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The other silly season

The other silly season

Matthew JC. Powell ~ at large

The other silly season

Dressed to the nines in his best tux, Matthew JC. Powell still has nowhere to go . . .

It's Comdex time again. This is truly a wonderful time for observers like myself, who rejoice in the absurd. In one corner is the computer industry, where at any moment some PR person somewhere is dreaming up a bizarre stunt designed to promote some product, however obliquely. Special Forces troops abseiling into a party to promote a Blade Runner game, that sort of thing (never did figure it out).

And in the other corner is Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, where at any moment bizarre activities are to be had. Weddings in giant sphinxes presided over by Elvis, that sort of thing.

For one joyous moment each year, these two primary sources of silliness collide in an all-out shower of bizarre promotions. Wherever you turn, someone is doing something very odd, not always with any clear reason.

Take, for instance, TurboLinux, one of the many companies that markets a flavour of the wunderkind OS. TurboLinux has decided to celebrate very publicly and dramatically, using Comdex as a forum, the Department of Justice's preliminary finding against Microsoft.

Regular readers (or casual readers who happened to pick up last week's edition) will know that the judge in the anti-trust suit, Thomas Penfield Jackson, said in his findings of fact that Microsoft is a monopoly and has used its monopoly power to harm consumers and competitors. He also observed that the Pope is Catholic, Pat Rafter plays tennis and Luxembourg is not particularly large. The chapter about what bears do in the woods makes riveting reading.

Exactly what happens next to Microsoft will remain unclear until Jackson issues his findings of law and then his remedies. The process may take months or even years, as Jackson hears advice and arguments from proponents of both sides. The acknowledged experts on monopoly law, the Brothers Parker, advise that MS can now begin developing its properties by adding houses and hotels, and the rent is doubled on unimproved lots. Jackson may or may not be guided by this.

TurboLinux, meanwhile, is partying while the partying's good. The company's hypothesis is that, with the government now awake to Microsoft's anticompetitive behaviour, Linux will be able to fly, metaphorically speaking. As anyone will tell you, the best way to communicate a metaphor is to act it out literally. Thus, three executives of TurboLinux will leap from an aeroplane, floating gently groundwards with their parachutes. Not stuntpersons nor PR types, but actual executives of the company. What a youthful, go-get-it, extreme sports type industry we're in. Whacky.

But that's not all. As you may be aware, Linux has adopted as its emblem the noble penguin, common in regions near the South Pole (which, as Judge Jackson can tell you, is south from here). According to the highest authority I know of (Microsoft's Encarta dictionary), a penguin is a `seabird that cannot fly'. They spend most of their lives in and around water, and `cannot fly, but use their flipper-shaped wings for swimming'. You can't get much clearer than that - no flight for penguins.

Thus the genius in TurboLinux's stunt. The executives parachuting from the plane will be dressed in penguin suits to demonstrate their new-found ability to succeed unimpeded by bad old Microsoft. They are, in fact, flying dir-ectly in the face of Microsoft's definition of penguins. Brilliant wit, is it not?

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think there's something not right about this picture. While I will accept that getting a penguin to float through the air would indeed be an impressive trick, I would argue that being lifted off the ground by an aeroplane does not prove that one can fly. Any penguin can fly if you give it tickets. And once these hipsters leap from the plane in flight, they will make their way directly to the ground. Not circling and swooping majestically, revelling in their freedom from earth-bound shackles. Just straight down. Sure, they'll drift a little if there's wind, but mostly it'll be up in the plane, then down in the parachute.

In my humble opinion, this isn't flight. This seems more like the highly predictable effect of gravity on heavier-than-air objects. In the words of Buzz Lightyear, `it's falling with style'. I don't need TurboLinux to tell me that penguins can plummet.

So really there's no point in performing the stunt at all. As I write this, it hasn't happened yet. But by the time you read it (thanks to the archaic miracle of print) it will all be over. If I could go back in time a week and get a message to TurboLinux, it would be this: don't do it. Stay on the ground, and don't defy Encarta.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@ idg.com.au


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