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Microsoft PR: Looking Under The Hood 389

Posted by timothy
from the leave-that-tracking-info-in-remember dept.
mtr writes "An interesting article uncovering some embarassing and amusing PR practices of our friendly software giant had been recently published by Michael Zalewski. The author recovered change tracking information from all the DOCs published on microsoft.com, and came up with something to cheer you up. It's funny when it happens to others - but even better if it fires back on themselves. Read the full story here."
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Microsoft PR: Looking Under The Hood

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  • web page tracking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Frisky070802 (591229) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:21PM (#8709860) Journal
    The issues with evolving Word files using version tracking also come up with web pages, since there are tools to track changes to web pages (for instance, WebCQ [gatech.edu]). When a projected date changes, it can be pretty embarrassing. I've seen projected Ph.D. graduation dates slip in six-month increments, huge price changes, policy changes, and so on.

    The key difference here is that the tracking reveals internal versions that were obviously never meant to be public. The idea that a draft would attribute a quote to a nameless executive is particularly appalling!

  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:26PM (#8709897)
    I have had Rackspace do the same thing when I worked for a company that was a major Rackspace customer. Their PR team provided some quotes and the CEO of our company picked the ones he liked and attached his name to them.

    It happens all the time.
  • Re:web page tracking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndroidCat (229562) on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:31PM (#8709926) Homepage
    Doesn't Word also save a GUID in the file that contains the MAC of the network card of the computer where it was created/edited? Something juicy could probably be done with that, but it would take a lot more work.
  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Frisky070802 (591229) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:39PM (#8709978) Journal
    Their PR team provided some quotes and the CEO of our company picked the ones he liked and attached his name to them.

    Yeah, but isn't this case more like the PR team from your company attaching the CEO of someone else's company to their own quotes? Sure, if that person then agrees, it's OK, and I'm sure that's done too. But it does devalue such testimonials a bit in my eyes.

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinshit (591885) on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:41PM (#8709991) Homepage Journal

    Having participated in this sort of work before, a "quote" is created by whatever marketing agency Company "X" hired to create the white paper, arrange press exposure, etc. They will write stuff up and make "quotes" which are then reviewed and approved by the executive being "quoted" (often as many as 10 or 15 revisions).

    I've seen "interviews" where the whole thing is carefully scripted; the "interviewer" and the executive only see the final copy the day before (or even day of) the interview video is shot.
  • by Ricin (236107) on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:58PM (#8710092)
    One can dabble about form, tone, and words for weeks, but when it comes down to it, what matters if you have something viable to say.

    If not, that's where PR breaks down, (see Dubya) .. its presumed you have good things to say, then it'll work or at least not backlash. Please keep in mind this is MBA level stuff.

    That's also why PR for damage control after something went wrong is wasted money from the start. It always breaks down. But they'll spend it anyway. The lesser of sciences tend to have the strongest dogma's. And this PR/MBA stuff is certainly a disgrace to science to be ranked with it.

    This stuff looks more like a wannabee's homework though. Funny to read I must say.
  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:05PM (#8710130)
    For example xxxx CEO of blah said yyyy may simply be the result of the employee drawing up the report not knowing the full name or title of the person who made the statement.

    But we've evidence that's not true. Read the MS press release reported on slashdot earlier today which quoted P.Diddy: "[I] believe that the system's cultural influence as a social entertainment brand has only just begun."

  • by PetoskeyGuy (648788) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:06PM (#8710137)
    All Microsoft DOC files at Microsoft.com [google.com]

    Over 22,000 word files on their site. Assuming they are all still there, that is a lot of cleaning up to do. I wonder what else people will find.

    Perhaps more Microsoft employees should Check this link out [microsoft.com]
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DdJ (10790) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:09PM (#8710160) Homepage Journal
    This is completely serious. I've seen it all over the place. If an executive is quoted as saying something, all you can usually infer from it is that the text was run by that executive and permission was given to publish. You absolutely cannot ever asusme they actually originated the text. It continually surprises me that people are surprised by this. I thought everyone took this for granted these days.
  • Re:Stunts gone wrong (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shakrai (717556) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:12PM (#8710168) Journal
    There is an element of truth in this. Microsoft don't make money out of their trimmed down offerings (WinME, 98, XP Home, Outlook Express,...) but they do/have on their professional stuff (Win2000/WinXP, Office).

    Win98 was a trimmed down offering? I thought it was their flagship product at the time. What else would the homeuser have used? NT Workstation? I doubt it. Hell we used 98 for workstations in our enterprise environment for years without any major problems. As far as ME goes I always figured it was a (shitty) remake of Windows 98 designed to suck more money out of old code before they went to the NT Kernel (ala XP) for the end user.

