Why you should never blindly trust an online recommendation (even mine)

A reader left a snide remark about one of my recommendations, but it actually raised an important point about recommendations you might find online – there are many opportunities for abuse.

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From: Billy Bob Macrium

Mr. Leo, your check is in the mail :-)

I recently got that as a comment to my article How do I restore a backup to a smaller hard drive?. Presumably, the commenter believes that my reasons for recommending Macrium Reflect are somehow financially motivated and is trying to make some kind of snide remark to make his point.

(For the record, there are two completely separate reasons why the implication is wrong – more on that in a moment.)

I’ll admit that it irritated me. No one likes having their ethics questioned.

But as I cooled down just a little, I realized that while the comment’s delivery is quite immature, the concept hidden in the sarcasm is one worth understanding.

There are reasons you shouldn’t blindly accept recommendations that you find online.

Perhaps even those you find on Ask Leo!.

 

Affiliate Programs

If I were to re-word the comment to be clearer and more respectful, I’d say this:

Leo, you must be getting some kind of kick-back or monetary incentive to promote Macrium Reflect as much as you do.

It’s a valid concern as there are indeed formal programs known as “affiliate programs” where individuals – almost anyone in fact – can receive a percentage of the purchase price if someone purchases a product after clicking on a link provided by the affiliate program member.

For example, when I link to a product on Amazon – say a Kindle Fire, as I have here – I use what’s called an affiliate link. If you click on that link, Amazon knows that it was my site that sent you to them. Should you buy the device (or, in Amazon’s case, almost anything else), I’ll get an affiliate commission or “finder’s fee” of something around 5%.

None of that affects the price you pay. If no affiliate link is used, then Amazon keeps the 5% for themselves.

Some, but not all, producers of digital goods often have affiliate programs of their own. Commissions run the range from the 5% range offered by stores like Amazon, to 20%, 40%, 50% or sometimes even more.

And it’s nothing new. Affiliate programs and affiliate marketing have been around for years and are considered a respectable approach to getting a product promoted by others. Chances are you’ve already purchased things via an affiliate link and never even known it.

Affiliate relationships can be abused


This is the internet – anyone can put up anything for any reason.

The problem, of course, is that with a monetary incentive to promote a product, now all of a sudden the motives of those doing the promoting becomes suspect.

Let’s use a real world example: let’s say product “Z” offers a 25% affiliate commission on each sale, whereas product “Y” doesn’t have an affiliate program at all. Both products perform the same function.

Everything else being equal, it might make sense to promote product Z over Y. I mean, if there’s honestly no difference, why not get an affiliate commission on every sale?

The problem, of course, is that there’s always a difference. Product Z might have a bad reputation. Product Y might honestly be the better product for a variety of reasons.

This is where affiliate relationships get abused. Inferior products may get promoted simply because they have an affiliate revenue opportunity.

This is the first of the two reasons my commenter’s inference about my situation is simply wrong. Macrium Reflect is product Y – they have no affiliate program that I could find, and I make no money when people purchase it.

It’s just, in my opinion, a better product and worthy of your consideration.

Comments and reviews can be faked

Looking CloselyThe motives behind online recommendations can be questionable for more reasons that just affiliate revenue.

Besides snarky questioning of my ethics (thankfully, very infrequent), a more common scenario are comments which clearly are left to promote a particular product themselves. Sometimes, they’re completely unrelated to the topic at hand; in which case, they’re simply treated as spam. However, sometimes they’re seemingly on-topic, but self-promotional.

As a reader of my site, you might not know the difference, and thus, might consider it to be a legitimate opinion based on someone’s experience, whereas it’s really someone working on the software vendor’s behalf to promote sales of their product – good or bad. (Often bad, since good products rarely need to resort to this technique.)

But there are also totally legitimate comments from other readers (just like you) sharing experiences that add significant value to the discussion.

It’s difficult to know the difference sometimes. Here on Ask Leo!, my staff and I try to weed out the spam, but we’re not always successful. Other sites that accept comments or product reviews make no such effort at all – it’s something that Amazon, for example, is often criticized for since product reviews have often been known to be faked.

The author might have an agenda

Within moments of receiving the comment implying my Macrium Reflect recommendation was less than objective, I received a comment on a different article, lambasting me for recommending Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender Offline – nearly accusing me of being nothing more than a shill for Microsoft. (Sadly, that inference is one of the perils I still face, having worked there for 18 years, even though I left over 10 years ago.)

My guess is that the commenter has a strong anti-Microsoft agenda – something I definitely see from time to time.

That agenda can’t help but bias his comments and reviews.

They’re likely to be less than objective.

His visceral reaction to Microsoft Security Essentials is not born out by my own experience, and perhaps most importantly, the experiences of many other reviewer and tech support personnel around the internet. Of course, it’s not 100% positive – no product gets that – but it’s significantly better than he would have us believe.

He’s most certainly entitled to his opinion, but it makes evaluating comments and reviews that much more difficult for the casual reader.

The author might not be qualified

I like to believe I know what I’m doing. I like to believe that when it comes to computing in general, the 35+ years I’ve put into it plus my background, plus hands-on experience with the various technologies I talk about here make me at least somewhat qualified to do what I do.

