Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Biggest. Microsoft. Stuff-up. Ever? (And Who the heck is David Richards?)

In case your not a regular Squash-ee or else haven't picked it up along the way, my tiny, tiny little niche area of authority that I've been fortunate to build a business on is the Australian technology media.

So it always warms the cockles of me heart when an Aussie IT journo (which is Aussie/Brit slang for journalist btw) breaks a story big enough to warrant them significant attention in the big, worldwide blogosphere. I kinda feel like a parent who's kid just hit a home run (in Australia of course, that would translate to hitting a six).

Tonight, one particular Australian tech hack is at the very centre of the blogosphere's hot story of the moment. Although, the jury is still out on whether he's hit a homer or if he's taken a wild air swing.

That journalist is David Richards, who penned the now infamous 60% Of Windows Vista Code To Be Rewritten story. Today, he updated his story with quotes from the marketing director of Acer Australa who "confirmed independently of SmartHouse Magazine that Microsoft is having major problems with its Vista operating system".

However, Microsoft blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble wants Richards sacked.

Whenever you see a story that says 60% of any OS is gonna be rewritten you should demand that the journalist who wrote that be immediately and publicly fired. Totally 100% incompetent. Did NOT do their homework.

Dave Winer gives Richards "zero credence" and Alec Saunders also weighed in on the "hogwash" call. But then Richards has also had people back him including Stowe Boyd and
Steve Gillmor who wrote to Scoble:

Stop calling for the head of a reporter or an editor or both about the 60% code story. Are you so sure that's untrue? Or put it another way–are you so sure anyone except maybe Bill really knows how much code has to be rewritten, or thrown away, to meet a January deadline which most likely will also slip?

For those of you who are trying to work out how much credence you want to assign the SmartHouse story, I thought, I'd fill you in on who David Richards is, because it makes this little drama even the more delectable.

Firstly, the Scobleizer isn't going to be happy to hear, that it's highly unlikely that Richards is going to be sacked, on account of the fact that he'd have to sack himself. Richards is CEO and editorial director of 4Square Media, the publisher of the Smarthouse magazine and website. So you can be pretty safe to assume that in this instance, Richards was journalist, editor and publisher. So if you want to point your spears at anyone, there's only one person you need go looking for.

Without a doubt, Richards is the most notorious and controversial technology journalist in Australia and it won't surprise anyone down under in the tech media or IT industries that he's managed to get himself embroiled in this kind of saga.

First things, first. Richards is a real, bona fide journalist. He's not an amateur blogger. He's not a techie, who took up a writing. He's got a Fleet Street background and was responsible for one of the most, important investigative journalism works ever published in Australia when his expose on the Painters and Dockers union uncovered extensive corruption and sparked a historical Royal Commission. This ain't no tinpot IT product scoop, we're talking about. This is about as close as we've gotten in Australia to a Watergate scandal.

Richards is also a successful entrepreneur. He started a PR company, Weston Communications, which he built up and sold and following that he founded a publishing company DWR Media, which he flogged to US publisher Penton Media for up to $US8 million (Penton would about 2 years later offload the division for a pittance).

Along the way, though, he's ticked a lot of people off. He's brash, pushy and thrives on controversy. He always seems to be suing someone, or else being sued. In the past few months, he's been accused on plagiarism, attacked for conflicts of interest and laid a big, steelcapped boot into one of the world's biggest PR companies.

He does, however, know a lot of people. However, in his reporting, he constantly flies dangerously close to the wind (a lot of reporters with track records for breaking news do though). So would Richards report this story without checking facts or seeking out confirmation. Absolutely. Would he write this kind of report, if he didn't think it was true. I don't think so. Would he sensationalise it? Yes. Would he have access to a "Microsoft insider" who you would really trust with this level of information. It's possible. Would I believe everything I ever read or hear from Richards. No. Would it surprise me if this story was, at least in part, true. Absolutely not.