    I'm sure they make enough money on XP Home too -- just not as much as XP Pro. Outlook Express and IE are insurance for the future -- kill off all the other e-mail clients and web browsers and you'll have the community by the balls sorta thing.

    So while they want people to get sucked in to their lower end stuff, they'd like it to be nasty enough to prompt people to upgrade.

    What's so nasty about XP Home for Mom & Pop users? Why would Mom & Pop pay extra for XP Pro? It's not like Home (in my experience -- your mileage may vary) is any less stable then Pro. It's just missing a few features.

    For the record I purchased Pro for my home computer -- but I got it under a OEM license though my old job -- the full (non-upgrade) version "only" cost me $129.00 iirc. No sane home user is going to fork down the $270-$300 for a (non-upgrade) legal version of XP Pro. Most home users aren't going to even bother to pay the $99.00 to get the upgrade to Pro from their OEM -- which is what Dell charged the last time I quoted a PC with them.

  • by Thanatopsis (29786) <despain.brianNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:14PM (#8710178) Homepage
    Trust me. The PR firm wrote the quotes and then was going to run it by the executive. It's done ALL The Time. It saves time and allows your marketing partner to stay on message. I have had quotes presented to my by Netledger [netledger.com] for a story appearing in the Wall Street Journal. I looked at the quotes and said, "Fine run with it." to the PR person. Netledger is an Oracle company.
  • by sg3000 (87992) * <{moc.cam} {ta} {cilbup_gs}> on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:18PM (#8710201)
    > Call me paranoid, but all those "xxx, Chief Information
    > Officer/Vice President at Avensis" quotes make it look as if
    > they were fabricated prior to even figuring out who to talk to
    > at the company

    Everyone knows Microsoft deserves bashing for what they do, but this isn't one of those times. I've had to do my share of edits to press releases, and it's not unusual for the quote associated with an executive is written by a PR person. All big companies do this.

  • by RexHowland (71795) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:29PM (#8710267)
    I believe what was supposed to be interesting about the European Xbox announcement was that it was simply re-using one from the American Xbox release.

    With the exact same quote, coming from two separate people, referring to two separate events at two separate times. (Fall 2001 vs. Early 2002.)

    "Robbie Bach, senior vice president and chief Xbox officer," referring to the American launch, and "Sandy Duncan, Vice President, Xbox Europe" referring to the European launch.

    And, very likely, the words came from neither one of their mouths. (But, as people have said in other posts, the words were written ahead of time by the PR person, and the people being quoted agreed to "say" it.)
  • by RexHowland (71795) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:42PM (#8710332)
    I hope this doesn't get modded down as redundant or off-topic, because it's a legitimate question, but I'm wondering how to view metadata.

    I've seen stories about it before, but there wasn't anything interesting enough to make me want to check it out until now. I noticed Zalewski linked to wvware in his article, but I didn't really understand how to view metadata with it. I am also running a Satan-worshipping OS.

    So really I'm just wondering if someone can tell me what program to use to view hidden data, or explain how to get wvware to do it?

    Thanks.
  • by LenE (29922) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:56PM (#8710407) Homepage
    In May of 1995, I was shocked and surprised to read in Byte Magazine about how Penn State University had saved so much money and had such a massive increase in reliability by switching all of their network resources over to Windows NT. I was so surprised, because I read about it while waiting for a computer in the most advanced student lab at the time, and I saw not hide nor hair of Windows NT.

    The Byte article quoted CAC higher-ups about how NT greatly improved security, file and print serving, and that all student labs had switched over wholesale. At this time, the file serving was handled by a Banyan Vines network, and printing being spooled by old Mac SE/30's.

    By that fall, Windows NT was finally introduced to the labs, and the nightmare of having 100% BSOD boxes and useless labs had begun. When I graduated in the fall of 1996, printing was still handled by Macs, but usually PowerMac 6100's by that point. NT had lost all credibility at Penn State, and Microsoft had used them to hoodwink many large organizations with a totally fallacious article in Byte.

    -- Len
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:58PM (#8710429)
    While it may not be unusual, it certainly is dishonest. I believe that is why you are seeing so many comments regarding the practice here.

    When someone who doesn't lie for a living reads that "someone" said "something," they trust that that "someone" said it of their own accord. Many marketing people rationalize their actions by saying that people shouldn't assume this, however, that trust is the very thing that they want to take advantage of.

    Seriously, If a CEO can't think up something positive to say about their own product line or business partners on their own, there probably isn't much worth saying at all. And if the CEO doesn't have time to come up with some quotes, then just be honest about who really is saying this stuff. Oh? What's that? People won't believe it if a PR person says it?