I know that there are areas where I’m not well-suited – for example, I rarely take on Mac-related questions simply because that’s not my strength. There are better resources out there.

But being qualified is most certainly not a requirement to publish on the internet, or make comments on blogs, or even set up entire websites on some subject matter.

And let’s face it, we all run the risk – myself most definitely included – of thinking we know more than we do, or that we are better than we are.1

But that doesn’t stop us from posting. Smile

Getting a download

Downloads deserve special mention when it comes to being skeptical.

All of the product links on my site will take you either to the site of product’s original vendor, or to Amazon.com. Affiliate program or not, there’s rarely a reason to link anywhere else. (There are occasionally affiliate programs that provide customized downloads for each affiliate, but those are very rare.)

Unfortunately, besides playing the affiliate program angle, some less than reputable people will actually generate their own site and/or have their own download – a download which ideally is the same as you would get from the original manufacturer, but sometimes is not. Sometimes, it’s a version or two behind, but more concerning is that sometimes it includes more than the software you’re expecting.

Sometimes, it includes additional software that you don’t want in the form of ads (at best) and malware (at worst).

If a product link takes you anywhere other than the product’s original site, or a site you trust (like perhaps Amazon), then don’t download it there. Instead, search for the product by name and begin at the product’s official website.

How I come to my recommendations

I can’t speak to other sites and other reviewers, but I can tell you how I most often come to recommend products on Ask Leo!.

  • Almost all are products I use personally and more often than not, quite heavily. When the time came to drop my recommendation of a previous product, I researched a little and discovered that Macrium Reflect met my requirements – not just for myself, but as something that I might recommend to others. So I bought it and started using it. I liked what I saw. 2
  • The product has to be “significant enough” to warrant a recommendation. This is a little fuzzier, but I don’t make actual recommendations lightly, so the product needs to solve a real problem, and do so in a way that I believe is significantly useful to the average user or someone attempting to solve the specific problem the program addresses.
  • Only after I decide to recommend or link to a product and only if that product is not free3 do I go looking for an affiliate program. This is the second way that the commenter’s inference is wrong: revenue potential doesn’t drive what I recommend. While I’ll certainly take advantage of affiliate programs if they exist – it helps defray the costs of running Ask Leo! – it’s certainly not a requirement.

At least, that’s what I say I do. You really have no way of knowing for certain.

And you and I have no way of knowing with certainty how others do it as well. This is the internet – anyone can put up anything for any reason.

(This is also covered in my 2009 article: Product Reviews, Recommendations and Affiliate Links Disclosure. That’s a statement that the FTC looks for on content websites that recommend or promote products for sale. There’s a link to it on the bottom of every page on Ask Leo!)

Find someone or a venue you trust

So what’s a person to do?

My recommendation is that you invest a little time in finding someone you feel you can trust. Naturally, I hope that’s me, but that’s not as important as your simply finding a resource that you feel comfortable with before you need a recommendation.

  • Sign up for a few tech newsletters and see which feels best to you.
  • Join, watch, and participate in a few online tech discussion forums.
  • Visit a few support and news sites regularly.

In all cases, watch for specific people making recommendations. Don’t trust everything you see on a discussion site for example, but look at the specific people who are making comments and recommendations. Judge their reputation and form your own opinion about their trustworthiness.

Even then, as I said, remember that this is the internet; take every recommendation with a grain of salt. But starting with a site or individual whose opinion you feel some affinity for will give you a leg up as you make your own decisions.

It’s all about trust

It really is all about trust.

Approach the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism.

If you don’t trust a site or recommendation, then don’t follow the recommendation, it’s as simple as that. If you think that there’s an ulterior motive, walk away.

Leaving snide comments rarely helps anyone, but asking questions absolutely can. Simply expressing reservations or respectfully disagreeing can provide food for thought for site visitors who follow – particularly if the author responds. This is exactly the reason I regularly leave the comments of those who disagree with me: to get future visitors to think.

On the other hand, finding and sticking with a site or individual whose reputation, opinions, and recommendations you trust can make finding the right tool or solving that problem a safer, and hopefully quicker experience.

You don’t even need to always agree – but what you do need to trust is the intent, integrity, and ethics of whatever source you use.

As I said, I hope that’s me, but if it isn’t I strongly encourage to go out and find a source that you can trust to get the advice and the support you’re looking for.

Footnotes and references

1: There’s even a term for that: the Dunning-Kruger effect: “… a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.”

2: Ironically, as I was writing this article – on the first of the month – Macrium popped up a dialog letting me know that it had completed its full backup of my machine. I continue to use it daily.

3: Also ironically, the vast majority of my recommendations are for free software where the entire concept of commissions doesn’t even apply. I only recommend non-free software when I think it’s most suited to the job.

There are 82 comments:

  1. Dennis Blackburn Reply

    Leo, I trust your recommendations…mostly. What I do when I read reviews is try to sort them in a bell curve. I tend to dismiss (after reading them of course) the highest and the lowest and shoot for the middle reviews. I feel they give me a better understanding of the product overall. And I look for reviews on more than one site.

