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

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

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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?


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  • I guess certain people are feeling like they're in a bad situation and feel like, being cornered, they need to fight.  The natural reaction is to fight back.  I know that if I'd invested time, energy and emotion into a product I'd be very defensive if someone started mud flinging at my "baby".

    Do we need all the mud flinging?  Nope.  Is it inevitable?  Yeap.  My buddy, Mark Minasi, jokes about IT people when they meet: there's a faceoff like two red deer/elk in the rut, testing each other until there's a victor.  It seems to always happen.

    I guess the thing is to try get above all that.  When I speak about Hyper-V/VMM I open up with saying that I have been a happy VMware ESX customer.  I'm still a customer, using VMware Workstation for lab stuff on my laptop.  But that doesn't mean I don't see value in MS products.  

    I chose Hyper-V/VMM bceause of superior management and lower costs for my current employers.  The requirements met the features.  That doesn't mean there won't be a place for VMware in the future or even Xen.  There's a broad variety in strengths and weaknesses between the big 3.  Odds are I'll deploy all 3 in various locations/scenarios before I retire.

    Those of us who want to be independant and do right by our employers/customers need to rise above the mud and find what's right for them.  It won't necessarily be one solution that we've always used.  We need to be open minded and match the real requirements with the features.  Forget the prejudices which are all too common on blogs and forums.

  • Count me in the "cool, calm and professional" side. Posts like the one you linked to don't contribute to the discussion. While some people are passionate and persuasive in person, that tone doesn't carry well to blog posts, and certainly not to posts from Microsoft personnel trying to make a point.

    For example, I have some factual comments regarding that post, but its tone has deterred me from participating in the discussion. Had it been written in a cool, calm manner, I would've chipped in with my opinion.

  • Taking a step back; Passion is a beautiful thing.  Speaking from experience, it is difficult [but not impossible] to balance passion with professionalism.  However, I whole heartedly thank you for taking the time and opening up the discussion with us!

    Keep the discussion real, keep it authentic, and keep it transparent; back it up with facts, write with passion and enthusiasm – but keep it professional (regardless of whichever side you bat from)

    I’m sure us as readers, we are all smart, competent and intelligent people; and have highly tuned “fud filters”.  So I personally look forward to every opportunity that we can [constructively] entertain and push the boundaries.

    Lastly, please keep doing what you have done so well.  Rest assured if you “fall off the wagon” we’re sure to let you know, and keep you in check!  =)

  • mud slinging is nothing new.  Difference here is readership.

    Two quick points.  

    1) The "vmware blogs" you link to clearly state they're private blogs not endorsed by vmware.  THE DOMAINS aren't even owned by VMware are they?!  Of course vmware employee's personal blogs are going to have a personal slant.  Anyone reading a vmware employees personal blog and thinking "I'm sure this is 100% without any real independent research"  shouldn't be regarded as a reasonable source of information.  See how I did that? nasty.

    2) The technet blog carries no such visible disclaimer  (there is a link to one, for a jhoward, not sure if that applies to everyone else that is an MS employee posting there or not, it isn't clear).  

    As the disclaimer is tucked away, and the blog is ON TECHNET, (who owns that domain?)Which means, from someone looking in, it's an official mouthpiece.  There's the rub.  

    They're competing companies.  One of them has historically been nasty with the competition.  This is just business as usual for them.  Don't like the dirt?  Vote with your dollars.  Otherwise, no publicity is bad publicity.

  • funny I'm stuck in this religious battle at work right now.  I have a 1500 servers (just beginning the process) to consolidate and both sides (even internally) are throwing a lot of mud around. Seeing value in the vmware product line is kinda like a mirage, its there right up to the point its not!  Yet I do think there are instances were vmware is the only fully correct option. But these are starting to be corner cases more and more..

  • Great post, Ben. Once you start down the mudslinging route, it's hard to stop. Of course, vendors should take the high road and let the facts speak for themselves. However, at the same time you can't let competitive untruths go unchallenged either.

    In the end, all the mudslinging confuses customers and often breeds apathy, where much is ignored entirely.

    I agree with your point that analysts have a role in sorting the facts. That's why we developed the hypervisor evaluation criteria at Burton Group. All of our competitive analysis is fact checked by vendor product managers. At VMworld we'll be lining up Hyper-V R2, vSphere 4.0, and XenServer 5.5 side-by-side in session TA2400. It runs Tuesday afternoon at 4:00. If you're free, it would be great if you stopped by. I'd love to hear your feedback.

  • This is a wonderful post, and it makes me wonder if people are too sensitive about arguments and discussion - I personally don't see it as mud slinging, as both sides are presenting factual data that has an outlook from both sides, and none of it is sourced via dishonorable methods.

  • Ben,

    Very well said.  As for VCritical, I do not hear from my readers that I am unfair or misrepresenting.  When companies stretch the truth, they should be challenged.

