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Where Do You Go for Worthwhile Product Reviews? 88

An anonymous reader asks: "What's the deal with reviews and product comparisons? My boss wants independent comparative reviews of proxy and web servers to use to make/justify his decision. We all know that what the vendors write about their own (and competitive) products, so I tried searching for 3rd party reviews. I can find heaps of articles on the web telling us how great IIS is or how good Microsoft's Proxy server is, but nothing showing a back-to-back comparison of Squid vs. Sun Java Proxy vs. Microsoft Proxy, and the same for Apache and IIS. What's happening here? Where can I find an honest back-to-back product comparison?"
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Where Do You Go for Worthwhile Product Reviews?

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:52AM (#17677506)
    I was a student at the time. I was interested in race relations, so what better way to get the 'inside scoop' on the whole deal than to see the KKK in action. Know your enemy, and all that. After the rally I sat down with the Grand Cyclops and asked him point blank, 'Why can't I find any good information regarding the superiority of any given race over any other given race?'

    Your question reminded me of that, for some reason.
    • Certainly living up to your namesake there, Bad.
    • Right now, your post is +3 Funny, but I find it more insightful. Funny that.

      So how did the Grand Cyclops respond? Or is my imagination better than reality again here? ;)
      • So how did the Grand Cyclops respond? Or is my imagination better than reality again here? ;)

        I know that the OP was kidding, but I can't tell whether or not you are...

        - RG>
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Absolut187 ( 816431 )
      Your problem is you used at least 3 words with over 4 syllables.
      If you want to talk to the KKK, try using shorter words and maybe grunts.
  • by A. Lynch ( 17937 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:02AM (#17677560) Journal
    Everyone's use will be different... For production use, I've rarely found independent reviews that test what I want tested, in the conditions I want, doing the same things I'm looking to do.

    For your example case, I'd personally test each product in-house, drawing up conditions and test plans ahead of time. If you're planning a significant deployment, vendors will generally supply product for you to evaluate. Sometimes if you ask nicely, too.

    Just my two cents... And yes, I get that it may not be feasible. Its labor and time-intensive. But in-house testing and evaluation almost always beats 3rd party reviews, in my book.
    • by hawg2k ( 628081 )
      These won't be cheap, but you said business, not personal, so give these a try.

      The Burton Group []

      Forrester Research []
    • Sometimes its too expensive to run in-house tests. I work with a variety of small community groups that use IT, and also advise friends who are students and low income. I can't turn round to these people and tell them -

      "Buy a laptop (/digital camera/access point/ etc) randomly and if it doesn't come up with the goods throw it in the garbage can out the back of your property and buy another one and test that, continue until you find the right one"

      - I'm afraid that's just not a solution for people/organisatio
  • by heinousjay ( 683506 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:02AM (#17677562) Journal
    Lie about it, and recommend whichever vendor gives you the most kickbacks.
    • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @08:57AM (#17679242)
      Alas, this seems to be the norm amongst the US reviewing magazines. I've worked on and off in the UK arena and have heard some truly scary tales about how the US market works i.e. the PR company provides the copy, the advertising dept drives the editorial dept and so on. That would get seriously frowned upon here. Indeed, I know one editor whose ad dept wouldn't talk to him because he got so stroppy with them when they suggested he couldn't hammer a product whose manufacturer had just taken out a full page ad.
  • choice (Score:2, Informative)

    by aerthling ( 796790 )
    Choice [] magazine does unbiased, in-depth reviews, comparisons and evaluations, although from what I've seen so far their software reviews are more consumer oriented.
  • by RuBLed ( 995686 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:10AM (#17677608)
    Search in google the product you want to review then add the following phrase ", problems"

    I'm sure you would get all the bad side, then weigh which one of the products are the lesser evil :)

    sample query: iis, problems
    • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @07:47AM (#17678872)
      While I don't use ", problems" on my search, this is basically exactly how I judge products now. I search for the "productx review" on Google, then I open all the links with reviews. I read a few good user reviews, a couple paid reviews, and then I read a TON of bad reviews. If nobody can find anything bad to say about the product, then I know I've found the one I want. If anyone can find bad things to say, I weigh those failings against what I want the product for and whether it will affect me.

