Into the Belly of the Beast (ESR at MS)

Joachim Feise (
Wed, 23 Jun 1999 15:32:41 -0700

Into the Belly of the Beast

by Norman M. Jacobowitz <>

It was not a normal day here in Seattle. Eggs were balancing on end. The city was
shrouded in a most un-summerlike mist and fog. And ESR was speaking at Microsoft.

That's right. Eric S. Raymond was the invited guest of Microsoft Corporation, and
gave a speech to their research group. June 21st was indeed a freaky Summer Solstice
day here in the Northwest.

Eric went into the belly of the beast ... and lives to tell about it. He was kind
enough to share his impressions of what went on, via this e-mail interview.

Q: Can you give us a general overview of how and why you came to be invited to speak
at Microsoft's Redmond campus?

A: I was invited there by a member of one of Microsoft's research groups that I met
at PC Forum 99. She seemed OK, and offered an inducement far more interesting than a
speaker's fee (about which more below) so I accepted.

Q: Were you offered a tour of the campus, and/or were you introduced to any of the
"big name" executives of Microsoft?

A: No campus tour, no big names. Though I suppose they might have been watching the
video feed....

Q: What was the venue like, and how many people showed up for the event?

A: It was a small auditorium. It looked to me like about 200 people showed up; it was
standing room only, with people stacked against the walls and sitting in the aisles.

Q: What were the general themes of your speech/presentation? How were they received?

A: All the usual ones for anyone who has heard my talks. Better reliability through
peer review, how Linux beat Brook's Law, open-source project ownership customs and
the reputation incentive, the eight open-source business models, scaling and
complexity effects.

Q: A confidential informant tells me the event was broadcast to all 20,000-plus
Redmond employees of Microsoft over their internal network. This same informant also
says a fair percentage of those in actual attendance became somewhat belligerent
towards you and your Open Source message. Is this true? If so, would you mind
elaborating on which parts of your
presentation they took issue with? For example, were they most perturbed at the
insinuation that Open Source products like Linux are better in the long run than
proprietary systems like MS Windows 2000?

A: Yes, there were a few belligerent types. Typical was one guy who observed that
Oracle has a partial open-source strategy, then triumphantly announced that
Microsoft's earnings per employee are several times Oracle's, as though this were a
conclusive argument on the technical issues.

It was kind of amusing, really, fielding brickbats from testosterone-pumped
twentysomethings for whom money and Microsoft's survival are so central that they
have trouble grokking that anyone can truly think outside that box. On some subjects,
their brains just shut down -- the style reminded me a lot of the anonymous cowards
on Slashdot.

One of the Microsoft people, who knew the faces in the audience, observed to me
afterwards that the people from the NT 2000 development group were particularly
defensive. So, yes, I think my insinuations were perturbing.

Q: Did you notice an overall "mood" or general level of receptivity held by attendees
towards what you had to say?

A: More positive than I had expected. The flamers were a minority, and they
occasionally got stepped on by other audience members.

Q: Anything else interesting to report from your Microsoft visit?

A: Yes. One of its co-authors gave me an autographed copy of "The Unix-Hater's
Handbook" :-) But that doesn't quite mean what you think it does -- I had been one of
the manuscript reviewers.

Q: Of course, many may gather that perhaps the most fun and exciting aspect of your
visit was your dinner with science/speculative fiction authors Greg Bear and Neal
Stephenson. Was that as fun as it sounds to the rest of us?

A: Sure was. Those dinner plans were what seduced me into going to Redmond, and I
wasn't disappointed. George Dyson (author of "Darwin Among the Machines", and Esther
Dyson's brother) was there too. We spoke of many things; science fiction and AI and
Turing-computability and cryptography. Oh, and Neal solicited my advice on the proper
firearm for dealing with cougars
while hiking with his kids.

Belligerent Win2k developers. An outspoken advocate of Open Source. Put them together
in a room, and what do you get? Rumor has it there were fireworks. Who knows what
galactic alignments were knocked off kilter -- it was the Solstice, after all. We'll
never know exactly what happened over there, at least until a sympathetic mole over
in Redmond e-mails us a RealVideo/MPEG copy of ESR's speech. Illiad's User Friendly
offers us some food for thought.

Thanks very much to Eric S. Raymond for sharing his Microsoft experience with the
Linux/Open Source community.