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Reviews of SVLUG Silicon Valley Tea Party

Back to "Silicon Valley Tea Party" page
The idea for a Silicon Valley Tea party came from SVLUG member
Hans Cathcart on October 30:  He proposed, on the mailing list 
that day, that the Linux community should help Microsoft celebrate
opening its new office in Linux country (Palo Alto) on Wednesday 
the 11th by welcoming them en-masse, but nobody seemed interested.  

I was, however, so on Halloween I listed "Linux 'Boston Tea Party' at 
Microsoft" as an upcoming Linux event on my BALE page (linuxmafia.com/bale/),
with a reminder to RSVP, a copy of Hans's post, a street map of the area,
and the following remarks (my very own "Halloween Memo"):

    The Linux community should show up and give a friendly welcome 
    to Microsoft.  Bring Linux literature and CD distributions to 
    hand out.  Make sure we're noticed -- but there's no need to be 
    the least confrontational:  Welcome Microsoft to the world of 
    level playing fields and interoperable applications using
    commodity protocols.  That's the future it'll have to fit into, 
    after all.

    Don't forget to RSVP to "DevCenter@ema-nw.com".  You probably 
    _don't_ want to use "Boston Tea Party" or such in your subject 
    header.

There the calendar item sat, on BALE, until the morning of the 9th.
I had made some arrangements with SuSE staffers to get CD-ROMs,
but had no idea if more than a few other Linuxers would be joining
me.

So, I was slightly surprised when I received an e-mail from reporter
Amy Harmon of the New York Times, who is doing a story on open-source
software, saying she would be coming out, and would like to attend and
talk to us.  Gulp.  Fortunately, Don Marti was available to help set
things up and do the initial talking, and he arranged for Amy to 
join us and my landlord, Linux-based Internet cafe owner Richard Couture,
for the ride in my car from San Francisco to Palo Alto and back.

(Incidentally, Don heard from Amy early Wednesday morning, saying
that a worried Microsoft rep had tracked her down and called her at 
her hotel, asking what on earth this was about.  Pretty efficient!)

Don picked up 400 Caldera and SuSE CDs from the Oracle OpenWorld show a 
block away to hand out outside Microsoft, and we spent an hour stuffing 
them with mini-BALE quarter-sheets, prior to Amy's arrival at 4:45,
when I donned my "Where do you want to go tomorrow?" t-shirt and 
we hit the freeway in my Honda.

Amy is obviously taking the measure of the open-source culture, and
was visibly bemused.  There sat the three of us, Richard with his 
welcome-to-San-Francisco cheek piercing and focussed manner, Don doing
his best straight-forward marketing guy, and me looking slightly furry
and very informal (Unix-geek sandals and all) -- in my beat-to-heck
'83 Accord with bumper stickers saying "Evil Geniuses for a Better
Tomorrow" and "Xena for President", plus Darwin and Cthulhu "fish" 
stickers, plus a "Toronto WorldCon in 2003" magnet on the dash.  
I do wonder what she thought of it all.

To research her article, she had already spoken with Eric Allman (of
sendmail fame) and Eric S. Raymond -- but had not yet heard of the 
Eric Conspiracy -- see http://sagan.earthspace.net/~esr/ecsl/.  (By 
chance, I had my copy of the New Hacker's Dictionary with me, so 
she was duly warned of the Eric Conspiracy Secret Labs and their
sinister plans for world domination.)  She was also scheduled to 
interview Linus while here in the Bay Area.

However, we were the subjects du jour, so out came the reporter's
notebook.  The big question, and also the most unexpected and most
difficult, was simply "Why?"  That is, why would we bother to 
take hours out of our lives, make extensive preparations, and drive 
fifty miles through rush-hour traffic to demonstrate for a piece of
_software_?

It is a quite logical question, I must admit, albeit one we crazed
Linux zealots would not think to ask.  We did our best.

Richard pointed out that Linux had helped make software fun again.
A market dominated by sluggish, crash-prone, bandwidth-wasting, 
inflexible, fragile NT boxes would have been deadly.  I elaborated
by saying that we enjoyed getting the word out because we feel
the superior quality, performance, and reliability of open-source
software is a crucial message -- and that open source has no 
marketing department except for us.

Most of us work in the industry in one way or another, and we've
seen first-hand the benefits, not to mention the disasters averted,
by using battle-tested technology such as Apache, BIND, Samba, perl,
etc.  We've snuck these quietly into corporate networks, and feel
it's past time to cease hiding it.  Most of all, networking consultants
in particular (like me and Richard) know we can make our clients 
happiest by using open standards.  Deliriously happy clients means
huge hourly rates, and the ability to spend most of one's time on
the beach in Tahiti.  A Good Thing.

We arrived at the University Coffee Cafe in Palo Alto at 5:25 PM,
joining some of the usual suspects (eventually about 40 of us), 
chatting and passing out the 400 CDs.  Suddenly two unfamiliar 
guys came up behind me and said "Hi, can you tell me who's in 
charge, here?"  I said "Well, if you've come to arrest us, then 
_nobody's_ in charge."  They introduced themselves as Dan Frumin 
and Mike [surname unknown] from Microsoft, and had come over to 
our assembly point to chat with us.

