ZDNet’s George Ou Exposed as Ignorant Microsoft Shill (Zoon!)
August 24th, 2007
Daniel Eran Dilger
The assault on reason isn’t just a political phenomenon. Microsoft has long been developing its own cast of apologists who have eked out full time careers in the field of sputtering out ignorant, unfounded claims with such insistence and volume that the undecided simply have no alternative but to line up and applaud their seemingly convincing rhetoric. Among them is George Ou, who unsurprisingly blogs for CNET’s ZDNet branded website.
ZDNet desperately needs ad revenue, and the best way to drive that is to publish sensationalist headlines that catch the attention of throngs of Diggers. It doesn’t matter that Digg users represent an unattractive demographic from a real marketing perspective; traffic is traffic for web click sites.
Take Microsoft’s need for constant, high pitched spin to detract from its grave mistakes and regular failures and combine it with ZDNet’s unapologetically desperate brand of sensational headline writing, and you have fertile ground for arrogant morons ready and willing to say anything and everything. High up on the moron pile is George Ou, a blogger billed as a “Technical Director of ZDNet.”
Ou’s Embarrassing Style of Technical Directing.
As is not hard to imagine, Ou consistently praises Microsoft and generates fear, uncertainty, and doubt about everything else. Last fall, Ou tried to inflame matters related to Brian Krebs’ reporting on David Maynor and Jon Ellch of SecureWorks in the dispute over MacBooks and wireless drivers. The SecureWorks employees had claimed to have discovered an exploitable vulnerability in a wireless card driver using a MacBook, but presented suspect facts and then coyly danced around the issue of what they were really showing.
Ou, delighted to have an opportunity to badmouth Apple, launched into a year long tirade that rehashed the events as a “scandal.” Ou also accused Apple of “orchestrating an assault” against the SecureWorks employees involved in the poorly presented security exploit associated with the MacBook, because Apple insisted that SecureWorks publish a clarification that outlined that the exploit its researchers had demonstrated did not constitute a Mac OS X or MacBook exploit, but was really related to a third party driver Apple did not use.
Apple PR got involved after Krebs’ wrote up the event in Washington Post story titled “Hijacking a MacBook in 60 Seconds or Less.” Since the exploit really had nothing to do with the MacBook, Apple wanted to make sure people knew that. SecureWorks published the clarification.
The initial story Ou wanted to publicize–which implied security problems for Apple’s MacBook and stated outright that Apple was hushing up and “leaning upon” security researchers to prevent them from telling the truth–was replaced with a new version of events widely published by bloggers that described:
- David Maynor’s demonstration as a falsification,
- Brian Krebs as incompetent writer in technical matters, and
- George Ou as an ignorant jackass for cheerleading all of it.
Ou, livid about the reversal of public perception, accused Apple of orchestrating the reaction among blogs and repeatedly described the reports as “slander.” Of course, “slander” refers to spoken comments, not published misinformation. The word Ou was looking for was “libel,” which he rather hypocritically dances with himself.
Ou had no problem with the fact that he’d reported various things that simply weren’t true, including the claim that an Apple employee acted as a “puppetmaster” to stir up blog rage against Maynor and his muddled claim that suggested MacsBooks’ WiFi posed a security threat to its users. Reporting false facts wasn’t the point, Ou insisted; the real issue was that Apple was bad and everyone should fear the dangerous company.
If You Can’t Write Anything Correct, Don’t Write Anything At All.
The credibility of Maynor and SecureWorks was challenged by a number of web writers, not because it involved something negative about Apple, but because Maynor had failed–and then refused–to back up its claims and clarify what his demonstration was even supposed to prove. Instead, Maynor appeared happy to leave things lingering in the air unresolved to cause the most damage possible to Apple without proving anything.
Months after the issue had grown old, Ou rehashed things to recycle the idea that Macs had outstanding vulnerability problems and that the world should be busy worrying about them, not running around questioning whether those vulnerability claims had any real basis or relevance.
Under a headline referencing “Mac Wirelessgate,” Ou insisted that it didn’t matter that Atheros, the manufacturer of Apple’s wireless chipsets, had announced that the SecureWorks researchers had never contacted the company about any security vulnerabilities. Ou maintained that this fact didn’t undermine the credibility of the claims about Apple’s MacBook wireless vulnerability because Atheros didn’t write drivers for Mac OS X. He was wrong.
Ou tried to explain that Mac OS X is based on the FreeBSD kernel, and that Atheros doesn’t write FreeBSD drivers. That was wrong, too. When his error was pointed out, Ou revised his article to say Mac OS X is based on the “Mach 3.0 kernel and FreeBSD userland,” but insisted that his mischaracterization didn’t matter because the driver was still written by the FreeBSD community, not Atheros. Of course, he was wrong on that point, too.
Ou then had to correct things again to point out that–after actually talking to Atheros–he’d found that the company did write Mac OS X’s I/O Kit wireless driver. He also seems to have pieced together–at least partially–that Mac OS X uses a kernel level I/O Kit for its hardware drivers, and that Mac OS X is not binary compatible with FreeBSD drivers. Essentially, no portion of his article had been even remotely close to well informed.
Ou didn’t even have an elementary overview of the Mac OS X architecture, making him ill qualified to be reporting on it as an authority.
As an enraptured Windows Enthusiast, Ou shares the common simpleton fantasy that Apple can’t possibly really write its operating system, so it must simply be throwing together some open source packages. Many believe that Mac OS X must be some kind of Linux, because it’s not Windows.
Extraordinary Arrogance: A Bad Match For Ignorance.