      Example: I recently decided I needed a toaster oven. Instead of rushing down to kmart and buying just any old oven, I went online and started doing reviews. Everyone I have told this to basically called me crazy. ("You searched for reviews for a TOASTER OVEN!?") I found that Euro Pro makes an amazing $80 (Macy's) oven. I then looked it up at local stores and found that KMart carries that brand. Unfortunately, the 'best' model was on sale that week for only $5 more than the cheapest Euro Pro, and they were sold out of it and the middle one, too. ($35, $40 and $50 normal prices.) I bought the cheap one anyhow, because I didn't feel like waiting. (KMart doesn't bother to restock things they put on sale because they'll have to honor their rainchecks.)

      It's an amazing toaster oven. I absolutely love it.

      I've used this technique for years. The only downside to it is that you tend to start thinking negatively first, and many products that had you hyped, you will end up not buying them. Kind of a downer. (But at least you didn't waste your money, which is more of a downer.)

      I think if many people started using this method, either product quality would get a lot better, or there'd be a hell of a lot of astroturfing.
      • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @10:28AM (#17680300) Journal
        Sometimes if you don't get bad reviews it means nobody bought them, and all the good reviews are astroturf...
      • by mosel-saar-ruwer ( 732341 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @11:10AM (#17680928)

        ...and then I read a TON of bad reviews. If nobody can find anything bad to say about the product, then I know I've found the one I want...

        If I'm thinking about purchasing an Acme Widget, I google something like acme widget sucks .

        Or if it's a technical product, like the Acme Flux Capacitor, I might google acme flux capacitor teh sux0r .

        Because a bad review is worth its weight in gold.

        • by Kelbear ( 870538 )
          Same here, I will only buy a product after reading a review with negative comments.

          If they haven't taken the time to make note of negative qualities, then anything positive they have to say is suspect. No product is perfect. If I wanted only positive comments I could read the product summary from the manufacturer. I read review to see the negative comments. If they didn't mention negatives I could buy the product and get slapped in the face by a suprise flaw. If they mentioned small ones, then I would be at
        • Search Phrase: linux sucks 1,630,000 hits Well then. Good enough for me! Tonight the linux server in my closet gets wiped and Solaris goes on. Unless... Search Phrase: Solaris sucks 602,000 hits Damn. Linux sucks 2.7 times worse than Solaris, but apparently Solaris still sucks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oliderid ( 710055 )
      There are a lot of "price aggregators" out there.
      So you could also add "--order" to your search request (banning it).

    • by BobPaul ( 710574 ) *
      Your comma is superfluous. Google returns the same results for "iss problems" and "iss, problems"

      Fighting Carpal Tunnel 1 key at a time
  • Google. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:17AM (#17677660)
    There's just too many product types out there to expect any site to track the feedback of, well, the entire market of stuff that's out there. For stuff I've looked for recently, garden equipment and robotic vacuums (ends up there's a bit more than just Roomba out there), I've found specialist forums and even commercial ads to be useful in tracking down details to search further on.

    As far as generalist sites - I've found the eclectic community over at [] to be fairly useful in getting a quick grip on what to look for - but forum-goers there are intentionally against bad-mouthing products (thread-crapping), so you have to take a large variety of recommendations there with much due skepticism. Great place for leads though.

    Then, of course, there's the Resellerratings []-style sites. Once you've scoped product details, it's quite important to get feedback on who you're buying from. Again - due skepticism in all regards will help you in various ways, but large negatives or fake praise for rarely-rated stores can be an important part of an investigation for a large purchase.

    If it's not a big purchase though, I'm usually comfortable just hitting Froogle [], Amazon [], or NewEgg [] and being done with it.