    I will continue writing competitive articles for my blog.  Anyone who dislikes such content is welcome to ignore it.  When my readership drops significantly, I'll get the message. :-)



  • As an avid Microsoft Vitualization promotor I often write with the conviction there is a lot of ground to be gained. I like to think I am not overenthusisastic, but find customers like the story when I promote the MS stance on virtualization. When I read your blog, I recognize the often vile untruths that are blogged or tweeted. Sometimes I respond, sometimes I just ignore it, just as I ignore the propaganda of "the other guy". In fact I wrote a rather favourable blog on the introduction of vSphere (http://hyper-v.nu/blogs/hans/archive/2009/04/21/vmware-vsphere-maakt-indruk.aspx), although it was in Dutch so not many people could understand it. My blog histor on hyper-v.nu starts with my article in LAN Magazine in March 2007 explaing my vision on the approaching war of the hypervisors. I concluded with "Let the games begin!" Well clearly, they have started and in my view Hyper-V and System Center are tactically positioned. Nevertheless your article has made me rethink my attitude and ways of communication. See also @hvredevoort and @hyperv_r2

  • Theron talks about "personal" blogs, and points to DNS registrations.  Actually, VCritical and VTeardown are both masked domain registrations.  So we don't

    But it doesn't even matter.  Everything that employees do that is work-related, even if on their own time, represents their company.  (This is precisely where there are no-moonlighting and IP ownership clauses in employment agreements.)

    I actually find the Microsoft approach more honest.  Since employee blogs are on blogs.technet or blogs.msdn, there can be no accusation of astroturfing.

  • I disagree Tom. Both vcritical and vteardown clearly state that they are VMware employees. However, their opinion is not necessarily representing VMware's view and/or opinion. Same goes for myself, my opinion or views are not always the general view of VMware and that's why I have my own personal(!) blog and mention it's my opinion and not a fact or "the one truth".

    Now although I disagree with most of the stuff Jeff writes I do enjoy his enthusiasm. As a company however I would never support this way of competitive bashing, which it clearly is. Like others mentioned in the comments of his blogs focus more on what the benefits are of your products and the cool stuff you offer.



  • I vote for a cool, calm and professional approach too.

    Getting shirty just devalues your point, and shouting with capital letters and large font sizes is not the behavior of a mature adult netizen, at least in this decade.

    I am a sysadmin at a company that is rapidly embracing Hyper-V, but I cringed when reading the hyper-visor footprint articles.

    Please town the agro down!



    PS: love your blog Ben.

  • Hi Everyone,

    First I just wanted to say thanks for the constructive feedback posted here.  I was a little bit nervous about wading in on this topic - but now I am certainly glad that I did so.

    Now for some specific responses:

    Andrew Dugdell -

    Thanks for having my back there, mate!

    Chris Wolf -

    Why am I not surprised that you agree on my statements about the needs for analysts? :-)

    Theron Conrey / Tom / Duncan -

    I do not buy the whole "this is my opinion, not my companies".  

    Take Eric for instance - he works at VMware doing competitive analysis, he then runs a blog (www.vcritical.com) where he talks specifically about what he perceives to be the short comings in the competition.  Eric's statement that the views on his blog are his own - and not VMware's - simply do not fly with me, when this is what he does for a job.

    The whole thing smacks of "plausible deniability" to me. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plausible_deniability)

    Personally, seeing this makes me thankful for Microsoft's stance around online (and offline) communication here.  The summary is that as a Microsoft employee I need to understand that whenever I write or say anything - I am representing Microsoft - and people have the right to view what I say as authorative from Microsoft.  As such the disclaimer you will see on all Microsoft blogs is: "This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights. You assume all risk for your use."

    Now - do not get me wrong here - this is not an attack on Eric / Duncan / other VMware bloggers, as I know that if it were not for Microsoft's policies here I probably would have slapped a similar disclaimer on my blog.  But I would also like to issue a (friendly) challenge to VMware bloggers to consider dropping their current disclaimers in favor of one more like the Microsoft one.



  • Firstly, thanks for keeping a high tone, Ben. This post was very professional, yet persuasive.

    Andrew opined:

    "I’m sure us as readers, we are all smart, competent and intelligent people; and have highly tuned “fud filters”."

    That's certainly true. If you're not able to ignore FUD and marketing mumbo-jumbo, then your IT career will be quite painful indeed. I think we all have pretty thick skins by now.

    That said, in the continuing escalation between Microsoft and VMware, I think the Microsoft guys are coming off second-best. Here's why I think that: The VMware product is simply more mature and more proven than the Microsoft product. THEY are the established leader, and YOU are the scrappy newcomer.

    Or to put it another way: Hyper-V might be a fantastic product, but it doesn't have the track record for me to trust it ... yet. Earn your stripes, prove your product, and then come back to tell me how cool Hyper-V really is. Seriously, y'all just got Live Migration, and you want me to believe that you're ready for the enterprise?

    Second note: I agree with the general sentiment that I'd rather see more positive posts ("Our product rocks!") then attacks ("Their product rots!"). Positive posts make me think about your product and what I might be missing. Attacks simply make me think that you don't have anything positive to say about your own product, so you're going to slag off the competition....

  • I don't get how Jeff's post is interpreted as being so bad? He is primarily responding to and refuting a deceptive claim found in official VMware marketing material. I'm sorry, but I don't see him debunking VMware FUD as mud slinging. Do I want to see positive posts about Hyper-V capabilities? Yes, and I do see those too. I also think it is perfectly appropriate to set the record straight when a competitors marketing material provides misleading information about your product. The people who are most upset over this are in fact VMware folks who do plenty of mudslinging on their own. Personally I find the VMware approach to negative marketing very underhanded. I don't buy the whole "oh no this is just me not the company speaking" line of garbage. You work for VMware and are blogging about VMware and competing products in direct relation to your professional function. You ARE speaking on behalf of VMware and just trying to hide behind a smoke screen. I find it to be dishonest. It's just like the Hyper-V crash video posted "unofficially" then referenced by VMware sales people. I like that Microsoft doesn't play that game. They don't hide behind any curtains.

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