Even lightweight articles can mislead …

Today’s inbox flags a short report in TechRepublic by Eric Eckel looking (yet again) at the Total Cost of Ownership differential between a current iMac and a midrange Windows PC (Windows 7, not Windows 8 by the way). This is something you can argue about for ever and I’m not joining that debate.

I read it, though, since I’m a Mac user myself and like to see where these arguments are going. And my approach is always to dig behind the presentation and go back to original sources.

Well, there’s an authoritative reference here. The writer quotes Gartner to the effect that “in June, Gartner predicted that iOS/OS X will soon surpass Windows as the most popular computer platform”.

There were several issues with this reference. First and most obviously: the text carried an active link which, I assumed, would be to a Gartner press release or an authoritative report of the Gartner report. No such thing. It was to a prior report in another trade publication: MacWorld. Not only that: it wasn’t a link to the article; only to the top-level MacWorld front page. No use at all for finding an artlcle written back in June, when Gartner’s report came out. More on this below.

Second: the link says “iOS/OS X”. The Gartner figures combine iPhones and iPads with Macs. And it balances this by including Windows smartphones, which by most accounts are not the most successful technology. But the TechRepublic article does not discuss smartphones and tablets. It’s about the TCO of business desktop computers . Data should be restricted to what’s relevant.

Third: yes the MacWorld article does report Gartner as predicting iOs/OS X overtaking Windows – by 2015. But the conversation then splits.

MacWorld itself goes on to discuss the success of Android: “sales of devices based on Google’s Android operating system [will] beat the combined sales of Apple and Windows products”. When? – this year. This is from the Gartner research.

But there’s the other follow on. A quick search for other reports of the Gartner work reports their expectation that Windows will bounce back and “pull away again” by 2017 – see PC World, for example. It’s worth noting that the two articles (MacWorld and PC World) are by the same IDG News Service reporter, Martyn Williams, but spun differently for the Mac and Windows audiences. As are other reports in, for example, Computerworld. Everyone’s syndicated the same piece, near enough.

Next, who are the Gartner analysts? Carolina Milanesi, the Gartner analyst quoted by Williams, works in Gartner’s Mobile and Wireless area (not mainstream PCs) and contributes to Gartner’s regular client webinars for device market forecasting, in tandem with Ranjit Atwal who covers PCs, laptops and handheld devices.

I haven’t been able to see the original Gartner research; it’s in a client report. The original reporting is from June this year: a Gartner press release from that date quotes figures up to 2014 only, and on that timescale they predict Windows remains ahead of the combination of OS X and iOS. Credit to one report by Blair Hanley Frank in GeekWire which links to the press release directly, instead of relying on someone else’s reporting. The problem with using Gartner research is that most of it is priced to limit it, in effect, to paying clients: so you have to rely on press releases, on free research which they release (and yes, it does exist), and on reports by others who’ve been at events such as Symposium. Oh yes, and on blogs: don’t forget that if you find Gartner’s Blog Network impenetrable then InformationSpan offers a full index by either analyst name or coverage area, and a search too. The link’s in the side bar here.

So using Gartner research requires a little digging, but it isn’t that hard. It’s too easy to un-critically use someone else’s reporting to support a case you’re trying to make. I’ve got nothing against persuasive writing, but this case study shows the importance of (a) going back to original sources; (b) being critical about the sources you cite; and (c) looking more widely than the reference you first thought of!

• iMac vs. a comparable Windows box: The TCO lowdown, Erik Eckel, TechWorld, 15 Oct 2013
• The MacWorld article referenced by Eckel is: Apple devices ‘to overtake Windows by 2015’, Martyn Williams, MacWorld, 15 Jun 2013
• Alternative report: Apple OSes to narrow gap with Windows, says Gartner, Martyn Williams, PC World, 24 Jun 2013
• Android vs. Apple vs. Windows: Forecast shows shift for PCs, tablets, devices, Blair Hanley Frank, GeekWire, 24 Jun 2013
• Gartner Says Worldwide PC, Tablet and Mobile Phone Shipments to Grow 5.9 Percent in 2013 …, Gartner press release, 24 June 2013
• Gartner analysts: Carolina Milanesi and Ranjit Atwal

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