    Ryan Fenton
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Google is lousy for Product Reviews. Seach for a review on anything, and you'll get pages of web shops with the text "Add your own review" (invariably empty). I guess many people searching for "reviews" are consumers, rather than frustrated product review authors!

      I've stuck in a few feedback items for Google to clean this up. No luck yet. Hopefully Google will get around to fixing it.

      Meanwhile and are good places to start for mainstream PC products. For example: []
  • It's tough (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:22AM (#17677688) Homepage Journal
    I've given up searching "$PRODUCT review".

    If you're lucky, a magazine will have a comparative review and will have taken roughly equal amounts of ad revenue from each of the competing vendors. Useful search terms include "shootout" and "versus".

    Anecdotal evidence from the tech community can be a heuristic if you're wondering about general bugginess and hassle factor. If you need real benchmarks, the only ones that mean a thing are those you run yourself.

    Are you running a mixed shop or a single-vendor one? Don't underestimate the pain of interoperability and equipment management hassles if you've never experienced them.

    Work as hard as you can to pin down what you need: good scaling on SMP machines? Easy management? Particular features? Good local talent pool for running/fixing it? Low purchase price? Support contracts? The more questions like that you answer, the clearer the choice will be and the easier the web searching will be. "Apache scale SMP OR cluster" is likely to get more informative results than "Apache IIS comparison".

    If you are worried about security, then abandon all hope of useful information from the press, concentrate more on lockdown and scheduling updates then on the choice of product (but never install IIS 5), and keep an eye on the news.

    Cultivate sysadmins in other places who have environments about your size and with similar needs.
    • "Apache scale SMP OR cluster" is likely to get more informative results than "Apache IIS comparison".

      I don't know what alternatives there are for other platforms, but DEVONagent [] has advanced search features, like boolean operations and plug-ins for various specialty search engines. It can also do deep-scanning searches (following links) and is good at filtering out junk. I find the NEAR operator is immensely useful for day-to-day searches, finding terms that are closely related - but rejecting terms that simply appear on the same page in different contexts, while not requiring them to be in an exact sequ

  • by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:23AM (#17677698) Journal
    Can't he trust you to decide what fits your needs?
    IIS and Apache are _very_ different, for example, and you can't choose between them based on product reviews.
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:43AM (#17679758) Homepage
      Exactly. Apache and IIS fulfill completely different roles. They are both web servers, but look at it like this. Windows, Linux, And QNX are all operating systems. However, I'd probably never recommend putting QNX on a home desktop machine. At least not for the average Joe. In the same light, if you're developers use .Net, you'll probably want to choose IIS. Even though you could use Mono, and run the .Net code on Apache, it makes much more sense to use IIS. However, if your developers use PHP or perl, it's still possible to use IIS, but I think you'd get a much better experience with Apache. Basically choosing your web server determines a lot of other things. If you choose IIS, you'll have to run windows, and most likely will need SQL Server, although many other databases work. If you choose apache, you'll probably be running linux, and MySQL or PostGres. Oracle will work on either of these choices. Anyway, my point is, is that you pick one that fits your needs. Unless you have 2 products that actually do perform the same role, like Hard Drive A VS. Hard Drive B, then you probably won't find a useful comparison.
      • by amper ( 33785 ) *
        Hmm...your post left me wondering whether or not you've ever run QNX on a home desktop machine. QNX for many years made available a fully-functional desktop environment that they called the Internet Access Terminal or IAT (among other names). Somewhere around here, I still have a QNX v6.2.1 CD (I think it's 6.2.1, anyway) with this environment. Had QNX ever bothered to expand upon this concept, we might have a serious contender for the desktop computer market. You should check out QNX more if you haven't; t
  • There might not be a huge market for reviews of proxy servers, which means it doesn't sell ad space which means it doesn't get done there. And, even if there were I'm not sure there's a Consumer Reports level of integrity in any of the IT periodicals that you might be looking in, they all take ad money.

