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The StartX Files: When the Mouse is An Anathema

The Reflection of FUD

April 10, 2001

If any of you were wondering why no one from LinuxPlanet went to Spring COMDEX this year, let me sum up in a few short words: it was a complete waste of time.

As the resident Midwesterner in the happy little LinuxPlanet family, it typically behooves me to travel to Chicago, St. Louis, or Cincinnati whenever a big-deal event happens. For huge events, I can usually pry some money out of the bosses to send me to Eastern seaboard cities. With COMDEX in Chicago this past week, it was a lock for me to go. I was all set: take the train so I could hack out some chapters of a book I'm working on, crash with some friends, and just generally lurk about McCormick Place looking for interviews and trying to find my doppelganger Brian Proffit.

That sort of thing.

A friend of mine actually went to COMDEX a day ahead of me and called me before I was to board the train.

"Don't bother coming up here," he warned. "There's nothing here."

Curious, I pressed him for details. I knew Spring COMDEX was not as big as the Vegas event, but I was surprised to hear that the entire show had been shoe-horned into the smallest exhibition hall McCormick Place has to offer. The other halls were filled with a waste management convention.

The conferences associated with Linux Business Expo, the bastard child of COMDEX, had already been canceled, and there were only a dozen or so Linux-related booths in COMDEX proper.

Armed with this knowledge, I contacted my editor, who had also heard similar stories, and we decided that I would not go.

I don't know why COMDEX itself had such a low turnout this Spring. I find it sort of ironic that the one business/technology group COMDEX chose to exclude from the computer mega-con--Linux--has more than enough strength to put on two well-attended and growing shows every year. Go figure. I can tell you why Linux Business Expo conferences were yanked: too few Linux executives were willing to put themselves through the embarrassment of displaying at the junior varsity convention.

And I say more power to them.

It has always rankled me that there is a Linux Business Expo, anyway. It's like the Thanksgiving family reunions we always had where the kids were told to eat on the card tables out in the kitchen instead of at the main table with the adults. As a kid, this was a terrible injustice. As an adult, it makes perfect sense: if the weather weren't so cold, I'd make those kids eat outside.

But Linux is not a kid. And it is playing in the same space as all of the rest of the exhibitors at COMDEX. To segregate any legitimate computer technology business from COMDEX is a joke. So is any marketing attempt to rationalize the decision to split COMDEX and Linux Business Expo. What we are seeing here is nothing more than the F in FUD: fear. Only instead of the consumer's fear, it is the fear from Microsoft and all of its microserfs that we are witnessing. COMDEX, which has somehow become synonymous with companies who orbit Redmond, has organizers who consistently acquiesce to Microsoft's wishes in keeping the Linux companies at bay.

The hysterical thing is, this solution is not working. If it were, corporate interest in Linux would certainly not be as high as it is today. In their attempts to bar Linux from the COMDEX country club, Microsoft has done nothing to wane interest in Linux. In fact, their recent actions and statements are causing more executives to wonder just what this Linux thing is that's got Microsoft all worked up? Is it something we can use?

Because--and here is the lesson for all of us--the customer just wants the machine to run as cheaply and efficiently as possible. If someone finds out that Linux can do these things better than Windows, they'll drop Microsoft products like a bad habit. This will always be the challenge for Linux users: to professionally communicate the advantages Linux has over Windows. Microsoft's multi-million dollar marketing budget will make sure of that. Microsoft will never play fair, they will always obfuscate, and try anything they can to bury Linux.

So laugh while you can, boys of Redmond, from inside your plush little COMDEX. Pretty soon, you'll have to invite us inside.

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