Last week Douglas Brown shook things up with this article claiming Microsoft was days away from acquiring Citrix. Of course this rumor has been ongoing for 10+ years, and it resurfaced in a big way this past January, but it's been pretty quiet since then.
Until last week.
In his article, Doug wrote that his "inbox lit up with rumors," and that he even heard it on this episode of John C. Dvorak's Tech 5 podcast. This seemed really strange to be, because I heard nothing about this. None of the market indicators were there (increased volume, etc.). Not a single email landed in my box. Not a single call. Nothing.
As I was scratching my head about this, I got a call from ComputerWorld's Eric Lai, asking for my reaction and comment on the news.
"Where did you here that?" I asked.
"People are talking about it."
"Which exact people?"
"Douglas Brown has an article about it, and he linked to a podcast by Dvorak."
I told Eric that I thought it was hogwash--that yeah, this rumor is somewhat always there, and that this rumor really heated up earlier this year. But now? With all due respect to Doug and John Dvorak, I just wasn't hearing it. (Here's Eric's article that was ultimately published. He does a good job of presenting both sides to the story.)
So I did some digging. For those of you who are not familiar with Dvorak's Tech 5 podcast, it's basically a five-minute daily podcast about the biggest general tech news of the day. Dvorak makes heavy use of Google News for the source content for his show. (He freely and often admits this.) I listened to the episode in question. His complete mention of this rumor was the following two sentences: "Microsoft's rumored to be in the process of buying Citrix. Apparently they have to buy something--they're just in a buying mood."
So while Dvorak did in fact report this rumor, details were non-existent. Okay, time to go to Dvorak's source: Google News. I hit that site and typed in [Microsoft buying Citrix]. Not counting Doug's recent article and some others (like Eric's) that were specifically written in response to Doug's, there was actually a series of new articles (dated Sept. 10 and 11) about Microsoft buying Citrix! (The words "Microsoft" and "rumor" were in the articles, so a Google news search alert would have been triggered.)
"I'll be damned!" I thought, "maybe Dvorak had a point?"
The Google News listing was for an article titled "Will Microsoft Buy Citrix?", from SYS-CON media. The date was September 10 or 11, 2008, depending on which link you hit. (This is a problem with SYS-CON. They publish the same article on multiple sites. So a single new article looks like a lot of separate sites writing about a topic.)
When I read the subtitle, I realized something wasn't right. "According to Microsoft insiders, Forbes speculates that Microsoft might eventually buy Citrix, a market cap of $6.4 billion." Wait, what?!? A $6.4B market cap? Ummm.. No. Citrix's market cap is currently $5.3B. But it was $6.4B last January, when the rumors last flared up. And what's this about Forbes reporting on this? Isn't that also who was responsible for the January rumor?
I read more of the SYS-CON article:
Microsoft and Citrix Systems announced an expanded alliance to deliver a comprehensive set of virtualization solutions to address the desktop and server virtualization needs of customers. The two companies will work together to deliver and market joint virtualization solutions with Windows Server 2008 to help customers achieve a flexible and dynamic client computing infrastructure.
Microsoft hasn’t disclosed what it paid for the venture-backed start-up and its compression technology though one analyst took a shot and figured it was less than $100 million. Calista is backed by Greylock Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners and quotes IDC predicting desktops using virtualized client computing will hit around 40 million seats by 2011.
Wait a minute... the text of these paragraphs also describe Microsoft's January virtualization announcement, just like I wrote back then. Reading further:
Meanwhile, Microsoft has also tightened the screws on its axis with its old friend Citrix, which is now supposed to develop a tool that blithely transfers VMs between the XenSource’s XenServer and Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V for the sake of interoperability.
A test version of the tool is due next quarter and the final version when Hyper-V ships.
Hah! "Tool due next quarter" and "when Hyper-V ships." Umm, that shipped already!
It should be quite obvious to anyone reading this that SYS-CON had (and continues to have) some kind of glitch that's causing their old January 2008 article to show a publication date of September 11, 2008 instead. (And if you still don't believe it, check out my article from January 2008. In the first line, I linked back the the exact same URL of the SYS-CON article that magically now has the Sept 11 date! (And in that same first line of that same article, I also linked to this article on Doug's website which is word-for-word the exact article on SYS-CON!) So either SYS-CON ripped off Doug, or Doug ripped off SYS-CON. It's hard to tell because neither one of them lists an author.
So what we had was an interesting chain of events that lead to several people writing articles and saying things that are simply not true:
- SYS-CON screwed up first by allowing this old article to show up with a current date.
- Google Newsbot indexed that article and thought it was new. (Not their fault, but a key piece of this chain. Although maybe in the future they could modify their algorithm to make sure the news article is not a word-for-word duplicate of something that's already in their system?)
- John Dvorak found this article via Google News (not his fault), but then didn't realize after reading it that it was old. (Definitely his fault, and happens when he reports on stuff that he doesn't really know about.)
- Doug wrote his rumor based on Dvorak's podcast. And it's very possible that the people who "lit up" his inbox were just other people that heard Dvorak's podcast too.
- Then people like Eric reported on what Doug and John wrote.
- And then there's Jason Perlow, who just "happened" to write an article on September 13 (two days later) saying that Microsoft should buy Citrix, without mentioning Doug or Dvorak's piece at all! What did he think, that if it did happen he could claim some sort of crystal ball future predicting brilliance? Not cool dude.
The bottom line is that all of this is just a rehash of the January 2008 rumor.
The timing of this is pretty interesting considering the whole UAL / Google News thing from last week. The lesson here is that you can't trust Google News to be your primary source for anything, and if an article seems big and sensational, you need to dig into the facts to see if it's legit or not.