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your articles and am always eager to learn something new.

    Sounds like a reasonable approach. I like the bell-curve analogy.

    Leo
    02-Jul-2012
  2. Vikas Medhekar Reply

    Leo, I am a regular reader of your articles. I’m from India and I often recommended your site to my friends.

    I trust you, and believe many readers as well. We all respect your work and experience. You have in-depth knowledge of computers which you use here to help others.

    Please let the dogs bark. Ignore them. People throw stone at only those trees who have fruits.

    We do trust you and will ALWAYS.

    - Vikas Medhekar

  3. Akshay Kumar Reply

    I love your blog. I am also from India.The problem is that people only want free software for doing things and may not like the paid products

  4. Mark J Reply

    @Ashkay
    Ask Leo!- has recommendations for both free and paid solutions. Most of the recommendations on his site are for free software. (See note 3 above.) In some cases the paid product does a better job than the free one. In others there is simply no free product that will do what you need.

  5. Steve Reply

    Of course, we should always think about the motivations behind an online-person’s recommendations, and I commend you for actually using a person’s silly comment to raise a valid point… thank you, the commenter!

    Mind you, my thought when I saw that comment was twofold:
    1. The commenter is jealous of your success (hey, why don’t you set up your own service like Leo’s, and make a point of never using affiliate links… go on, I dare you… if you are so ethical unlike how you imply Leo isn’t, you should have a really successful website…)
    2. They are someone who works for a competitor product of Macrium Reflect but they don’t have the guts to actually defend it properly (“Hey Leo, I think xyz company’s product abc is better because….”) – if they avoid spam links (actually, the product name on its own should be enough… if people are interested, they’ll Google it and find it!)

    All in all, a cowardly non-attack, and one which has generated a useful article, so thanks, to you, whoever you are!

  6. Christo Reply

    Keep up the good work. Your readers trust your recommendations, otherwise you wouldn’t have had so many readers :).

  7. JohnL Reply

    I look forward to each & every one of your newsletters and learn much. Other comments mention TRUST, I find that important, I can’t know everything so, why not trst someone who has been in the businees quite a while, you. If you make a nickle or a dollar sometimes recommendind something sobeit. I spend more on donuts and coffee ea. wk. thnx.

  8. Bob Iowa City Reply

    Leo, I’ve followed your advice for years and find your advice to be useful and honest. Keep up the good work.

  9. Mike Curtin Reply

    You have shown yourself over and again to be ethical, entertaining, and informative. I have used your recommendations many times. Thanks much for all you do.

  10. BilBo Reply

    Leo, the world’s full of cynics whose only talents are a sharp tongue. People who follow you regularly know where you are coming from, and, I think, trust you (as I do), which is not to say we blindly follow your every recommendation. Thank you for a superb newsletter, and all the hard work you put into it. I enjoy it immensely.

  11. Jo Reply

    Some people you trust intuitively .. you’re one of them. If I have a problem .. I go to ‘Ask Leo’. Nowhere else.
    Jo
    ( er .. my cheque was a bit late arriving last month Leo. Please buck up!)

    I’M JOKING!!

  12. David Rie Reply

    Brilliant!!! I really like your pages. This was one of the best (enternaining) articles I have read for a long time, and it did not solve any computer issues!
    Well done I love the subtle links. I am sending this to all my ‘knowledgeable’ friends in IT.
    Leo, long may you reign

  13. JohnK Reply

    Good Words Leo. You get your point across and raised some other very good points. Some of this advice can hold true for our real life situations….. “It’s all about Trust.”

  14. Dashrender Reply

    It’s funny, when I first read the email I thought it was praise sent in your direction, as in the commenter was going to send you a donation for the recommendation.

    I suppose the ‘Mr Leo’ could indicate otherwise, but I’m left wondering if you made a further inquiry to the commenter to see what his/her actual intentions were.

    Leo, in general I love your articles and the advice you provide and look forward to continued reading for years to come.

    I had someone ask me that off-line as well. Because he chose a fake name of “Macrium” he made it look like the message
    was coming from the makers of Macrium Reflect implying some form of kickback. My sense was that the intentions were fairly clear.

    Leo
    03-Jul-2012
  15. Bill Holland Reply

    I once sought your assistance to a problem I was having with my dual monitors. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a personal response from you within 24 hours. Unfortunately, the solution you suggested did not cure the problem. But that did not cause, for a single moment, a lessening of my faith in you.

    You are noted for suggesting something and, if that doesn’t work, try something else (for example, if you have a headache, take an aspirin. If that doesn’t cure it, then go to the doctor and have the tumor removed. But try the aspirin-approach first!). You are a very good example of (and I think you have alluded to this yourself) the fact that the computer world is too big to be completely understood by a single individual. Your background and experience raise your level of knowledge well above many of the rest of us. Your modest, self-deprecating approach to sharing that knowledge is what sets you apart.

    Keep up the good work, Leo; the majority of those of us out here need and appreciate it.

  16. John Reply

    Excellent article Leo as always.
    Your comments noted a couple of things that interested me.