So what does Squash reckon? I think it's mathematically impossible that Microsoft will be changing anything near 60 per cent of Vista code before release. I think it's more likely that Richard's source has heard something along the lines that 60 per cent of code will need to be reviewed.

Is Microsoft stuggling with Vista? Abso-farking-lutely. Not hitting that pre-Christmas deadline is one of, if not the BIGGEST screw-ups in Microsoft history. You cannot possibly underestimate how much angst this is going to cause Microsoft's hardware partners. You cannot possibly underestimate how much this is going to ruin Microsoft's Vista marketing plans.

With this delay, Microsoft has pretty much single-handedly ruined Christmas for the PC industry. The single-biggest season for PC sales will flop because nobody is going to buy a PC when a new OS is just around the corner. I'm sure Microsoft and its PC partners will offer free Vista upgrades to people who buy Christmas PCs but that's not going to be enough. Hell, do you want to go through that upgrade process when you can wait a couple of months and have it pre-installed. No way!

Which means Microsoft isn't going to be able to do any pre-launch marketing or else it's hardware partners will tear them to shreds. All this at a time, when Microsoft is under more competitive pressure than it's ever been before. If ever PC makers needed a reason to offer alternative operating systems to Windows, this will be it! Christmas-time Linux PCs? Guaranteed. And stand by for Apple to crank up the marketing like never before. This is an opportunity they simply will be salivating over.

So, for Microsoft to have delayed this one, there has to be major issues. All of which re-affirms everything I've learnt in dealing with David for the last ten years. Take everything he says with a grain of salt, but do listen, because more often than not somewhere in amongst the barrage, there's nuggets of truth and sometimes they're gold.

Filed under: Microsoft

43 Responses

  1. [...] Update: Phil Sim provides some background on David Richards and Smarthouse Magazine. Filed under OS – Client, Windows Vista, General Business, Public Relations, Microsoft Listen to this article   [Permalink] [...]

  2. BillyG says:

    Aside from the author bit, that’s exactly how I interpreted the delay.

    By the way, who is “the Scobleizer”?

    j/k

  3. [...] It would suck to be Raymond Vardanega right now.  Raymond is the mid level marketing manager at Acer’s subsidiary in Australia who fed Smarthouse’s David Richards the rumour that up to 60% of Windows Vista code was to be rewritten for launch. When the blogging world told Dave he was full of baloney, he trotted out mail from poor old Ray as his source. Ray’s mail, which Dave quotes, leaves one wondering whether he actually knows anything at all. The decision to delay Vista into the consumer market will have an impact on hardware sales particularly in the Media Centre market. We have been told that Microsoft has bought in programmers from the Xbox team to work on the problems. We have also been told that up to 60% of the code will have some form of re writing or changes made. We are told that Microsoft is concerned at the impact that the delay will have on hardware manufacturers. We have raised our concerns directly with Microsoft. [...]

  4. randyh says:

    A “real bona fide” journalist, eh? Oh, I’m glad we weren’t being fooled by one of the “pajamadeen” again. ;)

  5. [...] You can view the 60-percent-Vista-rewrite story as something of a software development IQ test. Anyone who believes that it’s conceivable is someone who hasn’t got the most basic clue about how software development works. It’s akin to believing that all the US troops in Iraq could come home for the weekend and then on Monday all be back in Iraq fighting the insurgents. That much code movement just isn’t possible. It’s almost for certain that that much code wasn’t rewritten in the transition from XP to Vista and that’s already taken five years. You gotta understand it’s not just how much time it takes to write the code, it’s got to get stabilized too. So if you were to write an operating system from scratch (or 60 percent from scratch) today, you could expect to get some use from it in 2011, maybe. But not with an installed base like Windows and its out-the-door rate for new machines. It would be completely diseconomic, the support costs would be astronomical, even if any users would be willing to use the damned thing, because it wouldn’t run any of their software. Microsoft is learning, as we all are along with them, that you just can’t do major overhauls of Windows anymore. The only way a new OS is going to bootstrap is with a whole new environment, perhaps on the XBox or maybe Second Life will be the new operating system for this century. It takes a lifetime to build the momentum behind an OS.   [...]

