Silicon Valley Tea Party aka the great 1998 linux revolt take II


For those who hadn't heard the story, microsoft has opened an developers' center in the Silicon Valley. This is somewhat significant because so far they didn't have any direct presence here.
Obviously, some people welcomed this as warmly as the French welcomed mac donalds and their cardboard food when they first came to France (I'm french BTW :-)).
So, what happened is that Hans Cathcart first quicked around on the svlug list the idea of showing up there, just like we had for the great 1998 linux revolt that happened the day of the win98 launch. This time we had made tentative plans a little earlier than last time (a little more than 10 days vs a few hours). Yet, much got decided a little at the last minute (read one day in advance to a few hours before going there).
Once again, Ian Kluft did a great job with keeping the web page up to date (sometimes by the hour), and organizing some of the stuff, along with the other officers. He also wrote a review, and the main svlug linux tea party page is here
[new] The Palo Alto daily ran an article on the event (thanks to Ira Abramov for the scan)

Before getting to the ms developer center

I first want to reassure the worried reader: "Rick Moen was there". David "Sparc" Miller (multiplatform kernel hacker and former svlug speaker for those who don't know him) gave us the pleasant surprise of also showing up.

[picture of Dave and me]
(David is on the left, and I'm the guy on the right)

Anyway, here's what happened:
Not to say that big brother is everywhere, but short of having microsoft people monitoring our lists and newsgroups (with wouldn't overly surprise me, after all they also tried a PR compain with magazines, posing as simple users who liked microsoft products), the announcement was available in several places, including freshneat and Linux Today, as well as the Svlug web page, so I did expect some microsoft people to have learned about it, some way or another, and to be waiting for us there.

They were actually much smarter than that, and did what I hadn't quite expected: two microsoft people, Dan Frumin and Mike, met us at the cafe where we had planned to meet before going to the ms event.
Basically they were worried to have an unknown number of linux geeks rampaging around their party, and kind of overwhelm the place.
Our goal wasn't obviously to ruin their party, but it's true that having 30 to 40 geeky looking people, with our crazy Sam Ockman harassing people in suit with Linux CDs (just kidding Sam :-)), might have been somewhat disruptive.

Their offer was to give us 5 SVLUG badges to let 5 of us in at a time, and let us rotate. Their claim was that you actually had to have received an invitation from them before being able to RSVP.

[svlug badge picture]
One of the five badges they had prepared for us

This may or may not have been true as in practise, anyone who RSVPed in time did have a badge waiting for them at the entrance, whether or not they had received an initial invitation of microsoft.
Those who tried to RSVP later received an Email saying that they could still register at the door, and it's only the last day that their autoresponder said that they event was full (some thought that they just refused requests from obvious linux people, like me when I forgot to strip out my "Microsoft is to software what McDonalds is to gourmet cooking" signature in my first RSVP, but that was just a conspiracy theory, someone simply modified their script on the event day to reject further RSVPs)

My point is that it would have been possible for at least some of us (as long as it wasn't too obvious) to RSVP at the door and get a badge.

Their second option was to invite us all to eat instead, so that none of us wouldn't have to wait outside in the cold :-)
That was obviously a nice try, and we politely declined.

Of course the third option would have been to ignore them and try to sneak as many of us in as we could have.

We however went with the first one because:

  1. They appeared most polite and friendly and didn't entice us to go trash the place (which we never intended to do anyway)
  2. I personally thought (and others most likely also did) that having as many of us inside as possible could have indeed been somewhat to severly disruptive, and possibly annoying for their other guests, and we wanted to avoid that.
  3. Since they behaved politely and in a civilized way with us, we had no reason to not return the favor, even if in this case we were dealing with microsoft

At the ms developer center

So, we went together to the place, and about 10 of us got in (the five badges, plus those who had registered sufficiently in advance (Rick Moen, Don Marti, and a few others)).
We were armed with about 500 Caldera and Suse CDs. Thanks to those two for providing them in the first place. Some also came with nice signs which those of us who stayed outside used, while giving out CDs.

[picture of the photographer]  [picture of Yoshimoto-San]
Picture of the New York Times photographer and Yoshimoto-San

Two reporters showed up, Amy Harmon from the New York Times, along with a professional photographer. She was looking at covering an open source even while she was on the west coast, and contacted no one else than Rick Moen, who decided to bring her that that event. We also had Yoshimoto-San, a Freelance Japanese journalist who had heard about the event.
We answered their questions on linux, and got some pictures taken. The photographer took a lot of pictures, and some should turn out to be very good, I wonder where they're going to show up...

