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Microsoft Stooges Me

The Gartner Fall Symposium/IT Expo in Orlando, Florida is a massive Analyst conference that happens every year, attracting a few thousand CIO’s and IT Managers. The IT Expo part of the show is huge show floor of vendor booths. Novell is a regular attendee, with a large booth on the show floor.

These days I mostly go to the conference for the Analyst sessions, but I did some time on the floor staffing the booth this year and had an interesting experience. A woman from Microsoft came up to me at the booth and tried to stooge me. That is, she tried to pass herself off as a potential customer (by turning her conference badge face down) in order to hear an unbiased pitch about Novell Linux Desktop.

She seemed suspect to me at the outset, and I figured I was being stooged, but I went ahead and laid out the whole pitch as I would anyone else (after all, if my hunch was wrong…), telling her what a Linux desktop was good for, where OpenOffice performs well and where it needs work, and so on. I treated her as I would any other CIO, IT manager or person interested in hearing what Linux on the desktop is about.

Toward the end of the discussion, her badge was turned back around, and it read that she was so-and-so in marketing at Microsoft, so I asked her, “So, are you scared?” I meant this just to poke a little jest, as my pitch was really pretty even keeled and not at all “Linux is coming to kill Microsoft.” She said no, not really, and then asked an oblique question about how transactional users (that is, data entry, point-of-sale- call center, etc) might feel being given a “lesser” desktop.

The angle of her question showed that perhaps she was reacting close-mindedly, and definitely that she really did not understand the CIO/IT Manager audience of the conference. CIO’s are much more about efficiencies and optimization. They’re mindset is much more about “how do I make available the services our business needs, securely enough for our to mitigate risk, and keep costs in control?” That audience is a lot less concerned about “feelings.” (And the end users she speaks of really don’t live for their computers either–that’s a weird cultural assumption many in the IT industry apply to the rest of the world, as though we all live technology.)

Perhaps her badge was inadvertently turned around. (Some benefit of doubt may be due.) But the timing of when it was out-facing again was suspiciously “I just stooged you and I’m from Microsoft” well-timed.

This is interesting not just in that it may confirm all our pre-supposed suspicions about Microsoft personnel. (They’re devious and icky! Not really. I don’t believe them to be as evil as some would like them to be.) But it does show a cultural difference between open source marketing and proprietary marketing. I’ll tell you exactly what we’re doing, Microsoft: we’re surfing the open source wave, hoping that we don’t wipe out, and hoping to ride this wave all the way into shore. Whether Novell is on it or not, it’s coming in.

Ultimatley, it is a cowardly tactic to try to conceal who you are or what your product does. So at risk of waxing too self-congratulatory, I feel that I performed well on this, especially since the situation could easily have baited me into a more combatative stance than I took.

I did not get the woman’s name, but those who work with her would probably know who she is. She is distinctively tall–probably about 6’3″ or 6’4″. If you know her, tell her the Reverend Ted says, “Hi!”


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