On second thought, I'd have to heartily agree with AllTimeJeff. Before becoming involved with one, I never really gave a second thought to them, besides what I mentioned above.
how are the JW's viewed from the outside?
Our neighbors as kids were JWs. Up until adulthood, I just thought they were strange. As a young adult and believer in Jesus, I couldn't figure out where they got their doctrines on not associating with non-JWs. I had the impression that since they spent so much time witnessing that this was a positive as witnessing for Jesus does not come easy to me. Now I know that the JWs do their witnessing to satisfy the org., not because they have a heart felt desire to reach the lost.
I took karate (TKD) for 5 years and achieved black belt. One of the students was a teen aged mormon. The family, though wacky was sucessful-the father is a Dr. This mormon was very at ease talking about the religion and didn't see it as infallable as the JWs do. Talking to the childhood neighbors was always stressfull once I reached adulthood.
I find the study of WT theology very interesting. Based on what I know now, I have pity on the JWs. Theirs is nothing but a work based theology. While they say they believe the Bible, they ignore the best parts and are working for something that you cannot buy-the free gift of salvation that we get by simple faith in the risen Son of God.