Electronic Design

Flaming FUD

Amazingly, marketing departments often turn to fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) as a tool to hype a really good product. I can see the benefit of this approach for a product that's not great. Companies hope to distract the buyer. But this method may not have the desired effect if the FUD gets flamed.

For example, Microsoft recently pronounced the virtues of Windows XP Embedded versus embedded Linux (www.microsoft.com). Not surprisingly, this little tidbit has generated quite a few responses from the embedded Linux community. While some responses are definitely flame mail, most are well thought out and made on a point-by-point basis.

I'm not here to address the original paper or responses, but rather what I think would benefit developers trying to justify their choice of development tools and platforms. I have used Windows XP Embedded and I'm impressed with the breadth and ease-of-use of the tools included in the package. Programmers who cut their teeth on Visual Studio will unquestionably feel at home with Target Designer. Likewise, there's little doubt that Windows XP Embedded will be extremely successful in a variety of applications.

The problem is that inaccurately comparing marketing materials makes it appear that the source doesn't really understand the product, competition, or customer's needs. I suspect that this has to do with Microsoft's two embedded solutions that overlap, and that Microsoft as a whole sees the nebulous Linux as its competition. Making the problem even more difficult, Microsoft has even more operating-system solutions that must compete against Linux. Therefore, coming up with the right message is no simple task.

So is all this type of FUD marketing bad for the customer? Only if FUD remains. Luckily, the flaming has actually shed more light on the subject. The widespread responses from embedded Linux companies and users of embedded Linux have been enlightening to say the least. This is especially true for those using yet another embedded operating system, but want to switch, or to justify staying with their tried-and-true solution.

The only downside I have seen thus far is the lack of real interaction between combatants beyond the initial battle. It's like a joust where both riders are still on their horses, just waiting at opposite ends of the arena.

So far, I haven't seen a dialog between supporters of both sides. The responses to the initial paper are good, but they have their share of misinformation or information that's not quite relevant. For example, one claim in the original discussion was that the Opera Web browser costs $8 per unit. One response indicates that Internet Explorer costs $12 per unit. Is this information relevant or accurate?

An authoritative author needs to set these straight. Developers require more interaction between vendor representatives. Will this happen? Don't bet on it. The last thing a marketeer wants is to be surrounded by hostiles waiting to respond to the latest claims or comparisons. Preaching to the faithful or the converted is much safer. Unfortunately for sales, if the faithful get wind of the discussion, they might be a little more thoughtful and less faithful.

Of course, FUD is great for editorial. Controversy makes great coverage. More would be better. I'll get more fodder and developers will get more information from all sides. Buying decisions are usually easier with more accurate information, so check out news groups and message threads for the real info.

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