    I really wonder why.

  • Inside Look (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:09PM (#8710504)
    From the article
    "Call me paranoid, but all those "xxx, Chief Information Officer/Vice President at Avensis" quotes make it look as if they were fabricated prior to even figuring out who to talk to at the company, not to mention determining what his/her name would be.

    MS did a draft press release regarding a product we produced using MS technology and they quoted my boss in it. I happen to know that he signed off on the quotes and didn't actually write any of them.

    I guess I really am sort of scared of MS because I clicked the Log Out button before posting this. That said, I guess if the CEO signs off on it it's no different that celebs using Ghostwriters.
  • by cswiii (11061) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:38PM (#8710684)
    Neat trick. I wonder if any of these searches will turn up anything fun:

    White House [google.com]
    Senate [google.com]
    House of Representatives [google.com]
    CIA [google.com]
    UN [google.com]

    I am sure you can think of more...
  • Thanks to Google... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LenE (29922) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:57PM (#8710806) Homepage
    I couldn't find the original article, but in May of the following year, they repeated some of the Penn State claims in a 'NT is Better than UNIX' article. This time, they claimed that the changeover started in March of 1995. Check out the Google cache [216.239.39.104] to see how little Microsoft's tactics change over time.

    -- Len

  • by Shadowlore (10860) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:00AM (#8710821) Journal
    The point was not whether xxx, CIO was used. The point was that Microsofts response to the problem illustrated here has been "it isn't a problem download and use our tools", while they themselves do not.

    This illustrates the underlying problem. Features such as this that require seperate tools to sanitize them will tend to not produced sanitized documents.

    The author of the article said that the result of this "exposure" demonstrates a likely need for inline filtering in mail and web publishing systems to correct this MS oversight and stubbornness.

    Had many of you read the ... oh wait I'm on slashdot nevermind.

    [Post version 2.0]
  • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:01AM (#8710826) Journal
    Did you actually think the pr people were interviewing the ceo for a press release?

    Um... yes? The entire point of this practice is to decieve people into thinking that the CEO/VP/whoever actually said that stuff (even if they did sign off on it personally, after reading it personally, which is probably not how it happens, it's still not the same as saying it). Now that I'm aware of it, I won't be fooled anymore, but people who don't work in PR are not aware that PR people do this.

  • Re:Embarassing not (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:03AM (#8710843)
    How was this marked Insightful? Original poster, do you know anything about PR (outside what society tells you)? Do you know the people behind it, and why they do it?

    Yes, there are some miserable people in PR, just as there are miserable environmental activists, doctors and priests. The majority of PR people, though, are paid to present the truth about their company as well, and factually, as they possibly can.

    If there wasn't so many people falling under the societal spell that "corporations = evil", without actually thinking it through, PR people would be unnecessary. PR people are a defense to an attack from (often undereducated) activists. The vast majority of them are good people, who simply want to do their job and defend against grassroots extremists (which are more powerful than anyone realizes).
  • by DavidinAla (639952) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:26AM (#8710970)
    I detest MS both for its business practices and products, but this is one instance in which bashing them is just plain ignorant.

    I looked at the all the samples in the first page of the story, and I have to say that I didn't see anything that didn't look like normal editing decisions being made by writers and editors in the PR business. I was a newspaper journalist for years and I'm a political consultant now. I've received and written tons of news releases over the years. Unless there is some horrid "smoking gun" hidden on one of the interior pages, there is nothing sinister or unusual in the least about what the guy found.

    What I saw looked more like examples from a PR writing textbook about how things are changed to reflect an editor's preferences to soften a story or to change its focus. Quotes are almost ALWAYS written by PR people and then approved by the person being quoted. In some cases, the quote is used as is. In others, the person will say that he prefers to say something different. The quotes as written give everyone an idea of the TYPE of quote needed for a certain spot in order to fall into line with the rest of the piece.

    Ultimately, this is no different than anything else which is written and then changed along the way. New information comes along. There are differences in opinion about how something should be "spun." Editors use judgment about what will work best. A ton of things happen, but that is normal.

