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A Vista Kind of Week

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I wound up writing a lot about Vista this week. I spent Monday going back and forth to Microsoft events and my office, starting the day with a 9:15 am interview with Bill Gates, heading to Newsweek for an hour, then back across the street from where the interview was to the Cipriani restaurant, where Microsoft had a well-catered lunch with a Soviet-style presentation. (Ballmer and guys from Intel, AMD, Dell, HP, and Toshiba–maybe Dell CEO Kevin Rollins’s last public appearance since founder Michael Dell took his CEO job back later in the week.) Then back to the office (Times Square shuttle was getting old), and then to the Nokia Theatre–temporarily dubbed the Windows Vista Theatre–for the official launch. Before Gates and Ballmer came on, there was a Stomp-style performance by some percussionists, and then a group called Angels and Airwaves did a cover version of Joey Ramone’s cover version of “It’s a Wonderful World,” with lyrics tailored to tout Vista. After the Ballmer/Gates/demo presentation, the band returned. I actually thought they were pretty good but as loud as a band could possibly be. I mean LOUD. Among the antendees were some kids, probably members of some of the 50 “Vista families” who beta tested the OS while Microsoft anthropolgists watched their every move. (I met one of those families at CES, nice folks. They told me they didn’t get paid for their testing, but did get free pizza. I said that I hoped they could get all the toppings they wanted.) I hope that the kids didn’t suffer ear damage. I mean, these guys were The Who-in-1969 loud. I split.

Somewhere along the line, as best as I could tell, I might have lost my 80 gig iPod that day. Watch for a separate post on this tragic development.

As for my Newseek writing… I posted a review of Vista online on Tuesday, and on Thursday posted excerpts from my Gates interview, which was picked up a lot, mainly because he talked pretty frankly about Apple. (Hint: he is not enamored of those John Hodgman commercials.) And then I did my Technologist column for the print mag. Can’t forget those dead trees.

A lot of the response on the blogs about the interview as well as comments on Digg and Slashdot seem to be breaking down into Mac and Windows camps. But I do want to take issue with a blogger I respect a lot, John Gruber of Daring Fireball. In his post, he takes me to task for not engaging Gates at length about his claim that the Mac is being compromised every day. I have found that when one has limited time in an interview with someone like Bill Gates (not that there’s many like him), one’s time is better spent drawing out the genuinely interesting things that person has to say as opposed to engaging in lengthy debates on technical issues that almost certainly won’t be resolved on the spot. (That doesn’t mean I won’t repeat a question or push a point when I want to hear more on a certain issue, or I feel that persisting will be beneficial to the interview.) The interview was to focus on Vista, and I had some specific areas involving Gates’s thoughts and involvement in that OS (and the next!) that I hoped to cover. When Gates made those comments about the Mac. I understood that he was referring to the recent Month of Apple Bugs attack on the Mac OS. I didn’t have the results of every one of those attacks at my fingertips, but it’s clear that Gates wanted to make the point that, in his view, PCs were more secure with Vista, and Macintoshes weren’t impervious to attacks. His claim that Vista won’t suffer in a month what Mac suffers in a day pretty much stakes out how he sees things. In any case, here’s what happened when Todd Bishop, who does a great job covering Microsoft for the Seattle PI, tried to go deeper into the claim that Windows security was better than Mac’s (Bishop interviewed Gates the same morning I did):

Bishop: You really believe that?

Gates: Oh, absolutely.

Bishop: Because a lot of people would challenge you on that.

Gates: No, no serious security researcher would challenge that. You have to think about it coupled with Windows Update, where we’ve got a vigilance and a quickness of updating that you just don’t find other places. Both the operating system itself, and the service that we’ve created around that.

Gruber professes to worry about “the typical Newsweek reader” being misled by Gates’s claims. Spare me. I think that Newsweek’s online readers are smart enough to understand that Bill Gates is a passionate partisan of Microsoft, and to assess his comments on the competition in that spirit. In addition, I don’t really think, as some bloggers are suggesting, that I’ll immediately launch into a full scale Woodward and Bernstein (or Bruce Schneier) level investigation to acid-test the respective security claims of the Mac and PC. Are they asking for such articles because they feel they don’t know the answer, or because they feel that the result would confirm their beliefs?

9 Comments

  • Whether you agree with Gruber and the others or not, you knew that a lot of what Gates was saying about Apple was questionable at best, so it would have been prudent to push him on some of his claims at least a little bit. Either way, Bill Gates came off looking like quite a delusional and paranoid individual during the interview. It’s rather obvious that Steve Jobs is getting under his skin, and that Apple must be impacting their bottom line at Microsoft in some significant way as well.