    1. Specifically the lack of common civility that seems all too pervasive anymore when it comes to dissenting opinions where people feel compelled to denigrate anything they don’t agree with.

    2. Self-appointed experts who bloviate as to why their particular opinion matters

    Your site is one of the remarkably few that I do take the time to review reader comments on because they are usually pretty decent & this site is the only one I ever comment on.
    (for what that is worth)

    Please don’t let one bad apple spoil it for the rest of us who do enjoy your articles.
    Keep up the good work!
    Take care,

  17. James Reply

    “Approach the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism” is the best advice there is. And I would go further: Approach everything with a healthy dose of skepticism [emphasis important in both cases].

    I’ve just used one of your recommendations (ImgBurn) for the first time to burn a boot CD of MiniTool Partition Wizard, which seems to work a treat. There’s a (free) recommendation for you.

    (You don’t need to trust me: you can try it for yourself)

  18. tekiebelu Reply

    I agree with dashrender: I too thought the comment was praise for you when I first read it. While I loved your post and thought it was very classy considering your initial irritation about the remark, is it possible that there was more than one interpretation possible? Was there more to the comment than what you included that made it clear to you that it was meant snidely? Misinterpretation is the price we pay for electronic communication I’m afraid!

  19. JimH Reply

    It’s been my experience that on every blog I read, every forum I participate in from military model building, to motorcycles, to computers, to music, and everything else in between there is always an element that openly and vociferously has problems with anyone who offers any kind of advice and take a cynical view of any kind of recommendation.

    Asking people who know what I need to know or who can offer guidance and relay experience has served me very well. I think it’s served mankind as a whole pretty well. What would be the alternative? Make something up on your own? Guess?

    That’s the thing with something like the Internet’s freedom and openness – it even gives those with nothing to say a place to say it.

  20. Roy Squires Reply

    I have always been curious about those that assume that making a profit from technical expertise wrong, even through the recommendation of a product. I commend you on your eloquent explanation of your position, your operation and the process involved in choosing which products you endorse.

  21. Jim Reply

    Hey, at least you are no Walt Mossberg who, smart and experienced as he may be, can always be counted upon to recommend against Microsoft (or anything else) in favor of Apple products. Good products yes, but have their own flaws just like PC products.

    I am definitely a fan of your interesting and informative articles/newsletters. And no, no check this month Leo, little behind on the rent already… :)

  22. Chris Clark Reply

    Hi Leo,

    Looking through the opposite end of the telescope, it is perfectly OK to accept affiliate payments as long as that is flagged in advance, and prefixed with ‘from time to time I may accept payments for products I firmly believe will help you and your machine.’ Your credibility is highly evidenced by the quality of your work everywhere else – it is first grade. For testimonials, US law require that they be true(!). (In the UK we haven’t quite got there.)

    So the decision to be made is whether to choose to accept affiliate payments or not. After all, Amazon and Google are rich enough! If you decide not to do this, then a reasonably visible web-statement and email sig. to that effect ought to deal with the shills quite nicely.

    If helpful.

  23. Hank Reply

    “”Approach the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism” is the best advice there is. And I would go further: Approach everything with a healthy dose of skepticism [emphasis important in both cases]. – James”

    Sturgeon’s Law: “99% of EVERYTHING is BS!” … goes for the internet too. (“Ted” Theodore Sturgeon was a sci-fi author popular back in the 60′s who wrote (among many other stories) the original “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” novel on which the movie and TV series were based.

  24. James Reply

    The biggest issue, as I see it, is the anonymity of the internet. I doubt that the author of the comment would have said that to Leo’s face. But because he can hide behind the internet, the comment comes out. Or, if he did say it to Leo’s face, Leo would have been able to tell at once by the tone, facial expression, etc. the way in which the person meant the comment to be taken.

    You see it every where on the internet where you can post comments. Someone makes an out of place comment because they can get away with it, or else they make an innocent comment which gets someone else inflamed because they can’t decipher the way in which the comment is intended.

    The machine has taken the humane out of the humans.

  25. John Reply

    I do have one critique of your recommendations. When you switch recommendations for example Acronis to Macrium can you be more descriptive as to why you switched. What was better specifically. I bought and am happy with Acronis based on your recommendation a few years ago, but now you only recommend Macrium and that review never really said why, other than it was better.

    I mention the reasons on the Acronis page. Unfortunately it’s not feasible to mention it everywhere people might be looking for backup information.

    Leo
    03-Jul-2012
  26. john shifter Reply

    Hi Leo What are those snideys thinking?
    They havn,t tried to help others as you do They obviously have NO idea of the time,trouble and expense involved in producing all the comprehensive information you give us, and for Free!! I have learnt a Tremendous amount from you and am Very grateful Who Cares if you make a few bucks from your recommendations You are entitled to .I am one of your legion of happy and grateful subscribers I am not very tech savvy so I have to re,read most of the stuff and save Everything.! One question.. Could you consider having the occasional “dummynar” for guys like me? keep up the good work John

  27. Gwyn Reply

    Another excellent thought-provoking article. Many thanks Leo.

