Cringely: Spreading FUD about TechNet

Interesting example of the fine art of FUD from pseudonymous columnist Robert X. Cringely. He takes a reader email about a problem searching TechNet, then extrapolates to say that Microsoft is removing value from TechNet to hobble small IT consultants so it can extract more revenue from that part of the market.

Um. Interesting theory, Mr. Cringely. Care to pass the tin foil?

All joking aside, Cringely’s fundamental argument stems from a badly constructed straw man. He claims that “TechNet appears to be broken.” What he actually says is that TechNet returns no results for a particular search string: "1010"+"perfctrs.dll"+"perflib". What he does not say is that if you search without the quotation marks or the pluses, the search returns some very relevant results, namely articles in the Knowledge Base at about the relevant events in the error log.

There is also a factual error. Cringely implies that we just recently changed the search engine behind TechNet, and that this was a move intended to “hobble TechNet and in so doing hurt its small to medium sized customers.” In fact, the new search engine has been in place since July, and provides search results for all of

The confusion about the search is forgiveable. We used to expose the big seams in our corporate web site by scoping searches by default, so that if you searched for something in a site (say the Windows site), you only got results if the content lived in the Windows site. TechNet’s scope happened to extend to the Knowledge Base, hence the customer’s statement that we used to return results. The big change from the customer perspective is that if you search anywhere on the site, you get results from everywhere on the site by default, broken down into categories. But we don’t interpret quotation marks and plus signs the same way Google does, so if you use the same search string in both search engines, you get different results.

But taking this misunderstanding about search functionality and blowing it up to say we’re out to screw our customers is fearmongering, at best.

Here are a few tips for searching effectively so that you don’t fall prey to the same problems that Cringely had:

  • Provide more words than just the name of the product about which you have a question.
  • Try to avoid using extra punctuation, particularly extra quotes and plus signs.
  • Search results are returned in categories. If you’re looking for a download, it will be right at the top of the list, followed by troubleshooting info, product info, resources for technologists and developers, training and book info, resources for partners and other business professionals, information from our product newsgroups, and information about Microsoft the corporation. If any of the categories found more than three results for your search query, you can click to see the full list of results for that category.
  • If all else fails, the Advanced Search allows you to pick more explicit search options, including excluding words, focusing in on only one search category, or looking only at a specific site. There’s also help available.

Finally, if all else fails, it’s possible we don’t have the content—but one of our partners does. In that case, you could do worse than to use the Microsoft-focused search at Google.

NPR, phonecams, and Jones Turkey Soda

A whole bunch of memes collided on NPR the day before Thanksgiving. Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing and Wired was on talking about phonecams and Jones Turkey and Gravy Soda, among other things. On the show, NPR plugged the SENT exhibit of phonecam art, and announced a challenge to submit your favorite phonecam pix. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist sending in a slew of my own, including some from the Museum of Glass, the iPod Autopsy, and fall in Kirkland.

Regarding the Jones Turkey and Gravy Soda, I am sorry to report that I was too slow on the draw to actually find said soda before it disappeared from the store shelves, both on line and locally. Maybe next year, if they repeat the promotion. Judging from the prices of the soda on eBay, they definitely should.