Lies, Damned Lies, and Advertisements

Peter Coffee: Overstating Itanium's success gets a UK reseller a slap on the wrist--and invites reflections on "openness."

At a dinner meeting last week, someone asked me what I was going to do about "Intels outrageous sales pitch" for Itanium versus "proprietary Unix systems."

I havent since found an example of Intel actually using that phrase, although I did find Microsoft VP Cliff Reeves calling Windows/Itanium "a nail in the coffin of high-end …," etc. I dont really want to repeat the three-word phrase that ended the sentence, lest it be counted again in a Web-page search that might be used to promote that self-serving meme.

I suggested at dinner that Intel probably meant "proprietary" as a modifier of "systems," not of "Unix": Intels competition, after all, is with SPARC and PowerPC processors (in Apple, IBM, and a growing array of Linux-based machines), not with Unix--or Windows or Mac OS X or Linux, as such.

SPARC, moreover, has long been aggressively licensed by Sun, and the SPARC architecture itself is defined and promoted by the independent SPARC International Inc., so calling Suns systems proprietary is not entirely fair; Apples Mac OS X, for that matter, puts Apples GUI and application frameworks on top of the open-source Darwin operating system, so the Mac looks a lot less proprietary than it did when Apple was killing the clones five years ago.

I agreed, though, that only from Intels hardware-centric viewpoint would proprietary hardware look like a bigger problem than a proprietary operating system. The hardware, even if it were overpriced, you only pay for once. The problems (and license fees) of a closed software platform just keep costing buyers, year after year after year.

As for outrageous advertising, Im pleased to see that my sons most common reaction to most advertisements is, "Are they allowed to say that?" Claims of being "the best," "the first," or "the only" leave them more skeptical than impressed.

They hoot, for example, at advertisements that call an SUV "the most powerful in its class," and they eagerly seek out and lampoon the fine print that says "class defined by [fill in advertisers name]." Even so, wouldnt it be nice to have some kind of body that calls people to account when they lie, or even outrageously distort the truth, about enterprise IT options?

I mean, of course, in addition to eWEEK (which unfortunately lacks the power to impose anything worse than embarrassment)?

In the United Kingdom, as it happens, non-broadcast advertisements are subject to the scrutiny of a self-regulation body, the Advertising Standards Authority, which is funded by a tax on advertising expenditures. What a concept.

Last week, that Authority adjudicated (thats what they call it) a complaint by Sun, levied against a UK systems reseller, whose advertising had said that "Sun has rejected the next generation Itanium architecture, which the rest of the industry is adopting …" The ASA said, in effect, "What about Dell?"--which is, not incidentally, one of the UKs major IT employers--and rejected the claim, along with several others, as being unsupported.

So, tell me: What lies have you heard lately?