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The Devil and Mr. Kennedy

Bear with us on this entry, if you would. It doesn't really strike at the heart of what Microsoft partners want or need to know, but it's pretty darn interesting. We just love a scandalous tale. And it does involve Windows...

Back in August 2008, when the getting was good for Vista bashing, RCPU reported some shocking -- shocking! -- numbers about the percentage of PCs being downgraded from Vista to XP. One commenter who identified himself as "Crash" added this bit to the comments section of that entry:

This blog means squat. 2000 is still on servers around the globe. If anyone cares to remember, XP gained no traction against 2000 until after SP2 some three years later. Go find some real news to discuss. This is a red herring smelling up the place.

As it turns out -- although not necessarily for the reasons he mentioned -- Crash was right. The blog (well, that entry, anyway) did mean squat -- or didn't, depending on how you want to use that expression. The 35 percent downgrade number we alluded to in the entry came from an article in Computerworld (the original tech trade publication and a very credible organization), which used as a source a company called Devil Mountain Software. The Computerworld journalist -- who, by the way, is a fine reporter and has written many very good articles over the years -- even quoted the company's CTO, one Mr. Craig Barth. No big deal, right?

Well, cut to February 2010. And cut Craig Barth out of the story because...he doesn't exist. Thanks to some excellent reporting from one of ZDNet's inexplicable and terrifying three-headed blogs, we now know that although Devil Mountain Software does sort of exist, Craig Barth doesn't. He's really Randall C. Kennedy, a now-former writer for InfoWorld and allegedly something of a gigantic con artist.

It appears as though ol' Randy created Craig Barth as something of a pseudonym years ago and then kind of let the character run from there -- right into a bunch of news stories, mainly in Computerworld and mostly written by the same guy. The poor, duped reporter -- hey, it could have happened to any of us -- apologized, and we believe that his apology is entirely genuine. In fact, we at RCPU don't really even think it was necessary, as Kennedy -- or Craig Barth, we suppose -- appears to be the real fraud here.

ZDNet's long, three-headed investigation gets into all sorts of sins that Kennedy (or somebody at Devil Mountain Software, anyway; it's hard to know what's real and what's not at this point) seems to have allegedly committed, including falsifying information about customer implementations. Devil Mountain was usually pretty rough on Windows and Microsoft with its metrics, and its numbers made for some intriguing reading. However, it's probably best at this point just to ignore anything with the name Devil Mountain or Craig Barth associated with it. Craig Barth isn't a real person, and whatever Devil Mountain is, it's hardly a credible organization at this point.

It's easy to point fingers in this case. When we put together RCPU, we do very little first-hand reporting, mainly because your editor is also busy putting out a print magazine and doing a bunch of other stuff. When we do interview somebody, we're careful to mention that the person spoke directly to RCPU. Other than that, standard procedure for putting this newsletter together is to sift through, and Google News for interesting stories, link to them and then comment on them. We're in the commentary game here, not the news game.

As such, we don't spend a lot of time verifying sources because we don't spend a lot of time talking to sources. We kind of have to take what we find at face value -- and, if we're skeptical about something, we let you know. We probably should have been more skeptical of Devil Mountain's numbers back in 2008 given how shocking they were, but we never suspected any fraud there. We're sorry about that.

However, your editor doesn't really blame this fellow at Computerworld for what happened in the Devil Mountain case. Your editor has done plenty of reporting over the years, and having an exclusive source that seems to only want to talk to one journalist can be a gushing oil well of information for the fortunate journalist who's receiving the source's info.

Pretty much every business relationship is based on trust, and while we journalists (and bloggers) need to be wary of our sources, we generally -- and this is especially true for the trades, where sources are usually happy to see their real names in print and pixels -- believe people when they tell us they are who they are. So, if everything in the Devil Mountain fiasco that is allegedly true (according to ZDNet, anyway) actually is true, shame on Randall C. Kennedy. We don't need people in our industry doing what he allegedly did. And, no, "The devil made me do it," while fairly clever in this situation, is not an acceptable excuse.

How much does the alleged fraud committed by Devil Mountain Software make you rethink how much you trust what you read? We'd be curious to know at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on February 22, 2010