  28. Robert R Reply

    As others have said, some people find fault (rightly or wrongly) and say it on the Internet in a way they would never say face to face–anonymity removing their normal civility.

    Whenever I see those hostile comments, I think of the old SNL debates between Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin and the the lead off comment: “Jane you ignorant slut.” Then I can just laugh at the comments. (Those of you too young to remember those skits, some of them are on YouTube).

  29. Art Reply

    Well done Leo. I’d like to say that your site, Ask-Leo.com, I consider and should be by the industry a BENCHMARK site for others in the same business or for that matter any other type of support.
    Great Work
    Keep On Truckin

  30. krktoday Reply

    I trust your advice. I have used it many time’s. I don’t care if you make money or not because if you steered us toward’s junk you wouldn’t have many follower’s. You are well respected and trusted on the internet and for good reason. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy reading your recommendation’s.

  31. Al Taylor Reply

    Hi Leo,

    With so may people in the world, there is almost certailny “one of everything”, including people reading your column who are suspicious and abusive.

    Please put me down as one of the many who greatly appreciate you, your wisdom, your expertise and your advice (including that which you provide on other internet forums).

  32. bob price Reply

    I have always trusted Leo, but also use sites like eopinions, user reviews on amazon, and other review sites.

  33. Gord Campbell Reply

    From time to time, I buy something from Amazon. Now that I know you get a commission, I’ll come to your site first, and find a link to Amazon.

  34. Peter Ballantyne Reply

    Good morning Leo – well, it is over here in the deep south of New Zealand anyway. Just wanted to add my thought, which is that I have followed “Ask-Leo” for some time now, and you are right. Trust is something that should never be lightly given, should always be hard to earn, but should be treasured when given. There are a nukber of reasons why I have given you my trust, (while recognising we are all fallible sometimes of course(, and it is this – I really appreciate your attitude towards those who know much, much less about computers and Windows than you do (which certainly includes me and probably most folk). From time to time I see questions that are so basic that I wonder they can even manage to get their question to you, yet you seem to unfailingly treat all comers with the same respect and consideration, regardless of their apparent level of expertise, or lack thereof. So my grateful thanks for your courtesy, patience, and care in how you respond to everyone. It certainly keeps me coming back, and has earned a degree of trust from me.

  35. Peter S. Reply

    As an old geezer who has been messing with these machines since the dinasours roamed (remember bulletin boards?) I have never found any reason to find “Ask Leo” less than informative and honest in his advice and recomendations. It’s a shame that there are nitwits who get off on “flaming” one the few real experts who provide FREE guidance to those of us who need and enjoy it. Keep up your good work Leo, most of us need your help!

  36. John Servis Reply

    Leo, I can tell the comment from that individual really got to you from the time and effort you put into your detailed & informative response. I find myself visiting many different forums in search of answers to hard to solve problems, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of commenters who find it so easy to hide behind a keyboard in order to post snide, derogatory, or uninformative posts. I’ve been subscribed to “Ask Leo” for over 3 years and don’t ever really see that here. It’s what comes with the territory when you open yourself up to comments from people who have nothing useful to say. Don’t let the haters & nay-sayers get to you, my trust in your advice and opinions remains intact.

  37. Reid Reply

    Regarding Macrium Reflect, I followed Leo’s advice and am glad I did. I was an Acronis user since version 8 in 2005. As of early this year I now use Macrium and am very satisfied with it. Regardless of whether Leo benefits or not (I could care less), his advice was sound. One of many reasons I steer anyone seeking PC-related advice/info to Leo’s site.

  38. Duane Reply

    Thanks Leo. Your newsletter is always interesting and informative. I too have been using Macrium Reflect successfully for many years (even before you recommended it). I too recommend it to everyone whose computer I build or repair. Well done, well said, well written. I look forward to your publications on a regular basis.

  39. AndreVM Reply

    Hi Leo,
    I understand your feelings when you received this comment. You did (like always) turned this out to write a positive article. I knew of the affiliate links, because I had read your previous article on the subject. It is good and normal that you get these commissions, when you get them, which is not very often as you are also promoting the use of a lot of free programs. Congratulations for all the good work!

  40. Bob Wilson Reply

    Leo, I’ve learned most of my knowledge about PC’s from reading the email from you,( that I sighned up for), and I’m very greatful for the info you give. KUDOS to you!!!!

  41. Keith Swain Reply

    Hi Leo, I think you took a bit of an exception to a very small comment BUT it gave a GREAT article (tweeted it already) so, as always, keep up the GOOD work. :)

  42. Ken Chapman Reply

    Leo,
    Thank you for all your interesting and informative articles. I can always count on reading something interesting and learning something new from you….I just feel compelled to thank you for keeping us all informed and “in the know” with answers to frequently asked questions as well as the not so frequently asked questions…Keep up the fabulous work….Cheers!! Ken

  43. Benmara Reply

    Leo,
    Frankly, I don’t care if the affiliates give you 75%! Thanks to you my friends think I am a computer Genius-King; in fact I am pretty techy-impaired. I grew up when black and white T.V with 3 channels (static after 11:30 pm) was considered high-tech.
    Besides, on a handicap budget…if it ain’t free, I don’t get it, lol.
    So, thanks for all your freely given knowledge!

