Editor in Chief
Company-sponsored parties are an integral part of the trade show scene. They are also an expensive proposition for their sponsors -- and don't always create as much good feeling as the people who run them would like.
I am turning in this bit of copy about 15 hours later than originally planned because I spent last night checking out several corporate parties associated with this year's LinuxWorld in San Jose. This is not the easiest part of covering a trade show but somebody has to do it, and I was self-selected for the task.
Computer show parties are always a bit tilted toward male participation because, like it or not, there are far more men than women in the business. This gender imbalance is especially pronounced at Unix and Linux shows; the "Chicks dig Unix" T-shirts worn by some of the show's attendees were pure wishful thinking. Men outnumbered women by between 4:1 and 10:1 at every show party I visited.
And yet, several of the most expansive parties held here in San Jose this week were held in dance bars, as if they were expected to have a "normal" male:female ratio.
Tuesday night, for example, MandrakeSoft, publishers of Linux-Mandrake, took over a bar called Polly Esther's, a place with three dance floors and hardly anywhere to sit and chat, not that the high noise level made conversation possible anyway. So the "party" ended up being primarily a horde of milling (mostly) males sucking down booze, which was free, and standing around looking lost.
Polly Esther's is apparently used to hosting a slighly rougher crowd than this one. They had three large headset-wearing bouncers working the front door, with more inside, all scanning the crowd with wary eyes. If a flame war had suddenly broken out between competing GUI development groups Gnome and KDE, there would have been little chance of it turning into a dangerous physical melee. But no such battle ensued, perhaps because of all the security. Instead, the crowd's competitive spirits went into raiding the snack tables, which were loaded only with a scanty selection of appetizers.
The AMD party earlier Tuesday evening, held in the San Jose Fairmont Hotel, featured a full buffet and less obtrusive (if any) security. But by the time I got there, about 90 minutes after it started, the food was gone so I cannot comment on its quality except to report from second-hand sources that it was tasty, at least in the judgement of people who had spent the entire day on their feet and had eaten little else since waking up 10 or 15 hours earlier.
But last night -- Wednesday -- was the big party night. VA Linux, our very own parent company, rented a dance bar called The Usual, which I heard was of considerable size. I was not able to attend this party for several reasons, including long entry lines, music beyond my personal decibel tolerance, and the sad fact that I was part of a group that included several Debian developers and Linux.com volunteers who were under 21, and local laws, enforced by yet more tough bouncers, kept them out of the bar despite the fact that the Debian "Potato" distribution release the party was supposed to celebrate had been produced in part by talented teenagers.
The younger crowd got sent to a coffee bar across the street with tickets that got them free non-alcoholic beverages, which some of them felt it was rather like being banished to the children's table at a family gathering. We can't really fault VA's staff for this. Their community relations people said that they chose the party venues they did because they were the only ones available within a reasonable walk of the San Jose convention center and the hotels where a majority of attendees were staying.
Indeed, according to one VA staffer, a second entire bar and pool hall they rented next to The Usual as a gathering spot for attendees of all ages who wanted to keep their ears intact, was allowing underage patrons to enter (as long as they did not consume alcohol) when VA checked it out -- but that they had done their research during the day, and it turned out that local laws allowed the sub-21 crowd in during the day but not at night. Arrgh!
Meanwhile, across the street, the party spot selected by Helix-Gnome allowed entrance to anyone 18 or over, but the manager was yelling so loudly about calling the police on anyone underage who so much as touched a glass of booze that the entrance experience was far from pleasant, and during the party's first minutes employees were charging for drinks even though the sponsors had "bought the bar." At least this place had an outdoor patio where smokers could congregate, which was a plus for many of us because California does not allow smoking in bars, and the music was quiet enough that we could carry on conversations without yelling.
Perhaps San Jose is not a good place to hold conventions that have parties attached to them, especially if many attendees are under 21. There were none of the problems described above at the LinuxWorld Expo held in New York City last February.
And hopefully, the LinuxWorld expo scheduled for summer of 2001 won't have most of these party problems, either. It is going to be held in San Francisco, not San Jose.