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Reviews of SVLUG Silicon Valley Tea Party

Back to "Silicon Valley Tea Party" page
From: Ian Kluft
Subject: [svlug] SV Tea Party report
To: svlug<@lists.svlug.org (Silicon Valley Linux User Group)
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998

The Short Version
-----------------

Hmmmm...  I guess the short version of the story is that nobody could
have guessed how this was going to turn out, not on either side.  Though
we can call it a success.

As we requested, everyone from SVLUG was well behaved.  And the Microsoft
people were too.  So even though the rivalries are well-known, everyone
on both sides were civilized about it.  Actually, I think everyone did
even better than that but I'll save those details for the long version.

We handed out over 400 Caldera and SuSE Linux CDs outside the party.
There were reporters from the New York Times and Nikkei (Japan) interviewing
and photographing many of our people, and seemed to be having a great
time.  Due to space limitations, Microsoft gave us 5 badges which we
could rotate around the group to let 5 people in at a time.

We went for pizza afterward.  It was fun.

The Long Version
----------------

Hans Cathcart had the idea for this back on October 30.  He called the
idea the "Boston Tea Party, Penguin Style."  There was some discussion but
I think a lot of people were sitting on the fence, so to speak, about
whether to attend because it's a long way to drive at rush hour from the
center of Silicon Valley to Palo Alto.

But things changed on Tuesday, the day before the event.  Apparently there
had been just enough discussion that New York Times reporter Amy Harmon
asked Don Marti (of SVLUG and BALUG) about it.  Don said something like,
"Yeah, there will be Linux users there."  When he told us about this on
Tuesday evening, I thought, "Uh oh.  We better back him up on this..."

That was when I wrote up the web page and renamed it the "Silicon Valley
Tea Party."  I couldn't remember how many years the historical Boston Tea
Party was before the American Revolution so I went to go look it up on
the web.  I discovered that the timing was perfect... we're a month away
from the 225th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  So I put that in the
introduction on the web page too.  ;-)

Throughout the following 24 hours, word got around increasingly quickly.
Within an hour of the first mail on the SVLUG discussion list, LinuxToday
had an article up.  Between that and the link from our own home page, the
Tea Party page had a steady flow of hits overnight.  In the morning,
IDG's LinuxWorld linked to us and we got a bigger flow of hits.  In the
early afternoon, Freshmeat posted a summary and link, and the hits started
really rolling in.  Then, when Chris DiBona contacted Rob Malda to explain
why we needed him to list it *now*, Slashdot listed us - and we got the
typical flood of web hits that's known as the "Slashdot Effect".  (The
SVLUG server survived the Slashdot Effect for the third time out of three!)

The attention was a catalyst for many people who had been "sitting on the
fence", to decide to attend.  When we met at the University Coffee Cafe at
5:30, there were 15-20 of us.  By the time we got to the event, there
were 30-40.  That's excellent considering the driving distance, the
traffic at that time of day and the parking problem in downtown Palo Alto.

But it was at the Cafe that things took some surprising turns.  As the
group was partly chatting and others beginning to divvy up the 6 boxes
of CD-ROMs (4 boxes of Caldera and 2 boxes of SuSE), two men asked,
"Who's the leader here?"  They were Dan Frumin and Mike (??? what was his
last name ???) from Microsoft.

Well, we knew that it was easy to find our plans on the web but we weren't
expecting such an overt introduction.  You can imagine our surprise.

Sam Ockman, Marc Merlin and I were the SVLUG officers present.  Sam and
I pointed at each other as the leader, before he took it.  :-)  Dan and
Mike had read the web page and said they knew we asked our people to be
cool and civilized, and they said they appreciated that.  To extend the
same courtesy, they had pre-printed 5 badges for SVLUG to use at the party.
The event really was completely full but that would allow 5 people at a 
time (taking turns) to attend.

That sounded good to us.  The rest would be outside handing out CDs.

Then we had a surprise for them.  Amy had been quietly taking notes
through this whole conversation.  I pointed in her direction and said,
"By the way, have we introduced them to...?"  She said, "Hi.  I'm
Amy Harmon, New York Times."  Dan and Mike looked as surprised as the
rest of us had been a few minutes earlier. :-)  They shook hands and
Amy got everyone's names for her notes.

Dan and Mike also offered to buy a pizza for us after the party and
get a chance to talk.  Though they had to catch a flight home so it
was going to be a bit of a squeeze for them.

Then we all walked over to the party.  Our crowd was enough to stretch
across the front side of the building.  I noticed a party-goer having
some difficulty getting through and realized that had to be fixed quickly.
(A large number of people trying to hand you stuff can look intimidating
if there isn't a wide and obvious walkway.)  Remembering the "Great Linux
Revolt" in June, I made sure our people didn't stand in places that
inadvertently blocked the entrance or the sidewalk.  