  44. Chris York Reply

    The old “sticks and stones may break my bones” can only last for so long and I totally understand how one small comment can really push one to frustration. I am a short time subscriber but like your style and knowledgeable content. I loved the article and completely understand what it is like to have ones’ integrity questions. Very well said !

  45. Renato Reply

    I switched from Acronis to Macrium and I cannot be happier. Acronis was failing all the time and I have zero problems with Macrium. Easy to set up works like a charm. It was a great recommendation.

  46. Mike Reply

    Leo, it seems to me that in your business, giving recommendations based exclusively on monetary gain would simply be self-defeating; readers would eventually wise-up and tune out. In general, if I see something recommended on the web (especially if it’s going to cost me $$$ or might endanger my computer), I try to find independent, corroborating sources. Not always easy to do, but after awhile you get a sense of where to go to get good advice.

  47. Snert Reply

    I’ve been reading your stuff for quite a while and I trust your advice. What would you gain by shoveling a bunch of bull? Seriously. I trust you not to steer us, your faithful readers, to not-so-good apps but point us to the best ones you can find. You recommend the apps you use and give primers on some of them. “Hey, try this on for size! And here’s how.” I thank you and I’m sure there’s a lot more that do.
    So you can give ‘Mr. Check-in-the-mail’ the digital salute and, if you point me in the right direction, I’ll give him both barrels!

    (Hmmm! The Dunning-Kruger affect…I know egg-zactly what this is but never knew it had a name. It happens all the time nearly everywhere and at the top of lungs in capital letters)
    Sorry this is a tad bit long, but I said what i meant.

  48. Andy Reply

    I guess it’s human nature to question these recommendations when one thinks of kick-backs and financial gain etc. The one thing that a skeptic should remember is how sustainable a business model like that is and who’s undertaking it. If this were a flash in the pan site and your agenda was to simply cash-in, then I’d assume the layout and format of this portal would resemble Facebook’s or Google’s. But you also need to put food on your table and so do your employees. So whether you make a buck off a well-meaning bit of advice or you don’t, it’s safe to assume your professional longevity banks on honesty and fair play. It only takes a few short sessions to realize what sort of character is behind this site, and followers like me applaud a straight shooter like you. In the end, you recommend and people try. If it works out then great, and if not, they might move on. Who’s twisting their arms?

    Keep up the good work. Your newsletter has been a staple in my inbox for a few years, and I look forward to seeing more.

  49. Kevin Reply

    Loved the “Dunning-Kruger effect” thing, but apart from that thought you were a bit soft on the Guy.

  50. BaliRob Reply

    My Dear Leo,

    Could be that you are too sensitive just like me. I just hate ‘thumbs down’ on Yahoo, etc., ha ha ha. When I saw the very brief reply that you have based this article upon – my reaction was that the poster was being humorously grateful or was I being naive? I am sure that many of the readers thought the same.

    Whatever you think do not give up or lose the faith – yours is the best informative site that I and my friends know of and where else could we get such rich information for free?

  51. Palliser Reply

    I was guided to your site about eighteen months ago by a computing helpline which was dealing with a problem I had at the time, and have became immediately an enthusiast for your articles. They are lucid (I am self- trained – and half-baked – on IT matters), informative, usually interesting and very often stimulating and helpful.

    Elderly and suspicious as I am, I agree fully with your advice on evaluating online recommendations, and am very grateful to have access to your ruminations on computing matters. While your initial anger at the crass discourtesy of the person who provoked your article is totally understandable, your calm response is undeservedly mild. I offer him an online recommendation of my own, gratis: When you want to criticise, don’t show your own poverty of mind by offering mere abuse, which indicates only that you’ve nothing constructive to say and would have done much better to shut up.

    Meanwhile, thank you, Leo, and carry on with the good work!

  52. Vincent DeRisio Reply

    Leo Great article. But now that we’re on the subject of trust, we all should be wondering: How do we know you’re not a dog? (Pic can be fake.) Just askin’

    You don’t. :-)

    the real Leo?

    Leo
    06-Jul-2012
  53. Howard Reply

    Leo, I appreciate your mature reaction to the comment. To make a “teaching moment” from it is commendable.
    Thanks

  54. mj pierce Reply

    Well said and great article. The trust I have in your recommendations has been earned from years of following your comments and thinking for myself, comparing what you say to what I have read and have experienced myself. Having said that… you are a source of unbiased information (only biased by your own experience) and in my opinion, sincere honesty and integrity. Keep up the good work!

  55. Debra Sexton Reply

    Dear Leo,
    I read your newsletter every morning. I consider you to be the real deal providing very generous and accurate information.
    Please keep up the good work…I need you!
    Appreciatively,
    Debra

  56. muichen Reply

    If you don’t trust a site or recommendation, then don’t follow the recommendation, it’s as simple as that. If you think that there’s an ulterior motive, walk away. i strongly support Leo comment. i dont point a gun to your head to force you to follow what i say

  57. mort finhill Reply

    Read you article and concur completely. I’ve only used your advice a few times and was pleased with the result in all cases. I have experienced problems, especially off the Microsoft help sites. One in particular offered free registry scan and fix. The scan results were pretty scary, but their site offered NO fix, only offers for purchase. No trust, no purchase, and a bad mark for Microsoft.

