Mountains and molehills don't mix

Companies that make too much out of too little invite ridicule, not accolades. This might not be what they want

Getting the perspective right in IT reportage can be tricky. On a big story — picking up the interstellar equivalent of Tomorrow's World from Betelgeuse, say — it's easy. But what do you do with stories from companies that, one suspects, not even they quite believe?

Take Symantec. After much reflection, it has announced that due to increasing popularity the Macintosh will be the next new target for virus writers. Well, of course it will — Mac users have secrets too. That's no reason to think the platform will succumb.

Despite a handful of potential problems and a few proof-of-concept programs, OS X remains a well-designed, fundamentally secure operating system. It's provided in a sane, locked-down configuration. Such potential problems as exist are fixed before any sign of trouble — and there's no reason to suspect that this would change if a hundred times as many Mac minis were sold. Could it be that Symantec makes antivirus products, and has failed to sell any to Apple users because they just don't need them?

Then there's Microsoft. So pleased is it with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' recent disposal of Linux in favour of Windows, that it called the press in just to celebrate the fact. Lowered costs and better service, don't you know?

Only that wasn't quite the case: while it was outsourced, the server ran Linux because that was what the outsourcing company used. The RICS is Windows through and through, so that's what it ran its server on when it brought the service back inside. The move to Windows was cheaper than keeping Linux, but only for the reason that it's cheaper to hire an English speaker for a post in Britain than hire a monoglot Uzbek and get the entire company to learn the language. Could it be that Microsoft's desire to sell its story outstretches the facts available?

Such attempts to persuade fall flat. They didn't cut much mustard back in the days of paper press releases and monthly magazines, when user feedback involved ticking boxes on a registration card. Now, when online publications include reader forums and there are a thousand discussion areas in which the irritated gather their arguments, the amount of mustard harvested has fallen to below subsistence level. Quite the opposite: making a loud noise about nothing much merely highlights the vacuity at the heart of the proposal.

In the words of Dr Jerry Ehman, the person responsible for detecting mankind's best candidate for an alien radio signal and thus someone who knows about putting perspective on a story: "Don't draw vast conclusions from half-vast data". You'll look somewhat less than half-vast yourself.