October 18, 2001

Linux lovers are a discerning lot

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
At the Computer and Technology Showcase in Tampa, Florida, a certification training company gets creative in its attempts to attract new customers and has some success -- but they could be alienating the Linux certification market at the same time.CTS is a small regional trade show for tech vendors -- a hodge-podge of web hosts, systems administration companies, broadband providers, solutions-oriented software, training centers, and for the past year, Linux people.

For the third time in a row, the Suncoast Linux Users Group was accorded free booth space by the show's organizers. Linux is a growing force in this area, judging by the membership rolls of SLUG, and the number of users listed in the Linux Counter for Florida, and specifically for the Tampa area.

Last time the CTS was here, back in March, there was a showdown between Microsoft marketeers and Linux guys (including Jon "maddog" Hall) who were told they weren't allowed to hand out Free Software in front of Microsoft's bigger-than-life blowup Win XP box.

This time, there were no mini-melees, not even one hint of fisticuffs, probably because there were no official representatives of Microsoft at the fall version of the twice-yearly show. Not one bit of animosity or discord, unless you count the jabs and insults hurled by Ian Murphy, fondly known to some as Captain Zap.

Murphy claims to have been the first American every arrested as a "hacker," back in 1981. He says his mother actually lobbied Congress for the first laws regarding criminal computer trespass after he was arrested. Thanks, Mom. Yesterday he was giving a presentation on computer security from the hacker's point of view, courtesy of Tech Street, a Tampa technology training and certification company.

Tech Street was trying to cause a stir and attract people to their presentation. The company succeeded in that. Murphy flashed pictures of scantily clad women while calling IT managers g--d--- morons, bragging about his past exploits and threatening to use his powers against anyone who crossed him. It was a great show. Think David Spade with an extra 75 pounds. The presentation area was packed, standing-room only. I stood in the back, listening to Tech Street executives nervously whispering things like, "make sure you tell everyone that Murphy is not affiliated with Tech Street!"

Yup. They'll probably get lots of MCSEs that way. I'm serious. But none of you are really surprised that Murphy is a Windows-only guy, one of the original phone phreakers and a guy who uses virus-creators with pull-down menus, who told me later that he doesn't use Linux because "everything runs on Windows 2000 professional, and it never crashes."

There's a grain of truth in that, (though we must never say "never,'" especially when commenting on the stability of Windows) and I don't begrudge him his opinion.

After the presentation, I introduced myself to the Tech Street guys, and they asked me how they could get more people interested in taking their Linux certification courses. Well, just let people know you're offering them, I said, looking at their booth plastered with Microsoft MCSE logos, their business cards with no mention of SAIR or Red Hat, their brochures that didn't extend one welcoming word to the Open Source community. They told me they couldn't even get six or seven people interested in signing up, which sounded implausible to me knowing the size of the Linux contingency in this part of the country.

But maybe, and I only thought of this just now, the art of attracting MCSE candidates cancels out the ability to effectively attract SAIR candidates. Because when a Linux person sees a presentation like the one given by Tech Street, they might laugh a little and be entertained, but they're not going to take it seriously. And that's just one of the many qualities that make Linux people special: discernment.


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