  58. Jerry Noethen Reply

    Well said sir, I’ve trust your recommendations and have always had great results with the products you recommend. I agree, with you, most of the products you recommend or point us to, are free and always have solved my problem. This site can be trusted and thank you for that.

  59. Charles Thompson Reply

    I have followed your articles and news letters for several years and know you are completely trustworthy. Your site is the first place I always look to help me solve a problem or to simply learn more about computing.

  60. Hoong Reply

    First, I am grateful for the advice you have given out freely. It has helped me in my situations. I applaud you for being able to face posters who deviate from conventions of etiquette and acceptable manners in public.

  61. Mike Bankers Reply

    Leo, I have to say that you are a stand up guy with a cool head. Your advice and information is always accurate and impartial. Your site is one of the few sites that provide information without a barrage of ads and tricky download links. Your articles are written so that anyone can easily understand the points of importance. I get the feeling that this website is a labor of love for you. That may be why you can do it without the arrogance and deceptive behavior I find at many other tech sites. Thank you for your hard work.

  62. Hiram Perez Reply

    Forget about PC, Macs, and others. Forget about experience and technical ability. Forget about making a living out of recomendations or a blog. Your answer/reply is the best and most civilized and terse retort I have read in a very long time.
    Don’t care what you say or recommend, I’ll buy it, from you.
    PS. When you get sick of this game, run for political office. I’ll vote.

  63. Paul Palmer Reply

    Leo: You are solidly on my list of the 25 most trusted people I know of. I am still working to find the last 15 but I’m sure I should be able to find that many some day.

  64. Disbelief-alias Reply

    THIS IS NOT A PLUG. If you visit Cnet’s cheapskate of the day webpage to look for computing bargains and read their comments, you’LL LIKELY see several TROLLS. That is people who visit commentaries and new to the site don’t have an understanding. Newbies. But for whatever reason, decide to leave negative comments whether they are qualified or not. Talk is cheap. Personally anyone that negatively comments someone who’s providing assistance should be placed on probation and their comments flagged as being new to the site, not subscribed, intentions suspicious, TROLLS. Leo, you’ve always provided sound advise and constantly prove yourself trustworthy. Thank you for all your effort and assistance. Trolls may keep their opinions to themselves. Keep their mouth quiet, listen and learn, or leave silently. Show some respect for your peers.

  65. Karen Reply

    I appreciate you and your opinions and have for a very long time. I don’t understand why someone would waste time reading the opinions of someone they either think they are smarter than…or they don’t trust? Untrusted sources or sources who provide nothing worth reading, I unsubscribe from…. there’s far more important and interesting things to do.

  66. Glenn P. Reply

    Leo, you wrote:

    “If I were to re-word the comment to be clearer and more respectful, I’d say this:

    “Leo, you must be getting some kind of kick-back or monetary incentive to promote Macrium Reflect as much as you do.”

    Personally, if I  were posting a comment of this kind (a big “if”!), I’d most definitely  delete the word kickback, (which is hideously insulting), and then reword the whole thing as a question; i.e.

    “Leo, are you getting some kind of monetary incentive to promote Macrium Reflect as much as you do?”

    Surely that is a LOT  more respectful than either  of the two examples given at the start of your article!!!

    But of course I wouldn’t dream of asking such a question — I already know  that you aren’t in this for the money  (and that any money you make is made to defray expenses, and not to procure any profit!).

    “Ask Leo!”  (and “WindowsSecrets”) are, together, by far and away the two most reliable and trustworthy sources of computer information that I know of.

    Please, keep up the good work!          :)

  67. Jay U Reply

    I’ve been writing computer programs since 1965 and learned too many software languages: Fortran, Basic, C, ALGOL (Needed to solve a nonlinear membrane stress problem… received 2 patents), TOPS, APL, ADA, MATLAB, JAVA, HTML, UNIX, PERL and many others. Today I almost exclusively write in Excel so I do not have to concern myself with compiling errors. In that time I’ve run across a lot of ‘experts’ out for a ‘quick buck’. I read Ask Leo! regularly and have found out his answers are solid and his recommendations/suggestions are good. I use them as part of my ‘due dilligence’ program to help me determine what software I will buy and I often choose the AskLeo! recommendation. I’ve used papertape, punch cards, magnetic tape, floppy disks, CDs and now use thumb drives and an external hard drive. I’ll check Macrium Reflect out and probably buy it.

  68. Robert George Douglas Reply

    Dear Leo,
    Take heart. I have a son your age who is as straight as a die. I often read your articles (as a “Dummy”) with great pride, almost as though I liken you to my own son in whom I am proud indeed !
    So keep on keeping on…. the goods and the positives far outweigh the bads and the negatives (if, indeed there are any of the latter in reality, in your case).
    Many thanks.
    Robert George Douglas. (approaching 82yrs of age)
    PS. I prefer ‘bouquets’ rather than ‘wreaths’ if you get my drift !

