Protest happens quietly at open source conference

Costumed advocates hand out flyers

WASHINGTON -- Free software advocates protesting the decision to include Microsoft  at an open source and government conference showed up in American Revolutionary War uniforms and passed out a few flyers Monday but otherwise didn't cause much of a ruckus.

The six protestors were at one point asked by a security officer to leave the building on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, but when they refused the officer didn't push the issue. The protesters, led by Ruben Safir, president of New York Linux organization NYLXS, passed out a one-page flyer headlined "Beware the false advocate!"

The flyer, complete with quotes from Revolutionary War leaders, accused Tony Stanco, organizer of the conference Open Standards/Open Source for National and Local eGovernment Programs in the U.S. and EU, of selling out the ideals of the free software movement. Safir and the others were protesting Stanco's decision to allow a Microsoft representative to speak about the company's shared source initiative here. Free software advocates see shared source as an imitation of open source, available to few privileged Microsoft customers.

"Although nominally described as an event wherein representatives of municipal, provincial and national governments can share their experiences with Open Source Software and learn about new offerings and best practices, in truth this noble purpose has been corrupted by those who would seek to gain personal and political advantage," the flyer read in part. "The sponsors of this gathering ... have elected to include participants who neither produce Open Source Software nor support it."

"What (Microsoft) is looking for is a free pass, and we're not here to give them a free pass," added Safir, wearing a purple Revolutionary War uniform with modern brown dress shoes. His group showed up at 9:30 a.m. EST and was gone by 2:30 p.m. EST.

Microsoft representatives weren't due at the conference until Tuesday and weren't immediately available for comment. But earlier, a Microsoft representative said that it is important for the company to have a dialog with the open source community.

Although the protesters were supposed to have obtained a permit from Washington city government, Stanco said, the group didn't cause problems. Several attendees asked questions or debated briefly with the small group, and Stanco himself talked to them for a few minutes.

"I thought it was fine," Stanco said. "They just walked in and passed out a few flyers."