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Microsoft Steals Show Software Giant’s Critics Unwelcome At Electronics Extravaganza

Fri., Nov. 21, 1997

The cavernous hall looks like a Microsoft love-fest: Hundreds of smaller software companies exhibit under the Microsoft banner, “Where do you want to go today?” Attendees stare at images on overhead video screens touting its software.

But outside on a street corner, two Microsoft lampooners who had been kicked off the show floor cried, “What does he want to own today?” and waved boxes of software parodying the popular Windows program.

The jab at Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates this week at the massive Comdex computer show here was hardly the first in an industry that regularly spoofs the dominant maker of PC software.

But the contrast illuminated the divide between Microsoft’s inside circle of friends and detractors who risk getting kicked into the street. More broadly, it showed how little the controversy surrounding the company has affected business with its partners or consumers.

There was nary a word about a current Justice Department probe into Microsoft on the sprawling show floor, where an estimated 215,000 technology buyers crammed the exhibits of Microsoft and 2,200 other companies.

Likewise, no one mentioned lawsuits against Microsoft by state law enforcers and rival Sun Microsystems Inc., or the anti-Microsoft rally held by consumer activist Ralph Nader two weeks ago.

Instead, attendees on Thursday were consumed by the need to report back to their employers about which technology to buy.

“We don’t look at the political battles of other companies as to what’s best for us,” said Scott Marks, a technology buyer for NationsBanc Montgomery Securities Inc., based in San Francisco.

Marks was cruising the floor at the Microsoft Partner Pavilion, where nearly 300 software companies shared 11,000 feet of the most heavily traveled section of the Comdex show. He explained that his company’s computers run on Microsoft Windows and Windows NT operating programs, making it important to look at software that was compatible.

In a nearby 5-foot booth, Riza Chui of MCI’s outsourcing unit, a Microsoft partner, said Microsoft’s ubiquitous image helped sales. Besides, the Canadian subsidiary received prime real estate for less than what displaying elsewhere would cost. The MCI unit develops software that helps business customers figure out which computer systems are best for them.

Was she concerned about bad publicity?

“You’re the first person to ask,” said Chui, a marketing coordinator.

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