Mondays Linux-organized demonstrations demanding refunds for pre-installed Windows operating systems drew a small number of people. And none of them got refunds. But the protests got enormous media coverage all over the country and has a lot of symbolism. Why? Because the marchers touched a much deeper chord than the few bucks they were seeking. The Penguin is about to become much more famous.
The pictures on TV and in the papers were on the shocking side, evoking an old, not a new culture or political ethic.
Small, chanting bands of nerdy looking people parading outside of Microsoft offices in different parts of the company were photographed on TV and in papers waving Linux Penguin banners around and demanding refunds for Microsoft's Windows OS that had been pre-installed on their computers.
There were very few demonstrators, and none were known to have gotten refunds. But there was the definite sense that something dramatic had happened, that some corner had been turned.
"It's not a lot of money," one protestor, wearing a faded Atari T-shirt and black Keds sneakers to the Manhattan demonstration told The New York Times, "it's just the idea that you're forced to buy Windows when there are better alternatives out there."
According to the Times, more than "100 self-proclaimed computer geeks" showed up at MS sales offices in several cities to make noise about their wish to reject Windows. The demos were organized by Linux advocates.
The Linux movement is definitely gaining steam and making noise. This week, Business Week wrote that Linux might turn out to be Microsoft's "Vietnam," and raised the spectre of a "guerrilla army" of OSS advocates giving the behemoth fits.
Almost the very next day, the demonstrators popped up outside of Microsoft offices in California, New York, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Japan, to ask for their money back for operating systems they don't want or need.
Whoever organized the protests understands modern journalism well. The protests were widely covered in newspapers and on TV.
Linux has grown by nearly 40 per cent a year over the past few years, and its users number more than seven million worldwide. This rapid growth has been largely ignored by media, which favors stories that burn, scream or explode.
So if you can get 100 protestors to picket some offices and yell for the TV cameras, then - miraculously -- Linux is on the way to becoming a household word.
The OSS and free software movements are among the most political technological movements in media. The collective manufacture, improvement and free distribution of information software is a radical departure from the recent sorry history of media, which has been gobbled up and homogenized by giant, soulless corporations that hate free speech and love only power, money and market share.
The Internet is becoming a battleground for what is clearly a growing political struggle between companies like Microsoft and the millions of individuals who have grown up in the freeest information culture in history.
Linux, OSS and the free software movements are quickly becoming the symbol of political opposition to the looming corporatization of the Net, under siege from some of the wealthiest companies on the planet, from Disney to Microsoft.
Monday's demonstrations were ironic in that they invoked the 60's much more than the Millenium. Chanting and placard waving are traditional symbols of old, not new, politics. But they obviously still work.
"I'm interested in the whole idea of not having any one company control the operating system market," Peter Lehrer, a 39-year-old accountant who drove into Manhattan from New Jersey to join in the demonstrations yesterday. "I just wanted to see what this was all about."
Lehrer's curiousity and enterprise are more significant than even he imagined. Essayist John Ralston Saul wrote in "The Unconscious Civilization" that the epic political battle of the 21st century will be between dehumanizing corporatization and individuals.
Finding some equilibrium in this struggle, Saul wrote, is dependent not just on criticizing, but on the individual's willingness to be a non-conformist in the public place: precisely what the Penguin stands for.
To take on the corporatization of culture, from Wal-Mart to Microsoft, the individual will need common sense, creativity, ethics, intuition, memory and reason. These can be exploited individually, says Saul. "Or they can be applied together, in some sort of equilibrium, as the filters of public action."
However tiny the demonstrations were, that's precisely what happened at a handful of Microsoft offices on Monday, exactly what Peter Lehrer was doing when he took the trouble to drive into New York City.
In our time, corporatization represents greed, exploitation, lack of knowledge and choice and loss of freedom. Movements like open source and free software signify the opposite. They are about generousity and openness. They require knowledge, offer choice, and guarantee freedom. That's why a tiny handful of demonstrators made such a big noise.