  6. Asher says:

    Our definitions of “journalist” clearly differ quite wildly in this case, Phil.

  7. I’m on David’s side on this one. Go you good thing!

  8. Dave says:

    From the original article it sounds to me like the 60% wasn’t referring to all Windows code, but to the Media Center functionality alone and in particular the user interface part of that code. So that’s a much smaller universe already.

  9. [...] It’s know well known that Vista will be delayed, but how anyone can believe that 60% of the Vista codebase will be rewritten between now and Christmas is beyond me. It’s simply astounding that anyone would believe that. [...]

  10. @BillyG: Scobleizer is Robert Scoble – http://scobleizer.wordpress.com

    A good read Phil. Yet, I’m on MS’s side this time. They do seem to be struggling with Vista yes, but a 60% rewrite seems to be highly unlikely since they have already rewritten most of the code.

    But let’s wait and watch.

    It could be a 20% or a part of the OS Code.

  11. pwb says:

    Probably just a miscommunication. As someone stated, Media Center was mentioned a few times. Maybe it’s just Media Center getting a revamp. Getting engineers from Xbox to work on Media Center would make sense.

  12. John Doe says:

    Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

    “We have also been told that up to 60% of the code will have some form of re writing or changes made.”

    This is the operative sentence you mouth breathers. Where do you get rewrite from scratch out of that?

  13. [...] Microsoft Vista Will Be Late(r) and I Don’t Care! Apple, blogs, mac, microsoft, office, opinion, security, smarthouse, vista, windowsThere’s been a bit of a brouhaha going on between Microsoft blogger Scoble and some never-heard-of-them Australian site with articles here and here. I don’ t know Smarthouse, but Squash has a nice piece on the journalist at the center of the storm. [...]

  14. [...] If you’re into technology and the like you probably heard the panic about Windows Vista needing 60% of its code to be rewritten. Squash has some additional insight into this story with background information about the dude who broke it, as well as some commentary about how Vista’s most recent slippage may be the worst Microsoft screwup ever, a lot of which I agree with. [...]

  15. Wes S. says:

    Richards’ glaring failure to understand technology reality is one thing, but I think his writing is even worse.

    You tell us that “Richards is a real, bona fide journalist.” Well, let’s take a look at this journalist’s work:

    “In an effort to meet a dealine [sic] of the 2007 CES show in Las Vegas Microsoft has pulled programmers from the highly succesful [sic] Xbox team to help resolve many problems associated with entertainment and media centre functionality inside the OS.”

    “Microsoft has also admitted that it has major problems in it’s [sic] Windows division and has has immediatly [sic] initiated a total restructure of the division, a move that comes after a costly delay in rolling out its Vista progra”

    So far from mastering the facts, this so-called journalist has not yet mastered English grammar at a level sufficient to write a freshman essay.

    Worse still, for a technology journalist, is his obvious failure to comprehend spellcheck as a concept. If he can’t grasp spellcheck, pray, how can he comprehend the meaning of a 60% OS revision?

    Phrased another way: Would you hire a surgeon who was too clumsy to butter his own dinner roll?

  16. [...] Now on this fellow Australian. David Richards. Can’t say I’ve heard of him but Phil Sim suggests he was behind the Bottom of the Harbour Royal Commision. I half suspect he’s making this stuff up, but responding with Snark….well it’s sort of like Mena Trott yelling at people during her now famous talk on civility. [...]

  17. Sorry – but David Richards hasn’t done his job here.

    1 – He reported a story without verifying the facts. His source, was someone who’s at least a few steps removed from what happens at Microsoft

    2 – Grammar check.

    3- The story was smelly from the start. Surely he should have verified if revising 60% of the Windows code by the end of this year was even possible.

    4 – Why didn’t he call Microsoft and get some comment from them directly ( I guess he would have been left without a story).