It’s not just technical issues that Ou fails to grasp. After readers questioned his use of the word “couple” to refer to a half dozen, Ou answered, “Learn English: A few would mean 1-3. A couple would mean 4-9.”
Nearly everyone is allowed to make the occasional errors, typos, and mistakes, but in Ou’s case, it’s not a simple error made on occasion. Ou not only speaks past his understanding regularly, but does so from a pulpit that advertises false information as unquestionable, “obvious” truth. In some cases, it’s clear he is deliberately pushing information he knows is wrong. Ou has become a master at using bits of data he does not really understand to generate headlines designed to dupe the stupid.
- Ou posts vulnerability statistics from Secunia without context; the company even prominently warns columnist stooges not to publish its numbers without understanding what they mean. Ou does not.
- Ou compares Mac and PC prices by ignoring the features built into the Mac while piling together Dell coupons to create an absurdly slanted and unrealistic result.
- Ou insists that regular new updates to Mac OS X are a problem, and that the six years of delays on Vista were really great news to PC users (apart from those who had bought Software Assurance plans in 2001 and expected Microsoft to deliver releases as planned in 2003, 2004, 2005, and then 2006).
- Ou characterized Apple as “notorious for abusing their dominant status in the online music business and will sue anyone who dares to be compatible with iTunes,” in contrast to Microsoft, which is simply trying to make DRM work for consumers because it loves children and freedom.
Spout Shill, Spout.
Sometimes, it hard to tell if Ou is a devious shill working to undermine the truth or just grossly ignorant pawn inspired by the Microsoft Muse. Ou’s shameless hubris allows him to feed on all manner of trash by unnamed sources to later repeat from his ZDNet soapbox as if they were pure distilled truth from the gods of Mt Redmond.
His latest assault on intelligence was refuted elegantly by Bruno Fernandes of Twisted Melon. Ou had claimed that Apple didn’t know anything about font rendering, and that Mac OS X’s text rendering simply looked awful compared to Microsoft’s wonderful technology. Ou used blown up screen shots to exaggerate his purported exposé of Apple’s failure to match Microsoft under the headline “Vista puts Mac OS X font rendering to shame.”
Ou lauded Vista for using sub pixel antialiasing, comparing it to a screen shot labeled “Mac OS X 10.4.” “Clearly, Mac OS X was the blurriest and faintest of the three major operating systems and it’s the least readable by far and even pales in comparison to Windows XP.” he wrote. “Windows Vista using sub-pixel rendering (which works best in landscape display mode) clearly has the best font rendering technology.”
Made for Digg.
In order to generate a sensationalist headline, Ou reduced a complex set of scenarios into a simpleton fantasy pitting Windows against Mac OS X. In reality however, there are multiple ways to generate text on both platforms, and each has its own set of pros and cons and slightly different results.
Mac OS X apps can still use the legacy QuickDraw text rendering, while modern apps commonly use Quartz. Windows has its own legacy graphics toolkit copied from QuickDraw in the 90s called GDI, as well as the newer WPF in Vista modeled after Mac OS X’s Quartz. Individual apps can also roll their own text rendering engine. For example, Mozilla’s Firefox uses FreeType, and Adobe has its own text engines for its different applications.
Boiling all this down to Ou’s grunting that “Apple bad, Windows good!” can only be done by ignoring reality to present a carefully crafted fiction to elicit the desired response from an ignorant readership flocking from Digg.
Stacking the Deck.
Another problem was that Ou doesn’t seem to know that Mac OS X turns on sub pixel antialiasing by default in its Automatic text rendering settings. This can be adjusted in System Preferences: Appearances. Further, as Fernandes noted, “In Windows XP, font smoothing is not turned on by default.”
That being the case, why did Ou post a sensationalist article impugning Mac OS X by posting a graphic comparison of Windows Vista’s text rendering next to:
- a Windows XP example with sub-pixel rendering manually turned on, but
- a Mac OS X example with sub-pixel rendering manually turned off?
Ou’s samples presented the hard edged Windows Visa “ClearType” version:
against an anemic, washed out version he claimed came from “Mac OS X 10.4.”
An actual Mac OS X version looks like this by default. Why does Ou set up a false comparison?
You Want the Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth!
When a reader sent Ou an actual, representative Mac OS X example for an honest comparison, Ou posted it in a way that suggested Mac OS X looked bad by default, but through some trickery, it could be improved somewhat. That’s not true.
Ou started out ignorantly trolling for attention with a false comparison, then veered quite purposely into falsely misrepresenting the truth.
What is most absurd about the entire discussion is that everyone knows that Windows has always rendered fonts with a hard edge computer screen appearance, and the Mac OS X renders fonts with a smooth, printed appearance. Liking one or the other is subjective, and largely based upon the user’s previous experience. Arguing about which “looks better” is like arguing about whether peaches are nicer than nectarines.
However, misrepresenting the truth to argue about the merits of a technology is not a matter of opinion. Presenting “graphical evidence” that shows something that isn’t accurate, or typical, or honest really demonstrates that Ou has no interest in the truth, only in spewing as much trash as he can.
Somewhat ironically, while his article presented Mac OS X in the worst possible light, his own poll asking about the “best font rendering” indicated his readers didn’t agree with his article.
A Zoon Nomination.
Ou’s reputation as a shoddy writer of fact-refuting, intellectually embarrassing misinformation earns both him and ZDNet the dishonor of a Zoon award nomination for spectacularly bad work in promoting the regression of human achievement. Have your own Zoon nominees?
Like reading RoughlyDrafted? Share articles with your friends, link from your blog, and subscribe to my podcast! Submit to Reddit or Slashdot, or consider making a small donation supporting this site. Thanks!