    Is this important to your business? Then why not hire someone who's done this before to talk to you about how the different products work and how they might apply to your specific situation? That's why con
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      NewEgg...for reviews? You're joking, right?
      See, all of the reviews on NewEgg are concocted by 'customers', not a 'journalist' or a 'staff reviewer'. With that in mind, most of the user reviews on there fall into one of two categories:
      1. fanboys who give 5 stars to a product because it's made by a certain company that can do no wrong in their eyes (This new Athlon64 is awesome! Way better than anything stinky old Intel can make!), or
      2. 'impatient' people who post a review on a product that was DOA and giv
  • by chromozone ( 847904 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:39AM (#17677778)
    If you go to a related forum you can often post asking about a couple products and often get a reply from someone who used both. Forums can be pretty useful and users can have great expertise. I suspect some manufacturers even let forums do problem solving for them. I got much better advice for a new ASUS mobo from a user in a photography forum then I could get from the ASUS forum. If you go to a forum for webmasters you can get all sorts of advice on servers. I don't trust a lot of published reviews in magazines that take advertising. Recently I was shopping for an LCD monitor and reviews often use wrong specs and don't seem to understand the product very well (they won't even mention if a panel is S-IPS or S-PVA etc). Certain brands seem to get a lot of wiggle room and a look at the ads on the bottom of the page usually shows why. One good site for head-to-head comparisons for monitors is &mo1=149&p1=1606&ma2=36&mo2=105&p2=1041&ph=6 [] .

    I know monitors are not what you asked about but I still think forums are best bet. You may be lucky not many reviews exist because I find its a good way to get hung out to fry.
  • Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    I usually type in "product manufacturer's name" .com and read the opposing arguments. Whichever spouts the most useless, redundant statistics about their product ("This printer has USB AND plug and play support! PLUS it can print 8.5x11 and is composed of protons, neutrons AND electrons!") or the most bullshit ("MADE FOR GAMERS!") obviously is trying to overcompensate for a lack of serious ware.
  • Reviews aren't for you.

    If you're in a deciding position (i.E. CIO/CTO), and your boss doesn't trust your decision, it isn't going to be easy anyway.
    But if your real question is "how should i decide?", then here's the answer:

    Evaluate! It's to only way to be sure the product meets your needs completely. Yes, it costs alot of money and time. The alternative is to guess a product.

    E.g. if you're already using a Windows Environment with Active Directory (and like it), going for Exchange as a Groupware isn't a stu
    • Evaluate! It's to only way to be sure the product meets your needs completely. Yes, it costs alot of money and time.

      I agree that evaluation is the only way to go, because it's the only way you'll know how the product will operate in your environment. I disagree, however, that it will cost a lot of time and money if you are evaluating software. You can download VMWare Server for Windows or Linux from VMWare for free. Create virtual testing labs using distros you also can download for free. Microsoft are

      • by lukas84 ( 912874 )

        I disagree, however, that it will cost a lot of time and money if you are evaluating software.

        Of course, using Virtual Machines saves some time and effort, but this only goes as for as you're evaluating software. But even then, you will need to learn a lot about the product, in order to implement a good and working evaluation environment. This can take several days, depending on the complexity of the product, maybe even weeks (e.g. a large Exchange vs. Notes test).

        And evaluating hardware usually involves making down payments for the time you have the equipment (this depends a lot though).

        Employee t

    • Evaluate! It's to only way to be sure the product meets your needs completely. Yes, it costs alot of money and time. The alternative is to guess a product.

      Depending on your available manpower, the nature of the project and you company-structure you could do the following:
      Make a quick (1 week) selection of you available choices.
      Select the n options of these, which look most promisin
      Setup of each of them with one "pilotgroup"
      Get feedback from them, then select the choice with the best feedback.

  • You could start with [].
  • test test test! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Pegasus ( 13291 )
    Where can I find an honest back-to-back product comparison?"