    I had what seemed like a hot lead a few weeks ago. I’d heard that Palm had offloaded most of its staff and that a takeover was iminent. The initial source seemed credible. A call to a contact at Palm had the head honcho of Palm Australia call me back in a few minutes and the actual facts were sorted out.

    I guess that being the writer and publisher means that that those pesky sub editors that check the facts aren’t part of the loop.

  18. Phil Sim says:

    Sub-editors are a dying breed..

  19. Amit Agarwal says:

    Phil,

    You have made some very valid points here. I would postpone buying a new computer rather than going through that tedious OS upgrade process (which may not even happen smoothly).

    Amit A.

  20. Alejandro says:

    hopefully this is a good thing for Linux :) lets see until xmas :)

  21. alan jones says:

    Forget about Scoble and Richards, your reporting on this is the only stuff with any “homework” behind it Phil, well done. Writing about David W. Richards is not for the fainthearted. Follow this up with a backgrounder on the career of poor Raymond from Acer, who’s probably going to have to find a new industry to work in now!

  22. alan jones says:

    …we gave Phil a good minute or 2 on the 2WEB podcast tonight too…

  23. During the past 48 hours a lot of people have passed comment on my recent Windows Vista story. I stand by it in the same way that I stood behind a Microsoft story some years ago when I was the first journalist to report that Microsoft was dropping the Windows version number for names like Vista or XP. At the time Microsoft denied it.

    Microsoft also denied the fact that they were set to bail out Corel in Canada or that they had done a sweet heart deal to delay Corel rolling out a Linux suite of applications to go up against Microsoft Office.

    I have a long history of breaking big stories and in the scheme of things this is a piss ant story compared to other major stories that I have written in the past. However it seems to have wound up a lot of people to hit their keyboards and spout off. On the question of my credibility and reputation I make the following comments. Back in 1976 I won a Logie for A Current Affair in Australia for Most Outstanding Contribution to TV Journalism. Recently the ABC http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/4c40/essays/minchin.htm credited me for being responsible for one of the biggest Royal Commissions Ever held in Australia. I was breaking stories back in Fleet Street back in the 1970’s so I don’t a bunch of upstart bloggers to tell me how to write a story or how to stand a story up.

    And if there is one thing that I have learnt over the years and that is, that one of the most corrupt elements of our society are the police and that all politicians lie and that the likes of Microsoft will not only spin doctor an issue but lie, lie and lie again to defend themselves.

    I come from a very poor family in the British Midlands, I went into journalism at 17, I worked as a crime journalist and foreign correspondent. I built the third largest PR Company in Australia which was sold to Ogilvy & Mather. I built one of the largest IT Media Companies in Australia and sold it. Throughout all of these commercial adventures when I was putting my money at risk to employ journalists and editors I remained above all a journalist. I have made millions making the right decisions not the wrong ones and that means today writing the stories that attract eyeballs.

    When one accuses a Company like AMD of shafting someone you have to be accurate or they will sue. And touch wood I have NEVER lost a deformation action. For example, with the two AMD stories that I wrote last year the lawyers for AMD tried there hardest to get the stories iced. They failed because I dealt in core facts.
    See: http://www.smartofficenews.com.au/Computing/Platforms_And_Applications?article=/Computing/Platforms%20And%20Applications/News/L2T2X2T6

    http://www.smartofficenews.com.au/Computing/Industry?article=/Computing/Industry/News/X3P8M7T3

    No other Australian IT publication followed up this story which says a lot for the quality of IT journalism. I have also accused Intel of massive tax avoidance while also writing a story that accused Apple of deliberately moving stock from Apple stores prior them going bankrupt.

    Good IT journalism is not all about bits and bytes. Its as much about business issues and as journalists we have a role to play in keeping the vendors honest and at all times questioning what they say.

  24. “Sorry – but David Richards hasn’t done his job here.”

    Uh, isn’t it Microsoft that hasn’t done its job?

    Who is shipping — or not shipping — Vista years after it was promised?

    Who has not given an official answer to the accusation?