Dan said he'd read our Web pages, and appreciated very much the 
fact that we were telling everyone to be cool and avoid in any
way wrecking Microsoft's party.  He said he'd really like to 
buy us all a pizza dinner and a round of beer _instead_.  (We smiled
and declined.  He went on:)  Absent that, he wanted to reassure
us that they had no objection to our attending, but that the
party was full, and they needed to avoid overfilling the inside 
space.  Therefore, he had five name badges for "Silicon Valley
Linux User Group", which we were welcome to exchange among
people who wanted to come inside.

This was really very gracious of them (and smart public relations),
although many of us had confirmed reservations already (and 
thus name tags), and most of the rest had planned only to gather
on the sidewalk (_not_ blocking the entrance) for an impromptu party
_there_, and hand out CDs and literature to passers-by.  Also,
there was a pleasant moment of recognition when we realised that
Microsoft had sent genuine _software geeks_ to intercept us:  Dan
in particular had the ponytail and straightforward manner.  He
fit right in.

Dan was particularly pleased (and relieved) that we had been quite
serious about being well-behaved and considerate.  He warmed up
progressively as the evening passed, and insisted on buying a round
of Sierra Nevada Ale for the gang at Pizza-A-Go-Go afterwards
(though he couldn't attend).  He said he used to run Linux back
in the 0.9x kernel days.  We made sure he got a CD-ROM and an 
assurance that he'd be a welcome guest at SVLUG any time.

Being among those with actual invitations and name tags, I joined
the party and linked up with some Microsoft staffers I knew from
my Compu$erve sysop days (who shall go nameless), and third-party
developers.  The general reaction to us Linuxers visible among 
them was chuckles and quiet approval -- and occasional keen interest.
Along with the inevitable WebTV sets, they had some interesting new
hardware just released for WinCE boxes (e.g., PC Card stuff), that 
appears to be supportable on Linux.

The appetizers were absolutely superb.  Nothing but the best.  I 
gorged myself on sushi, roast beef, Thai-style sate chicken, and 
other goodies while my confreres were out on the sidewalk passing 
out CDs.  They even had Heineken and quite decent Cabernet.  Ah, 
that's the life.  (I hear that Microsoft was gracious enough to 
send cups of coffee out to the gang up front.)  Somehow, the 
catering staff seemed to be offering their plates mostly to the
people with Linux t-shirts.  Was that my imagination, or were they
closet Linux users?

During the drawing for door prizes, there were frequent good-natured
references to our welcome delegation.  (There was only one really
good prize, a Compaq machine.  Lots of WebTV.)  Those whose names
hadn't been picked were assured that they _had_ won Linux, at least.

Towards the end of the party, Don Marti and I rejoined the throng
up front, who relocated over to Pizza-A-Go-Go.  We had passed out
almost all of the Caldera and SuSE CDs -- with the literature about
upcoming Linux events.  We later heard that people had driven from
all over the Valley to see us and pick up CDs.  In addition, we
heard that one of the Linux sidewalk crew had seen the Slashdot
mention on Wednesday morning, and driven all the way from San Luis
Obispo to join us!

The Microsoft-bought pitcher of good beer was duly provided, but I
was driving and had to astain, even though it was going almost 
unclaimed and looked quite lonely.  Tragic.

Everyone seemed to agree -- including Dan Frumin and other Microsoft
folk we've heard from at the time and since -- that a fun time was
had by all, to the surprise of some and the delight of many.  Well
done -- in particular, to Ian Kluft and Don Marti, to the good 
folks at Caldera and SuSE, and to Hans Cathcart for having the idea
in the first place.

Today, I received a follow-up telephone call from Amy at the New
York Times.  Her article is still going forward, and she asked 
some help answering questions from a Microsoft-centric colleague
who, in her words, "I'm trying to convert".  She said the co-worker
worked on Web sites, and wanted to know what Linux provided 
that's analogous to VBScript.  I referred her to PHP (www.php.net).
(I should have clarified that she'll be wanting the downloadable
file described as "i386 RPM, dynamically loadable Apache 1.3 module",
but was answering off the top of my head.)

The other question was what Linux had that's similar to MS SQL 
Server.  I could not suppress a chuckle, and explained to Amy 
that her friend's questions were _extremely_ Microsoft-centric.
However, I pointed out, PHP has ODBC interface support built in,
which should allow her friend to communicate from Linux to his
existing SQL tables, if he wished.  I stressed that this is one
of the key points about Linux:  It provides as much interconnectivity
as possible, to everything possible.  Linux will not dictate her
choice of back-end server.

Amy asked how she acquires PHP (and for how much).  I read her the
notice on the Web site:

      So, how much does it cost?

      This may sound a little foreign to all you folks coming
      from a non-Unix background, but PHP doesn't cost anything. 
      You can use it for commercial and/or non-commercial use
      all you want.  You can give it to your friends, print it out
      and hang it on your wall or eat it for lunch.  Welcome to 
      the world of Open Source software!  Smile, be happy, the 
      world is good.  For the full legalese, see the official 
      license. 

When I asked, she clarified that she'd bought the Red Hat 5.2
boxed set, and would be installing it.  I therefore mentioned
that PostgresSQL would be provided and furnished already running
as part of her installation -- and that MySQL is also popular 
and not difficult to install.

No idea when her article is due out, or anything else about it,
but I'll watch for it with considerable interest.

Rick Moen

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