Saturday, May 30, 2009

Better with Windows?

I got burned this week; I actually believed the story that ASUS and Microsoft teamed up, and that an Asus.co.uk page was linking to a It's Better With Windows site.

But looking at it again, I'm convinced it's a hoax. And you should be, too. Here are a few obvious telltales:

Typos and grammatical errors
Companies put a lot of effort into their online presence, and any sufficiently large organization (like ASUS) has a change control process for any web pages that get posted. One obvious step in that process is spell-checking and proofreading. Yet the "Asus.co.uk" web page is littered with typos and grammatical errors:
  • With the Eee PC™ 1008HA, you don't have to put up with a cramped, uncomfortable keys — its keyboard is 92% full-size with wide, well-spaced keys. The large Backspace, Enter and right Shift keys help reduce finger fatigue to a minimum, too.
  • Enjoy superb video conferencing experience on the move with bright 10” display, built‐in 1.3 megapixel webcam and Digital Array MIC, which enhances speech‐centric applications like Skype and even your podcast recording.
  • With its 160GB hard disk drive, the Eee PC™ 1008HA provides ample storage for all of your documents, images and multimedia files; 10GB of free online storage wiath 5GB of downloads per day means you can keep your data within easy reach from any computer.
  • Super Hybrid Engine (SHE) enhances energy efficiency and reducespower usage by up to 15%*, delivering up to 6 hours*of unplugged usage.
  • ASUSTek (UK) Ltd. © 2009 All rights Reserves
Inconsistent use of trademarks
If a company is going to use ® or ™ in their copy, they will be consistent about it. But check the "Asus.co.uk" page again, and you'll see that sometimes "Eee PC™" is written "Eee PC" (without the ™ mark.) Check the top paragraph, and the date reminder.

Look closely at the "It's better with Windows" paragraph, and you'll see more examples of this:
The Eee PC™ 1008HA comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Home and Microsoft Works. With Windows® XP, you can be sure that your Eee PC™ will be compatible with your existing Windows applications and devices. Windows® XP is also easy to use and delivers a dependable experience that Microsoft and a worldwide community of partners stand behind. Visit www.ItsBetterwithWindows.com » to find out more.
Incorrect copyright
The "Asus.co.uk" page says "ASUSTek (UK) Ltd. © 2009 All rights Reserves". But check the actual ASUS UK page, and you'll see consistent use of "© ASUSTek Computer Inc. All Rights Reserved."

Missing branding and links
Take a quick look at the "It's Better With Windows" page. Where are the links to Microsoft.com? Where are the other references to Microsoft? For that matter, there are no references at all to Microsoft. Trust me, if marketers at Microsoft had been involved in this campaign, the name "Microsoft" would show up dozens of times, and there would be plenty of links back to Microsoft.com.

Poor web design
Microsoft may turn out a shitty desktop experience, but at least their web folks know something about web design. For example, they know enough to put together a web site that doesn't consist solely of a single JPEG background image, and an embedded video. All that text on the page? It's all part of a single image.

Microsoft doesn't own the page
This should have been the first and easiest way to tell that the "It's Better With Windows" site is a fake. Open up the page, and view the html source code. You don't have to understand html to see a few imporant clues:
  • The video file links to collaborationpeople.cdnetworks.us instead of Microsoft.com. CD Networks is a content delivery company, so that's why the file is hosted at their domain. Clearly, "collaborationpeople" is the account name that owns the actual video file. But Microsoft also does lots of content delivery. It's guaranteed that if Microsoft put this together, the video asset would be hosted by Microsoft.
  • Web statistics are being gathered by google-analytics.com. But Microsoft views Google as one of its biggest competitors in web search engines and marketing. Microsoft would never allow a key competitor to track the web hits of an "important" marketing site such as this.

I'll stop there. The spoofed "Asus.co.uk" page and the fake "It's Better With Windows" site were good attempts at a hoax, and I have to give them credit for putting something together that fooled so many people at first glance. But no, this is a hoax. Nothing to see here, move along.

22 comments:

  1. One other thing to mention:

    Do a "whois" lookup on the "itsbetterwithwindows.com" domain. It's registered through GoDaddy. Uh, Microsoft doesn't use GoDaddy.

    You'll also notice the contact for the site isn't anyone with a Microsoft address. It's some "Michael Sharp" guy with an "RDCPro" email address at Hotmail.

    Here's the output from "whois itsbetterwithwindows.com"

    Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. (http://www.godaddy.com)
    Domain Name: ITSBETTERWITHWINDOWS.COM
    Created on: 05-Dec-08
    Expires on: 05-Dec-09
    Last Updated on: 05-Dec-08

    Administrative Contact:
    Sharp, Michael rdcpro@hotmail.com
    12932 SE Kent-Kangley Rd.
    Box 238
    Kent, Washington 98030
    United States
    (877) 788-8066 Fax --
    [...]