    Who is not being specific about the problems with Vista?

    Who is not telling us what percentage of the code is rubbish?

    The answer to all these is Microsoft. David Richard’s is doing his job. He’s asking the questions and getting answers from where he can.

    Microsoft isn’t answering the questions.

  25. [...] I am disappointed that Robert didn’t do a good job of writing about this issue, which is not the case when he has good news he shares with us!) He should really send Phil Sim a bottle of scotch, for doing his work. [...]

  26. Tim Converse says:

    I’m sort of amazed that there is so much controversy about the 60-percent claim, without anyone (as far as I’ve seen) asking what the claim even means.

    I.E. if someone claims that 60% of the lines of code in Vista will either be new or rewritten in Jan 07, then they’re crazy or underinformed. But will 60% of the code files have been revised, even lightly (new modification timestamp) to conform to new APIs, etc? That doesn’t seem totally crazy to me…

    Above are two proposals for what 60 percent means – I bet you could come up with five others, each implying a different amount of effort.

  27. [...] This set off a tirade by Scoble, who called for Richards to be fired and deriding the journalist as a “slimeball.” This depite the fact that Richards, according to Australian IT journalism expert Phil Sim, “he’s got a Fleet Street background and was responsible for one of the most, important investigative journalism works ever published in Australia when his expose on the Painters and Dockers union uncovered extensive corruption and sparked a historical Royal Commission. ” [...]

  28. DWR says:

    It’s quite clear that the likes of BillyG have a problem understanding plain English. His comments that Raymond Vardanega is a mid level marketing manager at Acer’s subsidiary in Australia is wrong, he is in fact a senior Marketing Director at a very successful Acer subsidiary.

    Secondly he was not the source of my story nor have I ever said or indicated that he was the source. What I did say was that RV had confirmed separately what we had claimed and that Xbox programmers were now were on Vista and that up to 60% of the Vista code will be affected by the re writing of the Vista code. In fact there is every possibility that the code re write and the introduction of new architecture will not be ready for release by January 2007 but ready for showing at the 2007 CES Show.

    And if anyone was at the last Bill Gates CES keynote they will know that it was a whole lot of staged crap. Nothing new, nothing exciting and above all an indication that Microsoft is struggling in the OS space separating application computing from entertainment computing.

    What the world needs right now is a bullet proof OS for application and a separate OS for entertainment management.

  29. DWR says:

    Who the hell is this Robert Scoble guy? And what track record does he have in breaking stories? He seems great at kissing the backside of Microsoft and telling everyone else how to write stories about his beloved employer. Where is his credibility when clearly he is turned into an emotional wreck every time some one dares to say boo to Microsoft? He even has a Royal “We ARE asking for a retraction”. He or Microsoft? Funny I don’t find Robert Scoble listed in Microsoft’s office spokesperson list. In fact all today we have tried to get a Microsoft executive to speak to us on the record about Vista but they refuse. I wonder why?

    As for Scoble, his is a guy who wants every one to believe that he is the authority on Microsoft. He’s not Mark Smith the former editor of Windows Magazine and a good friend has in the past broken many a good Microsoft yarn and he is not as painful as Scoble to put up with.

    It also appears that Scoble has a bigger ego than Donald Trump and is more emotional than John McEnroe with a bad line call.

    The bottom line is that Microsoft are in deep shit with Vista and both Microsoft and Intel could well have the consumer market taken away from them by one of 4 key players, IBM and Sony, Apple and Google in the near future.

    Despite all the billions in the bank, years of so called research and employees who think that they are god’s gift to the tech world Microsoft has failed the consumer by delivering software that does not work. Microsoft Media Centre is a classic example.

    Even I know from talking to consumers in the CE market that what they want is easy to use entertainment software that works across, vision devices, audio and automation applications.

    What Microsoft has attempted to do is deliver Vista as an all singing all dancing OS for application and entertainment computing when research shows that consumers are NOT interested in application computing when sitting in front of a screen watching a movie or downloading music or playing games.

