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Getting the Real Facts: How Industry Analyst Reports Can Trick Readers

Start from the Beginning

  • November 14, 2005
  • By Maria Winslow

Microsoft's "Get the Facts" advertising campaign makes the claim that Windows offers a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Linux, and backs it up with reports from well-known industry analyst firms. But Linux advocates claim that the TCO of Linux is lower, and some other studies back them up. How can you separate the fact from the fiction? In Part 2 of this series, I'll offer tips on how to read a study and make up your own mind about its relevance. Next month, in Part 3, I'll analyze specific studies referenced by Microsoft in their "Get the Facts" campaign.

Various studies on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of Windows versus Linux have arrived at vastly different conclusions. How is this possible? The short answer is that if you are abstract enough with your goals and methodology, are selective with the costs that you include, and ask the right questions, then you can arrive at any conclusion you want.

Here are some of the things you need to consider as you read a report.

First, read the whole report.

A lot of people make decisions based on press releases or summaries of analyst studies, but these brief sources don't provide enough information. Tedious as it may sometimes be, you must read the whole study with a critical eye in order to determine the relevance of the advice to your organization. In fact, you may need to read the report at least twice in order to judge it properly. Skim it first for a "common sense" test, then delve in with the following issues in mind.

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