    ReplyDelete
  2. See, now I have learned a lesson in the pitfalls to avoid should I ever attempt to concoct a hoax. It's like watching Columbo to learn how to murder someone and not make that "one little mistake."

    Not that I am planning on ever perpetrating a hoax.

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  3. So many of these hoax sites, or even scammer sites are thrown up so hastily that even the most obvious mistakes are overlooked. It's not hard to look legitimate, but for some reason the people behind these sites think that they are so much smarter than the rest of us.

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  4. Wow... Amazing how easy it is to whip up a media storm around a hoax. I guess we've got a taste of what Apple lovers have been feeling for years. I was one of the people who believed the media ranting about the It's Better with Windows campaign, but in my defense (somewhat dubiously...), I never looked at the site :P. I can see now it's inconsistent with both Microsoft and usual Asus web design. My thoughts are it's not an entirely malicious hoax stabbing at Linux; nor does my convoluted thought process believe it's an attempt at reverse marketing (though it seems to be working like that, so it crossed my mind - by reverse marketing I mean they put up a straw man and all the Linux bloggers attack it and are heard across the internet). I think this guy is making a lame attempt at breaking into advertising and marketing with no experience in the field. If he can show how effective his "marketing campaign" was, he might get a few job offers.

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  5. LOL, this isn't a hoax. The "Better with Windows" flyer came with my EeePC last month. I'll bet you $100 this website is some shoddy collaboration between the Asus and MS marketing teams as part of the deal to get Windows onto the EeePC.

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  6. The ad is good enough to sway the opinion of Joe Public, but poor enough to enable MS/ASUS to claim plausible deniability.

    It's a clever (yet unethical) tactic, and I expect we'll see similar attempts in future. After all, MS has a long track record of anti-competitive behaviour.

    Rhetorical questions: why oh why does anyone want to work for such a sleazy company? What attracts them? How do they square the behaviour of their employer with their conscience? I find it hard to believe that they are *just* in it for the money, and have no consciences, but that seems to be the logical conclusion. I think it's a sad reflection on human-kind.

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  7. So. A hoax is something that's indistinguishable from something a shitty marketing agency would put togther? Good to know ;)

    Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

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  8. XD, maybe people want to work for Microsoft because they make some darn good software.

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  9. (not the same Anonymous)

    I alos think this is a hoax. Why would ASUS link to this from a UK page, but not from the US page. Doesn't the US hav e a bigger market share of Windows than the UK, hence the impact for running this link in the US would be greater?

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  10. Avery, pics or it didn't happen.

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  11. @Avery:

    You claim you got this flier a month ago. So that means the program has been going on for at least a month.

    But with all the Linux users out there buying Netbooks, especially the EeePC, I'd expect to see lots of links to photos of said flier. But they just aren't there. Go search on Flickr or any other photo service, no there. Google image search? Not there.

    I'm with Anonymous ... I'm not going to believe your claim until I see a photo.

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  12. I can't believe I didn't try this before ... let's do a DNS lookup on the web sites:

    > host www.asus.co.uk
    www.asus.co.uk has address 87.106.102.168

    > host 87.106.102.168
    168.102.106.87.in-addr.arpa domain name pointer s15237881.onlinehome-server.info.

    That's interesting! If you visit www.onlinehome-server.info you'll see this is a general hosting service by 1&1.Not the professional hosting service a company like ASUS uses. Their "Home" service (implied by the hostname?) is only $2.50 a month.

    > host uk.asus.com
    uk.asus.com has address 211.72.249.198

    > host 211.72.249.198
    198.249.72.211.in-addr.arpa domain name pointer rev198.asus.com.

    As expected, the real UK ASUS web site is hosted by ASUS. No surprise there.

    ReplyDelete
  13. And if you visit http://s15237881.onlinehome-server.info/ (see my previous comment) you'll see a server default page, meaning nothing responds is configured for the general site address. A little suspicious, since professional, commercial companies would redirect you to their main web page if you somehow managed to find and hit the general hostname for their web server farm.

    If you're curious, it's running a 2007 version of Plesk (probably run by 1&1.)

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  14. RDCPro/CollaborationPeople is Mike Sharp.

    Here is his MySpace:

    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=320110536

    we are legion, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Let's try the same test on the "It's Better With Windows" site:

    > host www.itsbetterwithwindows.com
    www.itsbetterwithwindows.com is an alias for itsbetterwithwindows.com.
    itsbetterwithwindows.com has address 209.160.58.30
    itsbetterwithwindows.com mail is handled by 0 smtp.secureserver.net.
    itsbetterwithwindows.com mail is handled by 10 mailstore1.secureserver.net.

    > host 209.160.58.30
    Host 30.58.160.209.in-addr.arpa. not found: 3(NXDOMAIN)

    You should be immediately suspicious of any server (or web site) where there is no "reverse lookup". That is, if you can look up the hostname and get an IP address, but can't look up the IP address to get a hostname, it's not a site to be trusted. There's a lot of security built around reverse lookups.