  69. Peter O Reply

    Leo,
    Thanks for the article; I try always to start with a thanks.
    I read your blogs quite often, & sometimes I find fault (IMHO of course), or believe I see shortcomings. If I feel strongly I take the trouble to email you.
    I have never however questioned your ethics.
    Regarding SW reviews:
    I believe that all reviewers tend to over-estimate the ease of use & don’t appreciate the struggle users (of up to intermediate skill levels) can have to get the SW to deliver.
    This is an area I personally would love to see greater attention paid.
    Keep up the good work!

    Re: “I believe that all reviewers tend to over-estimate the ease of use & don’t appreciate the struggle users (of up to intermediate skill levels) can have to get the SW to deliver.” I agree, though I like to believe I understand the struggle somewhat, based on the feedback and questions I get. However I will say that reviewers – myself included – often review in comparison to other programs. What might be “easiest to use” in a review or commentary might really be nothing more than “the least awful of all the alternatives”. Smile

    Leo
    21-Jul-2012
  70. Strydrdenis Reply

    Hello Leo,I’d just like to say that I have many years of computer experience dating back to the 1980′s. I consider myself very computer literate and as such usually perform repairs for my own and family’s computer problems.
    I have a number of tech related sites that I visit on a regular basis to keep up to date on what’s happening in the industry. Your site is on my short list of favourite sites as I appreciate your comments on the readers problems. I find I will read every answer you give to your reader’s problems even if they don’t relate to anything I need for my own personal use. I usually catch you at PC Pitstop also.
    All I really want to say is keep up the great work and know that many people depend on your great answers to problems they experience.

  71. Jaye Reply

    Mr N, fine post.
    Succinctly put, ‘Trust is earned.’
    Thx for earning mine a little more by what you’ve written today.

  72. Carlton Rowell Reply

    That was a well-stated, gentlemanly, respectable response to an abusive and disrespectful “snide” remark (about affiliate compensation).

  73. Daryl Beard Reply

    My hat’s off to you, Sir. Very well stated, and a good response to a snide comment.

    I opened and ran a computer service center for a world-wide company (that begins and ends with “x”) for ten years; I’ve been involved in computer technology in one aspect or another since 1981, and currently service and support networked color devices for the same company.

    As others have stated, your columns are definitely on my “short list”, not only for your accurate assessments of issues and products, but also for your excellent style of writing. Few things irk me more than a “professional” writer whose output is on a level comparable to what I was writing in fifth grade, and who doesn’t bother to proof-read before publishing.

    Keep up the great work, and don’t worry too much about the small intellects who have nothing better to do with their time than bash the people who actually DO know whereof they speak!

  74. paleolith Reply

    Leo,
    Please do not be discouraged by negative comments. Your work is stellar and some of the best advice on the web. Please keep up the superb work. Thank you.

  75. Tony Reply

    Leo your one awesome person and i trust you with all the programs your recommend i have used a few and there awesome :).

  76. Maxine Reply

    I have problems with trusting a lot of sites/emails I get. But I can say that I trust the software or sites you recommend. I also trust ZDNET’S recommendations on some of the shareware/freeware they view. I would prefer someone to tell me about a product before I buy or download anything.

  77. Gilles Reply

    As far as i am concerned Billy Bob Macrium(a.k.a. Stupid Bob) does not have the slightest idea what he is talking about and i think he had a couple of minutes to waste.Leo is about the only guy i trust on the web and explains stuff in simple ways so that sometimes retards like Stupid will understand.Macrium Reflect saved my bacon more times than i care to admit and is simply the very best out there.Thanks Leo and keep it up.

  78. Davy Hunter Reply

    Hi Leo just read this article, and after reading it through, my first thought was how dare they say that about Leo, and decided i must make a comment, i must defend this Man, but i should have known better, loads of comments already, supporting you completely, and that is how it should be.
    Well here is my 2pence worth, (i live in Northern Ireland lol) Firstly, Leo i work on PC/Laptops all the time its what i do in my spare time, trying to help my friends and family keep down their computer costs, And if i come across a problem that i have never faced before, my first port of call is to ASK Leo, especially if it is a software problem, i use your, vast, knowlege and webpage resorces to identify a solution, and hand on heart, nearly always find that solution. If for some reason i can’t find a solution, generally you point me in the right direction, another website, software etc, i don’t care if you get thousands of bucks promoting “certain software” if it solves my problem then i will use that software, if i have to pay for it, again i don’t care, if it sorts my problem, and i will add it to my toolbag, so to speak, because i know that you have probably used it extensively yourself.
    Secondly just to say thankyou for being there to help us lesser mortals, if not for your site and others of a similar nature, i would not be able to do the wonderful repairs to my patrons equipment, and win their admiration, its thanks to you and others that i can continue my work. So A Very,Very Big Thankyou Leo, Keep up the great work, and together, we all can make the computer world a better nicer place for everyone, one machine at a time. May all your future endeavours, be fruitful.

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