[picture of the crowd]
From left to righ: Brian Chrisman, Jesse Mundis, Mark Smith, and Wayne Earl

[picture of linux sign]  [picture of linux sign]
From left to right, Marc Merlin (that'd be me :-)), Mark Smith, and Josh Hill
As you can see, some people brought some nice signs (and I also have a zoomed picture of the back)

[picture of the crowd]

[Ian Kluft]  [Sam Ockman]
Another two officers from SVLUG, Ian Kluft and Sam Ockman on the left of each picture. On the right of each picture, two of our linux enthousiasts: Colin Howell and Alexandre Petit-Bianco

Those of us who went inside sampled the microsoft while talking to a few people, some of which were amused by seeing us (BTW the food was pretty good, and talking about food, I should mention that the ms people sent a waiter outside to serve coffee to those of us who were outside [picture below]. You have to admit that it's a nice touch).

[door to ms building] [ we were offered coffee outside]
A few bold ones in the group did go through that door, but some got assimilated
Abandon hope all ye who enter here  :-)

We decided not to give CDs inside as it didn't seem appropriate, besides we had a shot at everyone on their way in and their way out
The good news is that no one seemed annoyed to see us. People were either indifferent or either amused, some even happy ("it's cool that you guys are here"). That in itself proved that it was a successful evening because we didn't apparently create negative feelings against us and linux.
Well, I can't quite say that none of the microsoft people were annoyed to see us, but if they were, they dealt with it very well, and didn't show any negative feelings.

The funny thing is that a couple of ladies inside actually pet tux, my penguin that I was carrying along with me. You have to admit that it's a cute penguin :-)

[picture of Allison and me with Tux]  [picture of Allison with Tux]
Here we have Allison Huynh, who definitely likes Tux. So, who said that girls don't like linux?

After people had gotten in, and before they were getting out, some of us that were outside started handing out CDs to random people who were driving by in their cars.

[picture of CD giveout]  [picture of CD giveout]
Let's face it, we had some awesome guys there. Here we have Drew Bertola going beyond the call the duty

 [picture of CD giveout]

 [picture of CD giveout]
"Dad, there's weird guy who's trying to give me a CD" - "Don't worry, our penguins don't bite"

Don't think we stopped there: we still had more CDs

[car with linux flier on windshield]

 [car with linux flier on windshield]

We also took some really cool pictures, like one with Tux in front of the microsoft logo on their door, and one with a linux CD in front of microsoft's second 'o'. Those were taken by the professional photographer, so I don't yet know where they're going to show up.

After most people got out and had a second shot at getting a CD from us, we left for a local Pizza gogo. Some of us took a microsoft gift (cocktail glass and t-shirt, both with microsoft logo). I personally got neither since I didn't quite see where I could have used them with them having a logo and all.

Then, Dan from microsoft called the pizzeria where we were to pay us a round of beers and sodas, which was obviously nice of them. After that, we eventually headed home.

[Rick Moen]
Our legendary Rick Moen, the man who has his own FAQ

Now, if you have a closer look, you'll notice that in fact some of us who had entered the ms building had been assimilated

[Rick Moen wearing an ms shirt and badge]
(the T-shirt and the badge say: "Microsoft, Silicon Valley Developer Center"). Rest assured that we took the necessary steps to put him back on the right track, starting with preventing him to watch Babylon V that evening (private joke) :-).


This definitely was a fun evening. As Ian said the outcome was totally unexpected, but it turned out very well. We spread the word about linux, and among the CDs we gave out, some people have to install it, and some of those may even come see us during future meetings.

I have to say that the microsoft people were really cool with us. They behaved much more intelligently than the Fry's manager who called the cops to have us thrown out during the Win98 launch a few months ago.
Don't take me wrong, I still think their OSes are crap, along with many (but not all) of their software products. I still think they're a monopolistic company which thrives to crush their competition without worring too much about laws, and that constantly changing their protocols and file formats to make sure people can't really be compatible with them is plain evil (the list is longer than that, but I'll spare you the rest).
Yet, they are also very careful at not getting bad press and they did let us get away with things like taking pictures with tux in from of their logo (no one even told us anything). I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by their positive behavior, and the little things they did to be nice to us.

Thanks all those who came, and see you all next time.
Marc Merlin
(feel free to write me to give your name if you recognize yourself on a picture. Also, if you are a journalist and have some questions about the event, feel free to send me Email)

A few Emailed me to ask where they could buy Tux, the penguin. I got mine from Linuxmall a couple of years ago.

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Last updated on November 20th 1998. V 1.11