    And if you try to visit http://209.160.58.30/ you get prompted for a password. I just hit Cancel, and got a "You are not authorized to view this page" served by IIS.

    Again, this is suspicious, since professional, commercial companies would redirect you to their main web page if you somehow managed to find and hit the general hostname for their web server farm.

    Visiting the "www" address for the mail server's domain doesn't provide clues, unfortunately. You are immediately bounced to http://default.secureserver.net/ which says the site is not available.

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  16. @Anonymous: Thanks for the myspace link. He only has 3 friends ... so sad.

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  17. Thanks to Google Maps, I was able to query the address reported by "whois". It's the Lake Meridian Marketplace, a strip mall that houses a few offices. RDCPro isn't listed, but the UPS Store is.

    I'll bet that "box" line in the address reported by "whois" is really his UPS delivery address.

    Not a real business. If it's real, RDCPro has to be tiny, like a few people.

    This guy's MySpace page says he's president of RDCPro, but his occupation is listed simply as "Web Developer and SharePoint Consultant." I think he's just an independent contracter using a UPS mailbox for his work correspondence.

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  18. Well, as I said earlier, it's just some random trying to break into marketing :). If he were a good web developer, this site would look a whole lot nicer. Probably full of Flash, with smooth animations and fadey slide shows in the background :P. He got a pretty good media storm rolling, but if this article makes it far, he'll get more negative press than positive out of it.

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  19. One BIG point...

    asus.co.uk is NOT the official site. uk.asus.com is!

    More about that and in the comments here: http://ubuntulinuxhelp.com/asus-slaps-linux-in-the-face-not

    ReplyDelete
  20. XD: "Rhetorical questions: why oh why does anyone want to work for such a sleazy company?"

    I don't work for MS (I'm a grad student as-of now), but I have interviewed there for an intership a maybe four years back with no luck.

    Why? A bit is the fact that they do pay well. But there's more.

    1) I tend to be very cynical about corporate behavior in general. I think that to get reasonably big you almost need to have a decidedly sleezy streak. If other companies haven't exhibited it to the same extent as MS, I think that's more a reflection of MS being in the right place at the right time and growing big enough that they could actually pull it off then it is about them being all *that* much more sleezy than their competetors.

    Take MS's two biggest competitors -- Apple in the desktop and mobile arena and Google in the internet arena. Personally, considering in particular Apple's legal behavior over the last few years and how locked down the iPhone is, I view them as at least *as* anti-consumer as MS is, and probably more. It's only because they don't hold a monopoly in anything (yet?) and actually produce pretty good products that they seem to get a pass. If the iPhone is indicative of how computing will look in 10 years, I shudder. (Not that I think it is.)

    Google hasn't done anything particularly evil, and is actually pretty well-behaved, especially for a corporation that size. Their behavior during the wiretapping fiasco when the DOJ or whatever asked them for personal data and they refused was actually quite admirable. Nevertheless, I'm quite a bit more scared of what they *could* do in the future than what MS could do, simply because of the quantity of personal information (even of myself) they have -- emails, calendars/schedules, search histories, in some cases buying habits, etc.

    I personally feel that to get to a company that doesn't have a sleazy size, you probably have to drop to a small little company (which would be fine too!).

    2) MS software, I think, is underrated by the geek community. I think Windows and Linux both suck about the same amount overall; I just have rather different complaints about each. (I just got a tablet PC, and using it as such under Linux is... not exactly an encouraging experience. The combination of OneNote and Windows usually makes it pretty neat.)

    I haven't used Word Perfect since the days when you'd put a card above your function keys that would tell you what each of them did with various combinations of shift, alt, and control, because it didn't have a GUI, so I don't know how it stands today (e.g. I know some people swear by 'reveal codes'), but I think Word beats the pants off of at least OO Writer and KWrite. (In a contest with Latex it depends what the subject is.)

    I really really want to play with Keynote (but Apple doesn't sell it for anything but OS X and then steadfastly refuses to manufacture either a desktop I would actually buy (and could afford) or a tablet), but the latest version of PowerPoint is definitely better than anything else out there with that possible exception.

    I still say there's no better C++ programming environment than Visual Studio. C# isn't exactly a great language in my book, but it's at least less unberable than Java. Hell, you can even download what's essentially O'Caml.Net for it. You have to either get me to do GUI programming (in which case Qt wins (though it looks like it has nice VS integration)), force me onto Linux, or give me something like Lisp or Python before I'll be happier with something else.

    I mean, I could go on. They have arguibly the best video game system to own right now. They make the best keyboard I've used. I mean, there's a lot of neat stuff that you could work on there.

    3) From a personal standpoint, they and IBM have basically unquestionably the best two CS research labs in industry. (In part because they are, to a sad extent, almost the only two.) In my area at least, I would say you have to go to a top-tier research university -- if then, even -- to find better work.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
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