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The StartX Files: Inside the Expo - page 2

On Penguins and Lawyers

  • August 8, 2003
  • By Brian Proffitt

The vendors were satisfied that about the numbers of the crowds and the demographics. In show parlance, the t-shirt to tie ratio was definitely favoring the ties. While t-shirts are fun to talk to, the vendors tell me, the ties are their potential or existing customers. They're why a company can spend upwards of $20,000 just to get a small booth and ship their materials and employees out to a show. And that's just a small booth with standard corporate decorations. What a company like Red Hat, Sun, or Intel pays for their huge booths alone is far more than that.

The attendees were satified because they finally "felt like they were going to get something meaningful out of the show," I overheard one attendee on the escaltor say.

"Last year," he told his colleague, "I didn't get any real answers to my questions... this year I talked to two places that knew what the hell they were doing."

That sounded like a good quote, so I wrote it down. But as the conference continued, and I talked to more people directly, I heard much the same thing. Linux, free software, and open-source software, it seemed, had moved to a point where it was no longer a novelty that people wistfully dreamed could work in their organizations someday. This was something they wanted to try, and try now.

There were two events that made the show especially interesting: Novell's acquisition of Ximian and the ongoing SCO/Red Hat/IBM affair. The first event was chatted about a lot by vendors, who thought all in all that it was a good idea. Personally, I wondered if the smaller vendors were hoping such good fortune would befall them, but maybe that's just me being cynical.

The second event was the talk of the media, as we gathered together in those secret cabals that you all suspect we have and plotted our evil plans. Let me tall you something about that: at a conference, all we gather together for is to get online to file stories and to eat.

This year, though, we did have a common cause: trying to sneak wireless access points into the media center room. Our elegant solution for those of us with iBooks: set the Airport cards to Share mode, thus creating invisible access points. I could not figure out how to do this in Yellow Dog, but there were enough OS X users in the room to accomplish the task.

Back to SCO - the media had their teeth gnashing to hear as much dirt as they could about the whole affair, and for the most part, Red Hat's and IBM's lawsuits this week satiated that need. But the very existence of the lawsuit did put a crimp on the media's relations with everyone this year.

The "media fence" is what I euphamistically call the invisible barrier between reporters and corporate personnel. These folks, as you might imagine, do not want just anyone talking to the media, because you don't want a company rep telling a member of the press something that should not be shared (like the truth). There are slips - I could not tell you the number of times I hear people badmouthing Scott McNealy off the record - and that's just in the Sun booth.

To prevent such slips on the record, most booths have a designated person to talk to the media. This protocol is what I call the media fence: "well, that's a very good question, let me go find someone who can answer that better for you." Then they touch your arm and lightly drag you to where ever the media contact is.

This year, the media fence was very high and not very invisible. I heard "I'm not supposed to talk to the media" several times during this show, and upon investigation, I learned it was because many booths did not want to answer any SCO questions.

The media, of course, brought this on ourselves, so I have no pity for the cooling of relations. I did get tickled because I had already promised myself that I wasn't planning to ask any man on the street "what do you think of SCO" questions any any interviews. At the end of one interview, one company rep looked confused - "aren't you going to ask me anything about the lawsuits?" Apparently, he'd had a statement prepared, and had used it for every other interview he'd had that day.

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