The Maltese Penguin

The fog was as thick as a Windows error message. I was returning to the office after another difficult case: The Feds had just discovered a two-digit year field in an obscure, Department of Agriculture database. If it wasn’t corrected by the year 2000, they were gonna bomb Norway. I fixed the problem by strong-arming a systems administrator in Justice into keeping 1999 going for a little longer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private Consultant.

I entered the office and tossed my hat at the coat rack. It missed, hit the heater and instantly burst into flames. That reminded me: I had some work to do in Windows.

I was opening a bottle of bourbon when the door swung open and a large penguin waddled into the room. “Mr. Rowe?” he asked, jumping into a chair.

“Yeah. What’s it to you?” I offered him a Lucky Strike, but he declined.

“Have you ever heard of Linux?” he asked, producing a gold cigarette case and pulling out a sardine.

“Of course. It’s a free version of Unix.”

“Someone’s holding it back from mass acceptance. I want you to find out who it is. We believe his initials are BG.”

“My fee is $100 a day, plus expenses,” I told him.

He raised an eyebrow. “This is Linux. You’re supposed to do it for the love of technology.”

We negotiated. I agreed to take the job for the love of technology, added self-esteem, a warm and fuzzy feeling all over, and the ATM pin number for Andy Grove’s Swiss bank account. He tossed a CD-ROM onto my desk and waddled out.

Bundled Nerves
The next morning I got up at the crack of noon. I started my investigations at the office of an old friend, Dell Gateway. He wasn’t happy to see me.

“BG didn’t send you, did he?” he asked, nervously drumming his fingers and typing “s efasdfasdfasdfsdfasef” into the annual stockholder’s report. “I asked him if we could put the name of our computers on the screen somewhere. He absolutely forbid it, of course. Not that I’d do anything to cross him, but I’m scared he’ll drop by and notice our logo on the box.”

I assured him that BG hadn’t sent me. “Know anything about Linux?” I asked, sinking comfortably into his couch.

He turned whiter than Michael Jackson. “BG did send you, didn’t he?”

I sighed, got up, and let the cat out from under me. “For the last time, BG didn’t send me. I’m working for a penguin who wants to do why more people aren’t using Linux.”

He smiled with all the sincerity of a politician in November. 

“And what does this…penguin want from me?”

“He wants you to bundle Linux with some of your computers.”

“Every computer we sell comes bundled with one of BG’s operating systems. That’s all I can say.”

“Ever think of offering an alternative?”

Gateway pushed a button on his desk. Two powerful men came in and started beating me with printer cables.

When I came to, I was in a large cardboard box filled with Styrofoam peanuts. I climbed out, tipped the FedEx man, and went on my way. Dell Gateway was scared–scared as an Apple employee watching Steve Jobs talk about vision.

Back to School
I next dropped in on Anna Conda, a system administrator for the local university. I knew she’d talk if I made the right moves. I know how to handle women.

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you,” she said. “Just stop begging!

“Linux is great,” she continued. “It’s the best OS in the world. Look, I maintain a network for 53 linguistic professors, and they used to put all sorts of things on their Macs. I couldn’t tell what those programs were…they were in, like, all sorts of languages.

“Then I gave them all Linux; removed that other OS entirely. I found some great point-of-sale software on the Web which I converted to handling grades and Ph.D. theses.

“Now I don’t get no trouble from those professors. In fact, as far as I can tell, none of them are even using their computers anymore.”

Cruel and Unusual
When I got back to the office, I gave the penguin’s CD-ROM a whirl. Things weren’t fitting together. Why was BG muscling the vendors? Was Linux really scaring Linguistics professors? What was the real reason they’d canceled Ellen? The answers, I knew, were on the CD-ROM.

The installation program got off to a good start, asking me if I wanted to wipe everything off my hard drive. The options were XY-14 and Q40. I picked the later and soon knew that I didn’t have to worry about my corrupted Windows registry anymore.

Next, it asked me to pick an X-server. The help file didn’t say what an X-server was, but it did tell me where I could find out on the Web–nice thing to know after I’d formatted my hard drive.

In the end I picked an X-server at random, and was able to boot Linux in a one-color mode. Black on black.

I was about to douse the keyboard with bourbon when my client waddled in. “Well,” he said, “have you found out why Linux isn’t catching on?”

There’s nothing like the sound of a penguin going through a second story window. It enhanced my love of technology, increased my self-esteem, and gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over.




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