It was fun to watch.  Times when I had the first chance at a party-goer
or a passer-by, my technique was to hold out the CD just far enough that
it was obvious but wouldn't block them and said, "Got Linux?"  There were
a lot of people who took them, some with laughs as they grasped the irony
of our presence there, others with comments like "right on!"  Some said,
"Yup, I already run it at home."  Still others were somewhat confused or
intimidated by the crowd so I wouldn't press it.

A photographer for the New York Times arrived after we got to the
party.  He seemed to have fun taking lots of pictures and talking
with us.  Some of the pictures would be hilarious if they make it to
the New York Times, like Marc holding a stuffed penguin in front of
the Microsoft logo on the door.  :-)

Several of our members were working the passers-by at the street corner.
Jesse Mundis and some of his friends from Concentric were among them.
After handing out several CDs, I saw an old man slowly walk up to them.
I thought he was going to beg for money but he said, slowly, "Can I have
one of those too?"  :-)  They smiled and gave him one.  It was reactions
like those from the general public that added so much to the fun.

Every red light was an opportunity too.  Some of the people worked the
stopped cars, quickly offering Linux CDs and getting a lot of takers.
Though a few people once in a while looked intimdated by people walking
by their car - I was a bit concerned but they never stopped long enough
to really make anyone worry.  Again, there were some memorable cases
where some drivers, apparently seeing the penguin signs, stopped their
car and said, "Gimme one!"  And each was quickly given a CD.  Fun fun fun.

After an hour or so, Sam went in to check with Dan or Mike about when they
wanted to do the pizza.  I wasn't there for the conversation but after he
came back out, he said the one he talked to seemed to be having second
thoughts because of the time to catch his flight afterward.  Since we
didn't know their itinerary, I suggested we just give them the benefit
of the doubt, assume they really did have a travel crunch, and just get
a pizza ourselves.  By 7:15, our numbers were starting to decrease as
people had to leave.  We gathered everyone and by 7:30 called it a
success and walked to Pizza-A-GoGo (Sam's choice) a few blocks away.  

Amy and the photographer from the NY Times had to go soon after we got
there.  She said the story probably won't run before next week.  She'll
e-mail one of us to tell the rest of the group when to look for it.

We counted how many CDs we had left and subtracted that from what we
started with.  We had handed out over 400 CDs.  Not bad!

As we were finishing our pizzas, one of the employees said, "Is one of
you named Ian?  You have a phone call."  Huh?  Surprise... who would know
to call me there?  It was Dan from Microsoft.  He was wondering why we
left.  He was still planning to buy us our pizzas.  It took a moment to
figure out that Sam had talked to Mike and between them something was
miscommunicated.  Dan said Mike was a bit edgy about the travel scheduling,
which was consistent with what Sam told me, so it looked like we had an
explanation.  Dan had me give the phone back to the pizza place employee,
where he arranged and paid for 3 pitchers of beer and 2 pitchers of soda
for us.

I think we can take that as a sign that Dan Frumin from Microsoft wants
to keep the communications open.  :-)

He thanked us for being on good behavior like we said we would.  He also
thanked me for handling our crowd.  I suppose I shouldn't have been
surprised to hear that, considering it was consistent with everything else
he did.  But I really only had in mind that I didn't want anyone to think
of calling the Police because of blocked walkways.  I wasn't expecting to
be thanked by Microsoft for it.  But since it was for encouraging people
to be civil, all rivalries aside, I'm happy to accept those thanks on
behalf of all the people there who readily cooperated with my requests
to keep the sidewalks and entrance unobstructed.

By 10PM the last of us had left the pizza place.  Everyone agreed it had
been fun.

Conclusions
-----------

Over pizza, obviously there was a lot of discussion about what had just
happenned.  One person (sorry, I don't remember who) said that the
result was a tie.  I agree.

Both SVLUG and Microsoft avoided any actions that would have looked bad
in the press.  And the press was definitely there...

Microsoft got a win from how well they handled an awkward situation.
The Developer Center people were e-mailed earlier in the day with the
web info about our plans.  They could have done a lot of things - but
the friendly approach was probably the best that could be done.  It
looked good to the press people and, let's face it, it keeps it a
friendly competition when people are treated well.  If they want to
make a channel for future dialog with the Open Source community, they
did the right thing.  Some of our people know each other now and have
positive opinions of each other, personally.

SVLUG got a win from being able to distribute 400 Linux CD-ROMs right
in front of the opening party for Microsoft's Silicon Valley Developer
Center.  It was Linux advocacy at its best.

   Ian Kluft <ikluft@svlug.org>

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