gartner Group was brutally attacked by a wide swath of bloggers who didn't like the facts it presented. It turned out that despite all their dramatic blog rage, they weren't even exactly sure what it was about the story that got them so upset.
Uncharacteristically, the attack wasn't just one sided; extremist advocates from both Windows and Mac camps venomously attacked the report as "lies," "underhanded," and "zealotry."  What was the racy subject that offended so many so quickly?
Yesterday's Windows 5x More Expensive than Mac OS X, had rather innocuously recounted the development of Mac OS X, with comparisons between the products delivered by Apple and Microsoft since 2000. It concluded with an accounting of how much users of each platform would have to pay to stay current over the last seven years.
The Digg Effect
Immediately after the story was published, readers on Digg began positively voting the story up to the websites' front page.
Within twenty-four hours, the article had recorded more than a thousand "diggs," and tens of thousands of page views.
Some early diggers who read the article expressed a mild skepticism that Windows could really be significantly much more expensive for users compared to Mac OS X.
Michael Bleigh wrote "I thought this might actually have a realistic reason that Windows ends up costing more, but throwing in anti-virus and spyware cleaning in is just a cheating way to jack up the price."
Robbie Howell responded "How is factoring in the cost of anti-virus & spyware protection cheating? Do you really think you can run a healthy PC without either of those components? Both directly impact the Total Cost of Ownership of operating a Windows-based PC's. I'd really like to hear why you think this is cheating."
No, Tell Me What You Really Think
That's where the discussion ended and the claws came out. "This is some of the most inaccurate crap I have ever read. Daniel Eran Dilger is a stoooopid liar!" wrote an anonymous "Patrick"
"Looks like you hit a nerve there -- the fear is palpable based on the unhinged ranting. FOX watchers all!" the next remarked under the pseudonym LOL.
Comments posted directly on the article were rather tame compared to those left on the article's Digg page, where a small minority of individuals commenting on the story, many of whom didn't bother to read the article, began a fierce attack. After flagging the story as "inaccurate," they recounted anecdotal evidence as their battle cry in announcing their attempts to "bury the article" by driving it out of popular view.
Unable to knock the story from the front page, the angry Diggers turned to their blogs to find recruits to back them up. While the premise of the article might be expected to draw the wrath of the most extreme devotees of Windows, even many Mac users found reason to take offense and attack the article.
From Digg To Dirty
David Chartier posted an invective on The Unofficial Apple Weblog decrying the article's rise up the Digg ranks, saying the story "utilizes some fuzzy math in an attempt to prove that the five iterations of Mac OS X have been cheaper to update than the one version of Windows released during Mac OS X's existence."
Chartier continued, "the author excludes an iteration or two of Mac OS X from the final cost of ownership because he didn't deem them worthy for one subjective reason or another" and finally that the story used "underhanded techniques and shoddy math to prove a biased point."
Had Chartier read the article, he'd have seen an outline of every version of Mac OS X ever released, with notes linking to a the excessive details carefully enumerated by the modern day Masorites who carefully maintain Wikipedia's annals of every trivial factoid imaginable.
Chantier never actually got into details about what exactly those "underhanded techniques" involved, or what the "shoddy math" had failed to account for, but his high level, dismissive summary was quickly syndicated across other blogs, with the criticism gaining momentum as it spread.
My the time it reached blogger Paul Ingram in Arizona, the telephone game had resulted in a narrative where the author of the original article, "unhappy about his numbers, decided to stack the deck."
The missive was entitled "Acolytes Zealots and Pendants," but Ingram probably had in mind the word pedant, because there was no mention of a necklace anywhere in his posting.
Ingram continued, "this is unfair, and Cartier is right to call him on it," despite the fact that neither blogger had ever actually recounted what exactly was the problem they had discovered with figures appearing in the article.
Ian Betteridge, a frequent critic of Mac users on Digg, reposted Chartier's entry on his own blog, adding, "Unsurprisingly, [the article is] from RoughlyDrafted, which can only be described as the lunatic fringe of Mac fandom."
Anecdotal, You Keep Using That Word
If there were a magic word binding all the anger that had ignited the blogosphere, it was it was anecdotal, as in anecdotal evidence.  Repeated ad naseum in the nearly three hundred comments dutifully posted by Digg members, the complaint of anecdotal evidence was nearly always paired with anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
How many bloggers does it take to define "anecdotal"? A lot apparently.
Betteridge tried to explain: "At least [my] comments are based on anecdotal evidence: your claims for prices aren't even based on that."
The idea behind "anecdotal," of course, is telling a story based on personal recollection rather than facts or research. What was Betteridge thinking? Hard to say!
His astute observation was nearly matched by Bryan Lockwood of Redmond Washington, who countered that the 'figures presented in the article were anecdotal,' only to prove his point using an anecdote of his own. Is that wrong, or just ironic?
Just the Facts
With all the labels of inaccuracy, scandal, flames, and Truthiness being bandied about in a dramatic cyclone of blogger-centric self absorption, the simple point of the article was bypassed entirely.
Is Windows more really more expensive than Mac OS X to own?
After the smoke cleared, the obvious and uncontroversial reality that has been lingering on headlines for the last several years came into sharper focus. Um, duh.
Eric Caldwell stopped to observe, "All bantering aside, Windows ‘is’ more expensive to support in my experience. I have been in IT for over 27 years and have just about seen it all in the PC OS space."
He then recounted an anecdote nearly anyone can relate with: getting a new PC for mom.
"My mother wants a new laptop and I can't convince her to buy a new Macbook for $400 more. Walk out of Best Buy with new Toshiba laptop with Windows XP Home Edition installed (against my warning) and a happy mom for the time being. [...] Now the machines starts begging for bucks for the Norton Antivirus/Security Center that is thoroughly embedded. So you ask yourself, do I make mom pay the $49 annual fee for updates or spend an hour or more uninstalling NAV and installing a product that will confuse her later?"
"Mom, whip out the credit card!"
"Doesn't take a rocket scientist on that one and we're not done! I have been back to her house 4 times for a total of 8 hours to de-install software clogging up the PC, with Windows patches and reboots which are locking up the system. [...] our bill is up to $859 for support and basic software within the first 90 days. Very expensive for someone who wants to learn to pay bills online and print recipes from from the Food Channel, and that's all she does."
"If she were to buy a new MacBook, I know for a fact that I would have only spent about 2-3 hours to set it up and install the printer at a later date. To be fair, the state of the PC industry is in bad shape due to the malware, spyware, trojans, viruses, etc. It used to be fun working with PC's. Now it's just expensive."
Another reader, Ryan, agreed. "I work at a 'local PC shop' type place. It's been in a nice location near a university for over 10 years. During an average week we push out approximately 20 systems that were in for spyware/virus Windows problem crap. We don't rip people off like Best Buy, charging only 60 bucks a shot (flat fee) or 45 for students."