    As I said, I can't stand MS and I think the company is blatantly dishonest in many of its practices, but these seem to be reasonably innocent examples of PR people attempting to do their jobs. If you understand how PR works, you will know that there is nothing unusual here.
  • by sakusha (441986) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @12:44AM (#8711081)
    I note that Bill Gates is one of the largest single shareholders in Home Depot, if not THE largest. Is there any surprise here that Home Depot is bending over backwards to accommodate their big stockholder?
    But I'm more interested in Aventis Pharmaceuticals. Gates is shifting all his personal wealth into Big Pharma stocks. I haven't been able to find out if he's an investor in Aventis, but he's a huge investor in their direct competitors. I can just see the pitch MS made, they'll offer Aventis a tech testbed platform, and if they don't go for it, they'll offer it to one of Bill's cronys, and Aventis will have difficulty with MS support in the future.
  • by Captain Tripps (13561) * on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:11AM (#8711230)
    You might be interested to know that as of last year, Penn State was still using a Mac SE/30 as an AppleTalk server. I've actually got a picture of it somewhere, sitting across from a $100,000 Cisco router in the machine room.
  • by wiresquire (457486) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @01:58AM (#8711470) Journal
    I just tried one of the linked docs [microsoft.com] in Open Office.

    Edit/Changes/Show
    What do you know?
    OpenOffice filters are pretty good.

    I guess it's another case that security by obscurity doesn't work?
  • Re:Pining... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the drizzle (724660) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:05AM (#8711503)
    Seriously...it requires a friggin wizard. A wizard for christ's sake! Any goblin can learn del program.exe and a mere human can delete some oddly-placed files (and even screw with the registry). But a wizard to uninstall? Seriously.

    I tried to uninstall Explorer from a Windows box once. It hurt. Bad.

    Nowadays I swear by apt-get. No more Windows. I can't stand being locked into Explorer and going through hell to remove programs + whatever the hell it installed when I didn't uncheck an obscure "install memory-sapping worthless program" box.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:10AM (#8711518)
    Having worked keeping everything running for a small PR business, let me share some insights into press releases.

    Everyone in the company reads and reviews them (except me, of course, for good reason). Quotes are written with a place holder for a name ("XXX" was what I saw most often), just as place holders are used for dates. The release goes back and forth to the client company as many times as it takes to get it signed off on, and somewhere along the line the quote gets attributed (but probably gets heavily edited before then).

    The only thing surprising about these is how little editing there is. MS must be cranking them out.

    On the converse, every now and then I would hear a statement like "I've got an hour to write a press release, and no idea what it's about." This was said in such a way that I assume it translates to "I've got all night and a case of jolt to finish this problem."

    I once made the mistake of proclaiming that there was probably one sentence of content in each press release. This was laughed at, and I was told there was less.

    If I ever start a major OSS project, I'm going to call in a favor to get professional press releases written by my ex-coworkers. If I have the money they are even going out on the wire (or at least one of them).

    nnooiissee
  • How about the DMCA? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Onan (25162) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @03:28AM (#8711815)
    Unless I'm misremembering the law, the DMCA criminalizes "circumventing" any "security" systems.

    Now, claiming that Word's editing features are a security mechanism and that bypassing them is illegal would be ridiculous.

    Unfortunately, no more ridiculous than, say, claiming that pdf e-books are a security system are that even foreign nationals bypassing them are US criminals.
  • by stephanruby (542433) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @04:19AM (#8712023)
    Then what the newspaper is doing isn't journalism, it's advertising.

    No, usually a press release is used verbatim because the journalist is on a tight deadline and didn't have time to write the article. Most journalists don't mean to do this and most newspapers don't like this, but when a deadline is looming and you only have one hour to finish an article -- something gotta give.

  • by phiwum (319633) <jesse@phiwumbda.org> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @07:35AM (#8712530) Homepage
    I note that Bill Gates is one of the largest single shareholders in Home Depot, if not THE largest.

    Really?

    Is there some easily found verification of this claim? And your other claims about Bill Gates's investments?
  • by negacao (522115) * <dfgdsfg@asdasdasd.net> on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @08:56AM (#8712795)
    Point taken, but...

    It'll always be fun to poke at the giant, irregardless of any good the giant does. :)
  • by mwood (25379) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @10:34AM (#8713547)
    The bit about not using their own tools is just one more datum pointing to the notion that Microsoft has grown so quickly that, in many respects, nobody is in charge. Like, Microsoft Installer came out in 1999 or so, and five years later look at all the Microsoft products that still don't use it, or which use it in ways which negate its advantages. (Honorable mention: the Office team understands and uses MSI very well.)

    For an outfit that's so much into domination and control, you'd think it would be a foregone conclusion that all publications would go through a formal release process that includes cleaning out all the leftovers which are not normally visible. But either no one is in charge of designing such processes, or whoever is really really goofed.

    I suppose it could be an extension of the whole reactionary movement that grew up in PC-land: formal processes are the sort of thing IBM would do, so they're obviously wrong -- after all, look at how quickly IBM lost all their money and went out of business. (Oh, waitaminute....)

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