June 1, 2001

Linux dogs MS at the XP expo and wins (the battle, not the war)

Author: JT Smith

- By Tina Gasperson -
If you judged by bank accounts, expensive blow-up accessories, and the ability to banish LUG members handing out free stuff, then you'd just assume Microsoft won the battle at the latest Open Source/closed source skirmish. But if you walked to the back of the room, you'd see the real winners in action, and you might be surprised by their battle plan.At the Computer and Technology Show (CTS) in Clearwater, Fla., this week, there were blue Microsoft footsteps pasted on the floor, showing the way to the sparsely populated MS demonstration area. Linux people must be smarter, or maybe just more fun. Even though they had no such navigational aids, their booth and demo floor lured thousands of visitors, and was a hive of activity on both days.

It turned out that the official launch of Office XP was happening at the same time that the Suncoast Linux Users' Group was downstairs stealing the show. The XP hallway on the third floor was replete with blue-shirted employees with buzz cuts and clean-shaven faces that made me think of Disney World droids. Two big ballrooms were filled with paying registrants, apparently eager to learn how XP was going to enhance their day-to-day existence (for a price, of course).

Carefully scripted presentations, a bank of demo systems, free beverages and hostesses in matching garb created a much slicker picture than anything you'd come across in Linux Land downstairs.

After all, how polished a group could it be when the official dress code was tee-shirts, jeans, and scruffy Nikes? And any Cinderella'd know she wasn't in the Magic Kingdom anymore when OSDN editor in chief Robin Miller fired up another demonstration of his journaling filesystem, sporting a loud Hawaiian shirt and a what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude.

Microsoft wasn't too bothered by the Suncoast Linux User's Group, as long as they stayed in their little Linux Land yard at the back of the room. But apparently the MS bulldogs had unofficially marked the front portico outside as their exclusive territory (maybe it was the giant blow-up Office XP box out there that made them think so). When a few of the Linux dogs ... er, group decided to go outside and pass out Linux CDs and free copies of Linux Journal magazine, the closed-source powers-that-be growled and snarled menacingly.

Droid: "You can't pass out free software here."

SLUGgers: "WTF?"

Even John "maddog" Hall bared a tooth or two in defense of the Linux guys, but Microsoft must have tucked its tail between its legs and run to the building management, because they showed up and kicked the SLUG members out of the entrance area. The SLUGs went quietly, but the talk of the Linux booth for the rest of the day was Microsoft's instant edict that so perfectly matches their overriding philosophy: "You can't pass out free software here."

No doubt about it, it was a continuation of the war that's been going on since Gates realized that Linux posed a threat to the status quo. If all software is free, there's no longer a way for that big money-maker in Redmond to make any more money.

And certainly, Microsoft has the bucks to back big advertising campaigns, marketing drives, public relations ploys, and fancy displays; not to mention pull enough to sic the building manager on anyone who dares to step on their toes. But Linux has something more important: passion -- and that passion was all the display they needed at the CTS.

Think about it. Of all those nicely dressed Microsoft staffers, which ones do you think were manning the booths, shaking hands, handing out swag, and answering dumb questions on their own dime? How many of them do you think would hang around if the district manager called and said, "Hey, we're a little over budget this quarter, so would you mind staffing the XP expo for free?"

Even if one or two of them agreed to spend a couple of hours there off the clock, it would be ridiculous to think for a second that any of them would spend most of their spare time for months preparing for the show, making repeated calls to vendors, recruiting assistance, and attending to the myriad details that go into getting a show presence ready. But that's exactly what the SLUG show committee did, tirelessly, just because they wanted to.

And that's why there were so many people wearing XP conference tags around their necks hanging out at the Linux booth -- enthusiasm is infectious. Call it "biological warfare." It's what gives Linux the edge over the big guns.

Microsoft Prisoner of War holding a Mandrake-Linux CD at the SLUG booth: "Y-y-you mean this is free?"

SLUG booth worker with big smile: "Yes! It's free! Not only that, but it's also free. Make copies of it, share it with your friends and co-workers!"

Same booth visitor, but now with big smile too: "Wow!"

SLUG booth worker with big smile: "Would you like to play with this cool laptop over here? It's loaded with Linux and other free software."

Happy new convert: "Double wow!"

Pictures of the event are located here.


On a side note:
The XP expo upstairs wasn't really geared to the individual user, but each company is filled with just that: users. We have to wonder if Microsoft realizes how much of the sharing attitude is present among these users. A random survey of XP expo attendees found that about 75% of them were either going to stay with their current version of Office, or would do some creative collaboration to make the move to the new release.

"I'm going to use it, but do I look rich? I'm not going to pay for it," said one particularly vocal participant.

"Not till I get a job," piped in another.

Only one man with a sad look on his face admitted to letting MS lead him around by the nose. "Microsoft is a leader in the industry and I follow where they go."

Keep the red Koolaid away from this guy, OK?

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