    If Microsoft were half smart, but then again they do have Scoble on there side they should have initiated a marketing strategy whereby they got consumers to fork up for two OS licence fees. One for application computing the second for a slick entertainment OS, or alternatively thrown the entertainment OS in for free.

    The big fear for both the Windows team and the Xbox team right now is that the likes of IBM and Sony could deliver a stunning easy to use entertainment/automation OS running on a PS3 type box. They already have the IBM Sony developed Cell processor which no one has really seen in action. I am told it is white hot and delivers blistering speed and graphics so I would not be writing Sony off as a key player in the CE and gaming market.

    Or alternatively Apple come along and steal their OS market share in the CE market by delivering a MAC OS media centre type solution running on an Intel Viiv platform. Just imagine the CE market in 3 years time with Apple and Sony IBM going head to head, with Microsoft only getting a look in with the Xbox. It’s highly possible.

  30. [...] First up, read Phil Sims, an Aussie standing up (just a little) for the originator of the 60 percent rewrite proposition, David Richards — owner of Smarthouse where the story first appeared. [...]

  31. [...] Phil Sim gives us the lowdown on David Richards, the originator of the story in Smarthouse, the magazine he owns. [...]

  32. charlz says:

    Looking at comment #24, i can’t pass by without writing down this url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority

  33. BillyG says:

    Thx Chrono, I guess I was supposed to go read about this guy but I think I have a good idea already. Peace.

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  35. [...] It would suck to be Raymond Vardanega right now.  Raymond is the mid level marketing manager at Acer’s subsidiary in Australia who fed Smarthouse’s David Richards the rumour that up to 60% of Windows Vista code was to be rewritten for launch. When the blogging world told Dave he was full of baloney, he trotted out mail from poor old Ray as his source. Ray’s mail, which Dave quotes, leaves one wondering whether he actually knows anything at all. The decision to delay Vista into the consumer market will have an impact on hardware sales particularly in the Media Centre market. We have been told that Microsoft has bought in programmers from the Xbox team to work on the problems. We have also been told that up to 60% of the code will have some form of re writing or changes made. We are told that Microsoft is concerned at the impact that the delay will have on hardware manufacturers. We have raised our concerns directly with Microsoft. [...]

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  37. SAWITHERE says:

    http://apcmag.com/node/4258

    So it looks like a November 30 release (at least in Australia) for Vista after all. So David Richards, DWR, Dave, whatever you want to call yourself – its looks like your credibility just took a well earned dive. Team that up with the problem you seem to have with writing something original lately… http://www.bigpicturebigsound.com/smart-house-plagiarism-868.shtml

    I just feel sorry for Raymond Vardanega, poor guy -clearly will have learnt his lesson about talking to David Richards… and just maybe a few others learnt a lesson about listening to what DWR has to say…

    Looks like Rob Scoble’s “tirade” was justified after all.

  38. [...] is reporting, that smarthouse is reporting that a new 360 SKU with a built in HD DVD drive (only for movies) may be on the way [...]

  39. [...] Sim provides some background on David Richards, the most notorious and controversial technology journalist in [...]

  40. AS says:

    I don’t believe a word of what David Richards writes. His claims that he is a first rate journo, are a feeble attempt after the blatant allegations of plagiarism and his unfounded and outrageous claims against people in the industry. His conduct is unacceptable, he lacks professionalism and the facts. His aim to discredit others just back fired, and it is probably the best karma for him. Something should be done about this.

  41. salman says:

    its need to be smarthouse story

  42. Hashiska says:

    And who the heck is Phil Sim?…….. some tard

    David Richards is a BOSS.. he would own everyone of you pasty desk jocky noobs. He will commence operation rolling thunder 2 and come at you spider monkey riding a zombie unicorn with a light sabre for a horn with rubies on his oozis and gems on his makk10s and daimonds on his 9ines with gold bu11ets just to match – THENNN bosss through like a HUMMMMMMMMMMMMEEERRRRRRRR

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