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August 05, 2005

Preparing for Slashdot

Yesterday morning the rumblings began about the alleged Vista virus based on Monad. It quickly became clear that labelling it a Vista virus was bogus: Monad isn't in beta 1, any scripting language can be used this way, etc.

But Lee and I and some other Monad people were discussing this at lunch and we knew it was going to go up on Slashdot pretty soon. We could see the ZDNet UK story that talked about "the first examples of malicious code targeting an expected feature of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system" get superseded by the PC World article talking about "Microsoft's newest operating system in beta only a week, but already leaky" and then on to an article at Macsimum News titled "Windows Vista shows Mac OS X like features -- and viruses" and an article at vnunet.com titled "Hackers Crack DOS Replacement". I could picture Windows executives tearing their hair out as the long-awaited Windows Vista Beta 1 got tarred with the virus brush, on Slashdot, a week after release. And we were pretty sure there wasn't going to be any official PR message before it happened.

Since it was going to get out anyway, we figured we should try to get out ahead of it. So Lee posted a blog entry and I posted a blog entry. And to try to guide the Slashdot discussion even further, I submitted the story myself, putting my own spin on it. My submission was:

Is it possible that the press has gone a bit overboard in trying to scare people about viruses? Here's a story claiming that Windows Vista Beta 1 is vulnerable to viruses that take advantage of the Monad command shell. Only problem is that Monad is not included in Windows Vista Beta 1, thus it is highly doubtful it is exploitable in it. Anyway, like any scripting language it can cause harm to your machine if you execute untrusted scripts; is it even worth bothering to describe this as a virus? Slightly less hysterical report here; Monad blogger response here.

We knew that Slashdot gets many submissions on a story like this and probably wouldn't pick mine, and in fact they didn't; they chose one titled "Windows Vista Tool Targeted By Virus Writers". So Lee resolved to keep refreshing Slashdot over and over, and jump in when he saw it appear. And he did; his first comment appeared only 2 minutes after the story went up, and his second comment only 7 minutes after that. Luckily they got modded up to 5 pretty quick. I also threw in some comments, as did Leonard, a PM on the team. To the credit of the slashdot community, besides the people who replied with "No surprise Windows sux", the tone of the discussion was overwhelmingly "It's a scripting language, this is expected."

Now, today, we are getting some more reasonable press like this from Microsoft Watch. The angle is still "Monad is not in Windows Vista Beta 1 so this is not a threat", which is consoling in the short term but still makes it sound like the world will end whenever we DO ship; we have more work to do to explain to everyone the safeguards we have put in place. Still I think our experiment in DIY PR was a success.

Posted by AdamBa at August 5, 2005 11:30 AM

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Microsoft need to set up a rapid rebuttal force. They would need to monitor the news sites and forums and simply get a real, genuine response - ideally from people that work on the project - out there as quickly as possible. None of this 'we don't comment on unreleased products' - the perception that users form _now_ *will* have an impact on their eventual buying decision.

No-one from MS has yet officially rebutted that 'you need a new monitor for Vista' crap.

Posted by: Mike Dimmick at August 5, 2005 12:35 PM

There are reasons I don't bother with Slashdot.

I'm continuously amazed at the lack of reading ability there. It's so.. selective.

Posted by: Keith J. Farmer at August 5, 2005 02:35 PM

You're planning was incompetent, you didn't plan for the dupe.

I submitted this, with delibarate logic errors, just because you were arrogant enough to do this.

Enjoy the storm.

Posted by: hggs at August 5, 2005 04:29 PM

Mike: I agree. I was discussing this with someone from MSN Search, about how their team blog had become the place people looked for responses and it allowed them to get a story out quickly. I'll bring this up in the Monad team. It would probably be better to have an official team blog instead of a couple of random bloggrs who happen to work on the product.

hggs: Sheesh, everyone's a comedian.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at August 5, 2005 05:22 PM

It would have been funny if it wasn't true. Zonk did it again:

Now I think you should try to make an triple.

Posted by: Ivan at August 5, 2005 11:58 PM

The fact that Monad is not in Vista, is now a net plus positive? My my what an interesting game of twister. First news to hit the mainstream wires in months about Monad itself, and it deals with virii, from ole skueel #vxers no less. You guys just can't catch a break, eh? F-Secure sure hammed it up needlessly however. But DIY PR? Perhaps to the tech crowd, but the mainstream will just hear another drumbeat of 'Windows' and 'virus'. And part of the reason for the bad PR, was that you guys never really said Monad was out of Vista, so all the hemming and hawing on that front, led to the perception that Monad was actually still in Vista. And now Monad not being in the next OS is a plus? Double ouch, as that will create the perception that its not in the OS, because it's unsecure buggy junk.

Gatorisms and MSFT Anti-Spyware turning Pro (and the total news blackout on that), Virtual 'Time Machine' Earth, IE7 and the Paul boycott call, lackluster Beta 1 and the 'HDCP and DRM row', Google lawsuit drama, Student 2006 dud landing, Office 12 anyone caring?, Nope, and not even Sinofsky; just talking about interns and college kiddos, window.g_sDisableWGACheck, the Vista name itself (ugh) and all the fun trademark spats, the concrete-jubbled Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation names (rolls right off tongue, eh?), and speaking of foundations, the Gates Foundation "model schools" a trainwreck disaster. And now Monad not in Vista and a 'virus warning' to boot. And much much more. DIY is right. Sounds like the regular team has its hands full. ;) Joyce McClure coming to clean up the messes?

Posted by: Christopher Coulter at August 6, 2005 01:41 AM

I'm just about to stop reading Slashdot. There's no reason to even start reading the comments for 90% of the postings. I think it's starting to outlive its usefulness with the growth of RSS.

I was kind of skeptical of Monad when I first heard of it, my background is much richer in Unix variants, but the more I hear about it(primarily from here) the more excited I get about it.

Posted by: grant at August 6, 2005 04:28 AM

Hey, what do you expect? Take a look at infamous tech sites like Neowin, for the pro-MS, or Slashdot, for the anti-MS. See? That's the userbase you've to deal with, and both sides are annoying. And that community is fueled by sensationalist news, because writers are more concerned with making coffee and attracting viewers, than researching and writing good articles.

If all it takes is too write well articulated FUD, I should consider a career in the tech press.

Posted by: Mario Goebbels at August 7, 2005 05:14 AM

Way late to the game, but I've got to say: I think it was a big mistake to make the fact that Monad will not ship with Vista your first argument. If there is no new virus threat from Monad, and if the known threat is equivalent to running any executable, then that should be your story. When you lead off by saying that it doesn't matter because it won't be included, that sounds just like an admission that the software is buggy and virus-prone. I'd really like to see Monad be succesful as it is such a powerful tool, but I fear that the way this story was handled will leave many people on the fringes of the Windows-tech-awareness world with a very bad impression.

Posted by: Anthony Cowley at August 16, 2005 11:51 AM