Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, "Confident Computing", for more solutions you can use to make your life easier. Click here.

Why I Don’t Do Negative Reviews

I was hoping to be able to recommend a particular utility in this or an upcoming newsletter. Unfortunately, my test failed (much to my frustration) and as a result, you won’t hear about the utility.

When I explained that to a friend, they were somewhat surprised.

With few exceptions, I’ve elected to follow the approach taken by a long time Seattle restaurant critic: if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

I do encounter problems

The scenario that prompted the decision was my last-minute upgrade of a Windows XP system that I actually rely on for internet access to Windows 7. There are many tools out there that claim to help with the transition. With the impending demise of Windows XP, it seemed like something worth trying. If it worked and worked well, it would have been a valuable utility to recommend to people who have put off making the transition.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out as planned. After struggling with the results for a while, I threw in the towel and simply started over with what remains my recommended method of choice: backing up (which I’d actually done first), installing Windows 7 from scratch, and reinstalling applications manually. I’m putting the final touches on that machine in another window as I type this.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve had a bad experience with software. Heck, you don’t “play around” in this industry without encountering more than the average share of failures. But they’re nothing I spend a lot of energy talking about to readers.

Yes, I suppose telling you what to avoid might be valuable (and I do that in a broad sense as I’ll explain in a moment), but honestly, I just don’t like going negative.1

I don’t review as much as I recommend

My approach isn’t a true “review” anyway. I don’t take a product, evaluate it from top to bottom, and then pontificate on the results. There are plenty of good sites that already do that.

Thumbs UpMy approach is a more hands-on one.

I use something. If I like it and I think it’ll be valuable, I share it.

Sometimes, I modify what I use based on feedback, and if the result of that change are good, I share that too.

What I don’t do is trash something because it failed for me once. For example, the software that I was using for this upgrade scenario was from a well-known respected company. The problem that they’re trying to solve is a complex one. There were aspects of the program that I didn’t like and ultimately, the program didn’t work for me. Could it have been due to my error? Perhaps. A true reviewer would invest the time to perhaps try it again in other scenarios. I don’t plan to… I have other work to do.

Even if something failed for me, that’s not necessarily a fair representation of the product overall. Akin to a restaurant review, perhaps that software just had a bad day.

Rather than tell you about my failure, I tell you nothing about that product at all. It’s absolutely a missed opportunity for that product to get some good press, but that’s all it is: a missed opportunity.

Typical negative experiences are entire classes of applications

When I do go negative (or at least close to negative), it’s with entire classes of products.

For example, I don’t believe in registry cleaners.

I’m not a fan of performance optimizers or “fix-all-your-problems” kind of programs.

And I remain of the opinion that the best way to upgrade from one Windows version to another is not with the help of any software, but rather the tried-and-true backup and install from scratch approach.

I don’t call out specific examples of programs to avoid because I don’t need to do that. I simply remain skeptical of any of the programs that attempt to address those issues. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be an absolutely wonderful example out there; it’s just that all of my experience hasn’t lead me to one.

There are exceptions

There are cases where I’ll call out a specific program as something to be avoided. There aren’t many, but it can happen.

Outlook Express comes to mind.

And even then, it’s not because Outlook Express is some horrible, horrible program – it’s not. It got a lot of people onto the internet and into email. It was fantastic in its day. But those days are over. It’s no longer supported and it has been known to cause catastrophic data loss of email, if not handled just so.

And that becomes part of the criteria that I might use to go negative:

  • The software has a significant risk associated with using it.
  • The software is in widespread use.
  • There’s little to no hope of the software actually being fixed.

Someday, I expect Windows XP might fall into that same category, because it already meets two of the three criteria.

Negativity is easy to find

If you want negative reviews … well, just Google your favorite product. This is the internet, after all, and there’s plenty of negativity to be found out there.

Knowing that and knowing that negativity in general just isn’t my style, I simply choose not to go there.

Footnotes & references

1: And to be even more honest, lawyers scare me.

4 comments on “Why I Don’t Do Negative Reviews”

  1. I get exactly were you are coming from Leo when you say maybe the software just didn’t work for you. I have a Windows 7 machine and a Windows 8 machine and I have programs that work well on one but not on the other and vice versa. I put this down to some sort of software conflict but if I was running just one machine I would probably be pointing the finger at the program and thinking that it just doesn’t work.

  2. I believe another valid reason for you not providing negative reviews on software (I loved the lawyer comment BTW!) is because I have seen good programs that were bought out by another company which then became loaded with bloatware, malware, etc.. Although in my experience this is the more prevalent scenario, I must admit that I am also aware of some programs that were given negative reviews by tech sites who then updated their review a few months later when the company fixed the ‘issues’, or sold it to another company who turned it into a good product. But if a person only read the first, older article (and there are MANY old webpage articles online that aren’t removed), they could be either missing out on a good, useful program, or using software that can cause problems for them. Like most tech sites will tell us (you probably do in different articles on your site)–do some homework before installing new software. Check reviews, read their privacy policies and EULAs. I know it can be boring, but I’d rather take 10 minutes to do this than to lose my computer for a week or more to the computer shop, or spend a lot of time trying to fix it myself.

  3. Why I don’t do positive reviews …

    When I’m looking for something, be it software or any other item, free or for purchase, I ignore any positive reviews or recommendations. I have a two step decision process:

    First, I look at the item’s specifications or features list. Is it, at least according to the manufacturer or developer, capable of doing what I need it to do?

    Second, I check reviews in an effort to determine if the product has any systemic problems. One or two negative reviews may be due to bad samples or even bad reviewers, more than that can point to design flaws, manufacturing and/or reliability problems.

    To me, one honest negative review is worth more than 100 positive ones.

  4. It doesn’t matter whether what you are looking for is computer related or not. I actually don’t rely on negative reviews because I find that people don’t tend to go online to write positive reviews as much as they write negative reviews. When I worked retail, we used to say that if someone has a good experience, they might tell someone, but if they have a bad experience, they will tell 13 other people.

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article. Comments indicating you've not read the article will be removed.
  • Comment on the article. New question? Start with search, at the top of the page. Off-topic comments will be removed.
  • No personal information. Email addresses, phone numbers and such will be removed.
  • Add to the discussion. Comments that do not — typically off-topic or content-free comments — will be removed.

All comments containing links will be moderated before publication. Anything that looks the least bit like spam will be removed.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.