"We also have a running joke with probably 50-70 regulars along the lines of 'see you in two months from now' and similar."

"Antivirus really is free for most people, and when people come in with Norton we remove it for them and install avg, but 200 bucks a year for cleanup is VERY lowball."

"This article hits the nail on the head, and honestly even if Windows WAS cheaper (which it is for ME, since i do my own cleanup) I would go with OS X anyways, since it's better. After working at a PC shop for years I simply can't stand to use Windows at home too. I also converted my parents and haven't made one house-call to date!"
Nails in the Coffin
Is is even possible that the vast majority of PC users do, in fact, spend lots of money patching up Windows’ security flaws? As it turns out, we don't entirely have to rely on anecdotes like these to jump to that conclusion. We can also look at the hard business numbers that tell the same story so much more brutally.
According to Gartner Group research, anti-virus grew to a $4 Billion industry in 2005. Somebody is, indeed, buying AntiVirus software! The report says half that figure is spent by the Enterprise, and half is bought by home users.
Consumer Reports says PC users paid an additional $9 Billion "for computer repairs and parts due to damage inflicted by viruses and spyware." That doesn't include people who gave up on their PC and bought a new one.
In retrospect, should it at all be controversial, or even come as any surprise, to point out how much more expensive it is to maintain the world's most flawed software platform ever?
What kind of change can we expect in the market as consumers come to realize there there are alternatives to being stuck within the Windows crowd, and having to contribute toward the more than $11 Billion wasted on working around Windows' virus & spyware problems? Find out in a coming article!
Next Article: Leopard vs Vista
This Series
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Wednesday, August 16, 2006
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