  • Mr. Levy, Gates made a claim about OS X (“Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally”) that has at least the following two properties:

    1) Explosive. Given that the average Newsweek reader (and even a fair bit of the techie population) doesn’t know the difference between an exploit and a virus, the natural assumption will be that Mac security is, in fact, much worse than Windows. And given that there are currently ZERO Mac viruses in the wild, Gates’ claim was completely, and obviously, over the top.

    2) Easily verifiable. Since you profess to respect John Gruber “a lot”, you could have e-mailed a query to him. I’m guessing 5 minutes later you would have had a response. Invoking Woodward and Bernstein is disingenuous.

    I understand you want to make good use of your time with one of the most powerful men and influential men in the world. But you are under no obligation to print every word he states, correct? If Gates had stated that Macs explode when you triple-click the mouse on the word “Microsoft,” would you have printed that?

    Sure, the average Gizmodo reader will understand Gates speaks FUD like a native, but the average online Newsweek reader (who, these days, is more and more identical to the average OFFline Newsweek reader) will assume that there is some truth amidst the sales pitch. “Sure, he’s probably exaggerating, but obviously Macs must be no more secure than Windows.”

    You have done your readers a disservice, and I suspect your motivation is nothing more complicated than riling up the Mac fanboys and ratcheting up your web traffic.

    The world needs more truth, less sensationalism.

  • You know, when posting your article you could have added a [sic] and put in an editorial comment stating that what Gates said was completely inaccurate (wrt the total exploits for the Mac being discovered every day – afaik, there have been less than 10 true, critical full exploits disclosed since OS X was first released over 5 years ago, and certainly less than 20 and most definitely not one a day) and probably a mistake on his part made in the heat of the moment (or, far more likely IMO, a deliberate distortion of the MOAB project to spread FUD about OS X). It is your prerogative (and I would say your obligation to your readers) as the editor of your posted content.

  • Steven,

    Perhaps you didn’t really have a change to read what Macenstein wrote on the blog post you linked to, but he wasn’t referring to any of the security claims — an admittedly confusing and complex topic. Rather he was suggesting that you follow-up on Mr. Gates’s apparent historical revisionism in regards to the “File, Edit, View, Help” menu and other such claims.

  • I think you should.
    Even if you personally don’t consider the issue to be important enough to pursue, your interview created much attention in the Mac community, and tech/geek community in general. The point of a journalist is to write stories that resonate with an audience. It is also to bring attention (and ad revenue) to the sites hosting it. Why not cover such a controversial topic?

    I would, but I am too lazy.

    And Bishop should have challenged this line: “Gates: No, no serious security researcher would challenge that. You have to think about it coupled with Windows Update, where we’ve got a vigilance and a quickness of updating that you just don’t find other places. Both the operating system itself, and the service that we’ve created around that.”

    with the fact that the Mac has an automatic software update feature (and has since before OS X) that also can immediately install security updates. Just having a system in place to repair attacks does not mean you are more secure. Having less attacks does.

    Apple is just as quick at patching exploits as Microsoft, and it does so for exploits that, to date, have all been theoretical. No exploit has ever been released on the web that spread through the Mac community running amok.

    There is being a fan boy (which I am), and then there is lying to deliberately mislead the public.

    Please look into it.

    -The Doc

  • Well, Steven, you wanted to focus on “drawing out the genuinely interesting things that person has to say”, and I think you were incredibly successful, although accidentally. Quoting Gates on his unbelievably warped characterization of PC vs. Mac security says more about him and his state of mind than anything he was prepared to feed you. There’s really no need to “press him further” — the evidence speaks for itself.

  • Translation: If you don’t suck up to Gates you’ll never get another interview from him. Sad and pathetic.

  • As a journalist, you should expect more from yourself. Bill Gates can make all the claims he wants. It is your job to present as an objective presentation of Bill Gates’ views as possible. Even if you did not want to derail the interview, you could have easily added a statement that his claims could not be corroborated. That would have been too easy, though. It is articles like these and your poor rationalization that hurt journalism’s reputation. I run into Windows users constantly who spout quotes from articles and interviews such as this. You clearly don’t know much about your readers, if you truly believe your claim that most people see through Gates’ bias.

  • Steven:

    I have a very different persepctive on your Bill Gates interview, and John Gruber’s (Daring Fireball) characterization of it.

    People can read it on my blog, filled under Apple or Internet.

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