Intended Implicatures?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/09/24 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

I was thinking about Bill Poser's Unintended Implicatures over on Language Log from earlier this month and it occurred to me how often this happens in Microsoft products.

I mean, can't almost the entire product lifetime of Microsoft Access and Jet database with people implicitly believing that they are unstable and easy to corrupt be based on the simple fact that both Access and Jet (in documentation, UI, and error messages) refer to:

What were they thinking? What are they still thinking? I mean, they still have not rushed to fix this, despite nearly a decade and a half of feedback on the topic. Just think, the whole industry might have complained about how over-cautious Access is, or even how paranoid. But the combination of error messages not complsining of corruption and documentation calling the process verification rather than repair could have made a huge difference.

When I have mentioned it to people on the Access team as high up in the food chain as Craig Unger (who was a PUM for Access at the time) or Richard McAniff (VP for Access and Excel), they did not disagree and said that people had noticed this in the past, but it is hard to change the momentum of what people think now. I definitely never got the sense that anyone was going to change anything....

Certainly Bill's thoughts a few days later on how Microsoft Redefines "Genuine" are yet another example of this phenomenon (though Bill did not call it such at the time). When I install Vista and before I have activated it, the UI claims it is not genuine. The same things happens if I do to the download site and try to download something that requires a "Genuine" copy of Windows.

Who decided to call Windows with an unknown status NOT GENUINE and Windows that has been verified as valid GENUINE? Isn't that naming scheme implying a guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around? And as amusing this might be for an internal version of Vista that I just built myself, it is probably not nearly as likely to funny for someone who will buy the product once it is available externally.

I remember seeing a presentation about WGA in the early days (MSKLC was slated as requiring WGA to download while MSLU was not, and I wanted to see what they were talking about). I saw that my old friend from the early days (when I was a contract Access dev and he was in developer marketing) David Lazar (Director of Genuine Windows), and I talked to him after the presentation and pointed out the problem here in the language. He didn't disagree with me, and even pointed out others had suggested as much in the past, but I got the feeling that nothing was going to change (and nothing has, of course).

Now in these cases and others like them in Microsoft, I can hardly claim to be the sole voice of reason -- I have even been told point blank that others had noticed the unintended negative consequences of chosen language. And of course no one can call it unintended at this point since if you know about something then at some point it really can't be unintentional, even if it was unintentional at first.

I suppose it is hard to change the messaging and terminology later, though folks have no problem doing it when it is strategic (like NGWS to .NET, for example).

I could be cynical about it and assume it may just be that marketing does not like to change the messaging if it is not on their own terms and in their own time, and that product teams like to avoid changing terminology on existing features.

Or I could put on an anti-Microsoft hat and assume that even internally people at Microsoft think Jet does corrupt and users are pirates until proven genuine. 

But I am just naive enough to think that it has got to be due to something deeper than that....

I just don't know what it is yet. :-)


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# Aaron Ballman on 24 Sep 2006 12:26 PM:

I totally agree that this "Genuine" snafu is a terrible idea.  It's going to scare people who have no reason to be scared, like my mom.  She will dutifully go to update her OS because her son told her that's the best thing she can do, and the first time she goes to do that, she's going to perceive that the computer is telling her she's running something fake.  What's more, she's not going to bother reading any of the helpful descriptive text which talks about the MS definition of "Genuine" because she's a typical user: she doesn't read anything but titles/captions unless she's stumped as to how to do something.

referenced by

2015/03/24 Only Microsoft could snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory that way....

2010/06/13 Intended Implicatures Redux, aka On Unintended Genuinosity Negation

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