got a problem? just blame microsoft (so says the Guardian)

Everybody knows that I’m no fan of Microsoft as a company or its software. But even the Evil Empire is due the benefit of the doubt, so I always get a bit peeved when people take the easy way out by tossing blame its way just because it’s the biggest target around. Like Guardian pundit John Naughton recently did in a column that touches on this whole Facebook-Uconnect valuation-by-lawsuit fiasco (Need to read between the lines? Microsoft Word can help).

Last summer Facebook was taken to court on charges laid by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s old schoomates at the now-defunct rival social networking site Uconnect. Facebook managed to privatize the trial as the discussions centred on the company’s value, which is a sensitive popular lucrative matter. 

Last Wednesday the Associated Press revealed that one of their reporters had come across the original transcript from that closed hearing and managed to extract the parts that were supposedly redacted. When TechCrunch reported on it, they called it, “the greatest hack ever” (The AP Reveals Details of Facebook/ConnectU Settlement With Greatest Hack Ever). Our intrepid Mr. Naughton referred to the AP reporter as “ingenious.”

I don’t know when recognizing the rookie mistakes of underpaid, undertrained administrative workers became so deserving of such superlative. Whoever produced the final PDF that was publicly published on the US Federal District Court’s web site is the one truly due recognition, for the lamest hack ever: instead of securely redacting the text, they just tried to mask it by turning the font colour to white. That’s akin to a toddler making herself invisible by covering her eyes with her hands. Really, people, any self-respecting parent knows the kid’s still there.

But smelling Blair-era Redmond-blood, Mr. Naughton jumped all over this like a rhino in heat and wildly claimed that, “the culprit was our old friend Microsoft Word.” 

Wait a minute. The document in question is in PDF format. The layout sports a sexy UNIX terminal flair. And a quick peek at the PDF’s properties reveals that it was produced by an application called “candce.” That doesn’t even rhyme with Word.

The worst part is that Mr. Naughton cranks out some seriously dangerous advice with his closing words:

The moral is simple: if you want to publish sensitive documents in electronic form, convert them to plain text or PDFs first.

Ouch.

If Mr. Naughton had deigned to put down that wee dram, rise from his arm chair and travel to his PC to perform even a modicum of research before writing those words, he would have very quickly learned that Word wasn’t even in the room when the truth was set free.

But screw the facts. Provocatively emasculating Microsoft with empty verbiage is so much easier on your constitution.

Guardian, you should be ashamed.