Microsoft keeping a low profile

There were no pies flying through the air, no mass protests at the Microsoft Corp. booth at LinuxWorld this week. The crowd around the company's booth consisted mostly of curious onlookers and many IT professionals who support both Windows and Linux systems.

While Sun Microsystems Inc.'s CEO Scott McNealy's keynote speech on Tuesday at LinuxWorld was riddled with Microsoft jabs and anti-Microsoft T-shirts were plentiful, the show went fairly smoothly for the world's largest software maker. Microsoft showed off technologies such as its embedded Windows NT operating system and Windows Services for Unix 3.0 to interested LinuxWorld attendees. Microsoft also used an XBox giveaway contest and free copies of Microsoft's ASP.Net development tool to entice people to the booth.

"We were prepared for the worst, but it's been pretty positive overall," said one Microsoft booth worker, who was explaining Microsoft's .Net and Web services strategies to show attendees. "About 70% of the people here are probably Windows customers anyway, so there's some interested because of that."

Show-goers were mixed on their feelings of Microsoft's presence.

"I think it's kind of good that they are here," says Rajan Saxena, CEO of IP Island, an IT integration and consulting firm for small and midsize businesses in the San Francisco Bay area. "You can ask, 'why is Microsoft here?' But you could also ask why is IBM (Corp.) here or why is HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) here. They're all starting to realize that Linux is catching on."

He adds that he is encouraged by what he sees as an acknowledgement by Microsoft that Linux is a legitimate technology.

"I support Windows," he says. "We live in a Windows world: you click on the network neighborhood icon on your desktop and that's how you get on the network; it's been that way since 1995."

However, the recent economic downturn and the increased visibility of Linux as a server option has influenced his business. "I've been ripping out Windows NT servers and replacing them with Linux for some time now for many of my customers," Saxena says. "Why spend so much money on [a server] that is just being used for file and print?"

Saxena says he also gave some input to the folks at the Microsoft booth.

"They need to release Office for Linux," he says. "They still haven't done that."

Another show attendee was a little more skeptical of Microsoft.

"I think Microsoft is on the opposite side of what open source is about," says Kazuhito Okawa, an IT manager with Financial Network Technologies Inc., a San Mateo, Calif., maker of computer systems for stock traders and brokers. "Microsoft isn't in the Linux business," Okawa says, and he doubts that they ever will be. "I'm not sure why they're at LinuxWorld."

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