Understanding Microsoft

Part 29. The Blacklist

The word "blacklist" conjures up ugly images of narrow-minded censorship and mean-spirited prejudice, as well it should. A blacklist is a list of persons who are considered "off-limits" or unsafe for human companionship by the organization doing the blacklisting. Mere association with someone on the blacklist seems to rub off like soot, staining the reputation of yet another person, who is added to the blacklist as a suspect. Once on the list, a person is ignored, ridiculed, shunned, and passed over for any sort of job, publication, or opportunity for social or economic advancement. Getting off the list is nearly impossible, because it requires proof of innocence -- which is very difficult.

Is there a computer industry blacklist? And if so, by whom is it organized, and according to what criteria?

Well, consider the following list of computer industry commentators whose voices have been gradually marginalized by the major trade publications: William Zachmann, Brett Glass, Larry Magid, Nick Petreley. These gentlemen have the following interests in common: they share a zeal for truth. They criticize any and all who deserve it, whether that includes IBM, Microsoft, or their own employers. They are eloquent and classy writers who know how to find a good, simple illustration to get their point across -- making complicated matters sound simple enough for even non-technical managers to grasp.

What these commentators thus share in common are those long-lost writing skills and journalistic talents that make a publication a bastion of excellence instead of just a mouthpiece or a rag. Telling the truth in a way that people can understand, in a way that might actually motivate people to action, is a dangerous thing in the politically-correct 1990's. Even if they are employed and writing regular articles today, there are some topics that these fellows just don't discuss any more, leading to a sort of self-censorship of the most subtle and corrosive kind. When the best in the business must wear a gag, the whole industry is on the road to ruin. Mr. Glass and Mr. Magid were immediately fired from their respective publications after speaking out boldly in public forums -- chilling acts of repression that have no place in a supposedly free society.

So there is a sort of blacklist in progress, a blacklist of mediocrity and pandering to the mass market mixed with an open policy of exclusion. The criteria are quite simple: Don't rock the boat. Don't challenge any of the mindless cliches and standard taken-for-granted assumptions in the computer industry, such as the automatic acquiescence to Microsoft's monopoly position, or the supposed demise of the mainframe, or the idea that reliability is no longer important because we can always throw people and money at a problem to make it go away. Don't stand up for the best solutions, unless they coincidentally happen to be the politically correct ones.

Who is behind this subtle blacklisting? Just follow the money.

Most recent revision: March 21, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

E-MAIL: os2headquarters@mindspring.com