LinuxWorld gets a new exhibitor: Microsoft

In the past, Microsoft Corp. employees have often attended the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo to check up on the competition. But next month, the company will for the first time sponsor a booth at the show.

Pete Houston, senior director of Microsoft’s Windows server product management group, said the software vendor will set up a 10-by-10-foot booth to display some of its wares, including embedded operating systems and more. The booth will be in the show’s Rookery area inside San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center.

So why is the world’s largest proprietary software company planning to display products at what is arguably the Linux industry’s most important show?

“We believe that the audience that attends this show is an important audience to us,” Houston said. “I would definitely not treat this as a move [by Microsoft] to open source, but as a way to reach people we have to reach.”

Microsoft already attends shows such as next week’s MacWorld Conference & Expo in New York, he said, because the company sells software for Macintosh computers. In San Francisco, Microsoft can make some connections in the open-source and Linux worlds, he said.

“It’s an important thing for us to do to show that we’re not polarizing ourselves with various communities,” Houston said.

Reaction from Linux vendors is mixed.

Daniel Morales, vice-president at MandrakeSoft Inc. in Altadena, Calif., said Microsoft’s appearance “raises red flags that they’re there to promote Windows XP.”

Morales calls Microsoft’s claims about reaching out to Linux users “a lot of fluff.”

“There’s a hidden agenda, obviously,” Morales said. “This is a free country. They can do anything they want,” but he does wonder “what they’re up to.”

“They’re trying to promote the wrong product to the wrong crowd,” Morales said. “It will be up to the people in the Linux community to acknowledge them or ignore them.”

Reg Broughton, senior vice-president of worldwide operations at Linux vendor Caldera International Inc. in Lindon, Utah, said he thinks Microsoft sees Linux as both an opportunity and a threat. Broughton said the company’s appearance at the show as an exhibitor is good for Linux because the software giant lends credibility to the event just by its presence.

“We see that as Microsoft wanting to come and play at our party,” Broughton said. “We’re already in competition with Microsoft. This just continues to develop that theme.”

Mark de Visser, vice president of marketing for U.S. Linux market leader Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., said he’s not surprised by Microsoft’s plans. “It’s a large, attractive audience of prospective buyers,” de Visser said. “I think it’s not a big deal.”

De Visser said he believes Microsoft will probably display its enterprise server offerings, including Windows 2000, because the server operating system market has been gaining sales under Linux. Microsoft has noticed that, he said, and will be there to try and woo prospective customers.

LinuxWorld will be held Aug. 12-15 and will feature sessions on a wide range of Linux and open-source topics. The expo features vendors large and small, including Red Hat Inc., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., SuSE Linux AG and many others. Keynote speakers at the show will include Scott McNealy, chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems Inc., and Sergey Brin, co-founder and technology president of Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc.