What’s up with all the angst / mud slinging?

Over the last couple of months, there has been a rise in discussion between Microsoft and VMware online.  While both sides certainly have many moderate bloggers who are conducting civil and constructive conversations, both sides are also guilty of getting into more heated conversation. 

VMware has sites like http://www.vcritical.com/ and http://vteardown.com/, while Microsoft has made posts like http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/2009/08/13/hypervisor-footprint-debate-part-1-update-microsoft-hyper-v-server-2008-vmware-esxi-3-5.aspx and http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/2009/04/03/Top-10-VMWare-myths-video.aspx

This has lead to many members of the community at large making a plea to both sides to “stop the mud slinging”.

Personally, I am not so sure about this.

Before I explain that statement – I would like to provide some background context.  A common question I have heard is “Why do people go and write / say things like this?”.  Well – in my mind – there are a couple of factors to consider:

  1. Emotions are running high.

    Talking about your product, and how it compares to competition, is always an emotionally charged activity.  No matter how hard you try, you cannot avoid this.  In my mind there are two big drivers behind this emotional attachment:

    1. We live in a capitalist world.

      Every time you hear someone talking about their product, somewhere deep in their mind is the understanding that if no one buys their product, their business will fail – and that will directly impact their ability to maintain their quality of living / support their family / etc…  It seems odd to say – but you should not discount the impact that this has on people when they are trying to defend their products.

    2. That is my baby you are talking about.

      As someone involved in software development, I can tell you that over the last 4 years I have sunk huge amounts of time and emotion into the development of Hyper-V.  I have worked long hours, fought many arguments and built up a high level or personal passion about our offerings.  In this context, it is really hard to hear someone say negative things about Hyper-V.

  2. Everyone is speaking from some innate level of ignorance.

    Hyper-V, VMware and Xen are all very complicated products.  And no one knows them as well as the people who developed them. 

    This poses a problem.

    How can you hope to figure out whether one approach genuinely is better or worse than another?  Your best bet is to go with an independent third party – like an industry analyst, but they often do not have the depth of knowledge that the product developers do.  The problem arise when one of these product experts attempts to talk about the others products, because when they do so they are speaking from their personal world view.  And when there are gaps in their knowledge about the competition, they tend to assume that the competition has made the same decisions as they did in that situation.

    This is a trap.

    I personally know that there have been many times when I have seen some technical comment from a VMware or Xen blogger and my immediate reaction was “Well that is just stupid!”.  What I am really thinking is “If we were to use that approach on Hyper-V it would not make sense”. 

    Every time that this happens, I have started from the position of “these guys are competent and know what their doing, hence the fact that that seems like a bad idea to me probably means that I am missing some information about their overall technology” and gone digging for more information.  And every time I have found it, and come away with a deeper understanding of my competition.

  3. Different people communicate in different ways.

    When I was growing up, my father had an interesting strategy for teaching me and my sisters to remain level headed when emotions were running high.  If we ever raised our voices in anger when talking to my father he would simply state “You are speaking from emotion, therefore I cannot trust that you have thought through what you are saying.  I am going to ignore what you just said.  Come back and talk to me once you can do so in a calm manner.”

    This certainly shaped the way that I try to communicate with the world.  But not everyone is like that.

    For example – imagine that you are driving in heavy traffic, and someone cuts you off.  What do you do?  Do you get angry, yell and honk your horn?  Or do you shrug it off and say “it really is not that important, it is not going to make me any later to my destination at the end of the day”?

    Me – I prefer to do the latter.  If I yell and get angry I just find that I feel worse for it at the end of the day.  But – I know a number of people who would yell at the other driver – and would feel a whole lot better for it.

    For instance, I can tell you that when you read these posts from Jeff Woolsey (like: http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/2009/08/13/hypervisor-footprint-debate-part-1-update-microsoft-hyper-v-server-2008-vmware-esxi-3-5.aspx) – that is pure authentic Jeff.  He speaks like this, and lives like this.  He is a very passionate and persuasive person – whether he is being positive or negative.

So with all that said – let us get back to the original question: should we tone down the level of angst / mud slinging in the conversations that are going on?

I do not think we should.  The reasons for my opinion here are:

  • These people are just being passionate about their products and authentic to themselves.  Party on!
  • To bring in a bible quote: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17)”.  Through these conversations we are able to reveal deeper truths about each others offerings.
  • Whether people are being actively hostile, or are being polite, you need to be aware of their biases.  I work at Microsoft – hence I am going to say good things about Microsoft.

So where does this leave you, the reader?  Well, there are two suggestions I have:

  1. Do not hesitate to let me know if you think the tone on my blog is not professional.  I do aim to keep things classy here – and I have no problems with you letting me know if I am not writing / speaking in a manner that you find helpful.
  2. Vote with your web traffic.  The fact of the matter is that while an author / blogger continues to receive high web traffic (and trust me – these guys are receiving high web traffic) there is little motivation for them to change their style.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you like the drama?  Do you prefer that things be kept “cool, calm and professional”?  How would you like to see our online conversations developing?

Cheers,
Ben