    In your test lab, stupid. I havent yet found a vendor that would deny an evaluation of their product.
  • Going for what single product review will recommend is silly. I rather go for infomration on quality in many reviews, collect thoughts that are very similar, discard that are wildly different, to get understand what the product is *about*, in terms of use and see wether I like it or not. My preference is with manufacturers that don't boost specs, on monitors, like Samsung does: ital/ls19mewsfxaa.asp []

    vs: JLK/vi []
  • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @07:38AM (#17678824)
    I find the best source of information about a product is the manufacturer's website. Or just ask a salesperson in a distributor's showroom. They'd never give me bad advice, would they? You're not going to rely on some random "third party" on the internet, are you?
    • by wanax ( 46819 )
      In all seriousness, going to the manufacturer's website is a great idea if they have a support forum. No quicker way to get a feel for the bugs and problems you may encounter.
  • by nightowl03d ( 882197 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @08:03AM (#17678950)
    I find out everything I needed to know at []

    Some things I learned include...

    1. The only job a real programmer will take must involve Ruby on Rails

    2. Never buy a MS product

    3. Filesharing music is "fair use"

    4. Programmers should not create closed source programs EVER.

    5. Linux sucks, BSD sucks, MacOS sucks, and Windows sucks. (I am posting from an IBM/360)

    6. The only safe browser is Lynx

  • by spywhere ( 824072 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @08:19AM (#17679014)
    What's the best car to buy? Although some brands have quality issues that rule them out, ultimately the question "which car is best?" depends on who will be driving it.
    I'm a former cabdriver, so I'd be happiest in a Dodge Charger police package; my ex-wife hates big cars, so her Saturn is perfect for her.

    Similarly, I'm a Windows geek/MCP. I'm better at installing, configuring and running M$ products, so IIS would be best for an environment I had to design and support.
    Others who read this would be far better off (and happier) running *nix, so a non-M$ solution would best meet their needs.

    Choose the one you want, then find facts to support your preference... they're out there somewhere.
  • I get all my product reviews from the front page of Slashdot. I know they're particularly trustworthy when they're in the form of an article about the product, rather than a "proper" review. It helps when I can google certain key phrases from the article and find identical matches in other articles about the product. I also pay close attention to the square and rectangular colored boxes that announce products on the different pages of Slashdot. They really get my attention when they flash or make sounds.
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @08:44AM (#17679136)
    Clearly, we need people to write reviews of reviews and post them.
  • by hsoft ( 742011 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @08:46AM (#17679146) Homepage
    Thanks to slashdot, I know that the PS3 is total crap, and that the Wii is the best thing since sliced bread. I also know that Vista is nothing compared to Mac OS X. vi is better than emacs.
  • The more complex the software, the less useful the review will be. Unless it's something major like Office 2007 which will get a 25 page special, with almost anything else journalist paid the same amount whether it's twenty hours work or 30mins and in most cases, it's only just about worth it for a 30min one.
    In some ways, those that write for free, the so called vanity writers, are producing better stuff because they'll quite happily produce a ten page review with dozens of images for pretty much anything
  • RTFM (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:10AM (#17679360) Homepage

    Before I buy any piece of electical equipment or software, I download the manuals first and then compare these.

    Advertisements can juggle around with specs and features and make all sorts of claims which they don't need to keep, or atleast can be interpreted to fit the actual lack of features.

    Manuals have much less room for this and will typically expose problems with a product, since manuals have to help the user get around these problems. They're also invaluable in determining whether a product will be user-friendly and whether the features claimed do what you need them for.

    There's nothing that beats evaluating it yourself, since even manuals don't mention every single fact you might want to know. For instance, one deciding factor when I bought my TV was the speed by which I could change channels (which can vary a lot!); manuals and reviews typically don't mention this, so I tried out the remotes in the store.
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Mod parent up.

      When I was deciding on which music keyboard to buy I downloaded the online manuals and compared them.

      I also searched forums and newsgroups for comments on them.

