The Nerd Exchange
Fake News written by on Sunday, June 27, 1999
LINUX, MISSOURI -- Eric S. Raymond's recent foray into the Land of Microsoft generated much interest and discussion. However, it wasn't the only bizarre "nerd exchange" to occur on the Summer Solstice. While ESR was confronting a room full of Microserfs, John Birckendorf, a Microsoft programmer, was confronting a room full of Linux longhairs. Birckendorf was handed the daunting task of giving a speech and conducting a Q&A session at a meeting of the Linux Linux User Group.
Thanks to the diligent efforts of our Vast Spy Network(tm), which always seems to be at the right place at the right time, we have obtained a copy of the report Birckendorf sent to his co-workers when he returned to the comfort of Redmond.
It wasn't as bad as I expected.
When I was handed an unprecedented invitation to participate in a Linux User Group meeting, I didn't know what to think.
Frankly, I was a little bit scared about the people I would encounter. Indeed, some of the things I had heard recently about the Linux culture were disturbing. One editorial on InfoWorld used such terms as "communists", "Marxists", "utopian balderdash", and "Get-Back-To-Earth spiritualists" to describe the Open Source movement and its advocates. The latest paper by Eric S. Raymond (self-proclaimed Open Source advocate, Microsoft basher, and "Geeks-with-Guns" nut) dwells on "magic cauldrons" and Welsh mythology.
I had visions of Linuxers being "hippie pagan spiritualists promoting Communism and world domination." I was worried about my encounter with a room packed full of them. To add to my anxieties, my seven year old son was surfing the Web the day before and said, "This open source thing looks kinda cool." To that I was forced to repond, "Those Open Source advocates are a bad influence. Don't think about visiting any more subversive Linux sites without my permission."
So, after all my fears and worries, I was quite shocked when I finally came face-to-face with about 200 Linux "longhairs". Most of them didn't seem like hippies, or pagans, or Communists. And while many had a gleam of world domination in their eyes, for the most part they seemed relatively normal. If you can call a nerd normal, anyways.
My presentation went okay. My laptop crashed in the middle of my PowerPoint slide show; the audience responded with riotout laughter. Upon rebooting, the system complained about Registry corruptions (I've sent a bug report to the Windows team but I doubt they'll even bother to read it). Somebody yelled, "Sorry, but nobody here will be able to help you!" which generated more laughter.
It's hard to judge how well my spiel was received by the crowd. Most seemed interested, but were definitely not agreeing with my assertion that closed-source development does have certain advantages over open. (My security through obscurity argument -- which I feel is rather strong -- instantly generated much dissent, causing a mini-debate between me and three other nerds that lasted five minutes.) In addition, my laptop's misbehavior tended to weaken my arguments that Windows doesn't suck as much as most people let on.
During the Q&A session the belligerence of some of the audience members showed more clearly. It was kind of funny really, fielding defensive questions from still-wet-behind-the-ears college grads for whom freedom, quality, and the survival of Linux are so central that they have trouble understanding how people can use (and make money from) proprietary operating systems. On some subjects, their brains just shut down -- the style reminded me a lot of the moronic people who call the MS tech support line and then blame their problems on Windows flaws, ignoring any possibility that their bluescreens might be caused by flaky applications or drivers made by non-Microsoft vendors.
The questions were wide ranging, some were offensive and insulting while others were genuine inquiries into the secrets of Microsoft's success. One person asked, "If closed source software is so responsive to the needs of consumers, how come that universally despised Dancing Paper Clip is still in Office 2000?" I responded, "Well, actually, I've just received word that Office2K has an Easter Egg that turns the mouse cursor into a set of crosshairs and allows you to shoot and kill the paperclip. Apparently it's quite relaxing." Still, some questions severely tested my patience, such as "How can you sleep at night?"
The general mood of the event seemed relatively positive, considering the context, although these things are hard to judge. For all I know, however, after the event the Linuxers could have started casting spells against me and composed jokes and fake news stories about the event that are propogating across the 'Net even as I write this.
At the conclusion of my presentation, the LUG president gave me a "Linux world domination... coming soon to a computer near you" T-shirt and said to me, "In five years I bet you'll be proudly wearing this shirt in public. Until then, I wish you well in Redmond."
And that was that.