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Microsoft fans: Which way L.A.?

Determined programmers and executives brave clogged airports or rent cars to make their way to the developer conference. Attendees feel well-fed, entertained.

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft user interface programmer Hillel Cooperman was among the many people who nearly didn't make it to Microsoft's developer conference because of airplane trouble.

But unlike many, his airplane woes weren't related to the wildfires that put a stranglehold on air traffic in and out of the Los Angeles area. Rather, Cooperman was on a private plane leased by one of his Microsoft colleagues. After refueling in the small Northern California town of Red Bluff, the plane refused to start.

Desperately needing to reach Los Angeles to show off Longhorn's interface Monday morning, Cooperman and fellow programmer Joe Peterson pleaded their case to a guy who was headed south after dropping off his parents.

 "They had a couple seats open," Peterson said. "He basically said for the cost of gas and a copy of Windows he'd fly us down--very nice guy."

Meanwhile, Windows lead product manager Greg Sullivan and another group of Microsoft workers were having trouble getting to the show for many of the same reasons as attendees--a flight control tower in San Diego was evacuated, delaying many flights for hours.

Sullivan spent hours Sunday at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport, hoping to go standby on any flight headed to Los Angeles. He had just about given up when he noticed a flight that was leaving for Palm Springs. He and some other colleagues made it onto that flight. Once in the desert town 100 miles from Los Angeles, they rented a stretch limo.

"We piled eight of us in the back, bought a 12-pack (of beer) and had a good-old time," Sullivan said.

Sullivan beamed as he noted that the real good news was that those who weren't employed by Microsoft also found ways to get to the conference. "The attendees were at least as determined to be here."

Indeed, despite the flight delays, the conference was packed. In many sessions, the crowd stretched into the hallways, with rows of developers watching the presentations outside the room on plasma TVs.

As good as it gets?
Say what you will about Microsoft, they know how to pamper their developers.

It's the little things. While most conferences offer sodas, Microsoft knows enough to put the sodas out first thing in the morning. It's one of the secrets to the company's success. Its Redmond, Wash., campus keeps huge refrigerators stocked with every soda known to mankind, including the rare Diet Cherry Coke.

But Microsoft wasn't taking any chances. In case there were health nuts among its developer masses, the company made sure there were rice cakes, fresh fruit and baby carrots to go with the mountainous piles of chips, cookies, Red Vines and ice-cream sandwiches.

And, knowing that programmers like computer games, the company thoughtfully set up a room filled with Xbox machines so conference-goers could chill out a bit between--or during--sessions.

Among those who took advantage of the Xbox room on Tuesday was Trond Borg, a San Francisco State University student and one of the Microsoft "student ambassadors" at the show.

Well-fed and quite entertained by a new snowboarding game, Borg said he had no complaints about his treatment.

"They take good care of us," he said.