      No regrets over my purchase (Casio WK3500 - was good bang for buck).
  • It really depends on the type of product. For computer and related stuff I use CNet and PCWorld and also go to the forums that seem to cover the product or category. For PDA stuff I go to and read reviews/post questions. Fr software, I usually go toe the appropriate support board and read the posts to learn about bugs, vendor responsiveness, etc.
  • review aggregator (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HeyBob! ( 111243 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:34AM (#17679676)
    I just found this site yesterday: [] while looking for reviews of Syncmaster 244T
    It seems to pull in reviews from many different sources.
  • I was new at a job about 9 years ago and I had to find a new printer for printing certain bar codes. It had to accept a specific language. My boss was a former IBMer and liked IBM equipment and told me that. I spent literally a week coming up with my recommendation. My findings came up up with 3 that would work. Genicom, IBM, and Printronix. The IBM one was ruled out notwithstanding my bosses preference and I recommended the Genicom and gave my reasons. As soon as I did that, he told me he wanted the Printr
  • by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @09:56AM (#17679930) Homepage
    For IT-related stuff, it's Google or your favorite industry-specific newsgroups.

    For general "gadget" related items, I typically check out The Gadgeteer [] first, then Google.

    For digital cameras, it's Steve's Digicams [] all the way, then Google.

    For cars, it's AutoTrend [] or Consumer Reports Autos [], then Google.

    For general household stuff, it's Consumer Reports [], then Google.

    And in pretty much every case, I check Google.
  • I use [] for the best reviews on the internet! I also just google the item/product.
  • My boss wants independent comparative reviews of proxy and web servers to use to make/justify his decision.

    Your boss is giving you a "make work" project; any (non-government, non-union) IT employee ought to be find such reviews (biased, of course to his/her particular leaning) in about 15 minutes. Is it possible you've done something to cause your boss to no longer trust your judgement?

  • by ZenFu ( 692407 )
    I don't know of any general product evaluation sites so I don't think you'll find a standard research approach. In gathing and organizing information from a multitude of diverse sources, I would do the following:

    * get a spreadsheet...
    * define what you want. This should become a long list of function points.
    * evaluate the importance by weighting the important of each function point (eg. 1 to 10)
    * get your stakeholders to review and approve your list if they haven't already when providing the import
  • I search the Google Groups [] discussions for people who comment on whatever it is, what problems they were having, what works, what doesn't. Sometimes you se shill postings and wide ranging opinions, so you need to read between the lines and see if it is a real topic or just some frustrated new buyer.

    Nowadays with blogging as a profession, as that a lot of the postings are rants and opinions of people who have never actually bought or used the item (case in point - PS3 or Wii).

  • I've found over the years that reading about the issues folks are having with Product X in one of the technical newsgroups is often quite worthwhile. It doesn't always cover enterprise stuff, but that isn't normally my area of interest anyway...
  • Product research 101 (Score:3, Informative)

    by mabu ( 178417 ) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:32PM (#17683240)
    Here are some of my tips to avoid products that suck.

    1. If the product is available on, check out its reviews. Also note that sometimes slightly different/older versions of the same product have more reviews. It takes some time to sift through the sycophants and astroturf but it's a great source.

    2. Search for negatives. Try google searches on "*product* sucks" or "*product* problems" and other permutations to find peoples' complaints about a product or its company.

    3. Look for refurbs.... if you see a lot of refurbished versions of your product in the marketplace, this is a bad sign usually.

    4. eBay... search completed auctions to see what the going value and interest is in the product. Also eBay auctions tend to have the most comprehensive array of specs on these products, often more informative than the manufacturer's web site.

    5. Avoid all the large web sites with the bogus reviews and meaningless content. If you search on "*product* reviews" you're guaranteed to get a bunch of shill web sites that are worthless.

  • Just make up your own numbers and write a fake review on your website that says the manufacturer giving you the largest kickback is best. Show that review to your boss for validation - it's not like he has time to check. Sheesh. The things you have to teach kids these days...
  • Now there's a guy who knows what's what.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"