Is VMworld still open for competition or not? – UPDATED

Disclosure: runs its own independent conference about virtualization technologies called Virtualization Congress.
The first edition was arranged in US in May 2009 and was co-hosted with the Citrix Synergy 2009 conference. Even if the Citrix event sponsorship didn’t influence by any mean the agenda of the Virtualization Congress, the sessions’ contents or the speakers line-up, it is still true that Citrix is a competitor of VMware and that the Virtualization Congress may be mistakenly perceived as a very humble attempt to compete with the VMworld.

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For the last few years VMware sold its premiere event VMworld as an independent industry conference about virtualization technologies, where even its competitors are welcome to exhibit and speak on stage.

Nobody really knows if and how much VMware really treats its competitors: the company may censor part of the sessions’ contents, it may place their booths on less prominent position on the exhibit floor, it may restrict the access to the highest level of sponsorship, etc.
If VMware does anything of this it doesn’t really matter: VMworld is so successful (last year it scored over 14,000 attendees) that competitors like Microsoft and Citrix simply can’t afford to miss it, and every year are among the first to sign the sponsorship contract.
And the fact that the entire eco-system exhibits at VMworld validates VMware as the industry leader in the virtualization market.

Today Brian Madden suggested that this state of things may change very soon, as VMware is about to transform the VMworld into a much more restricted conference:

…VMware has modified the language of their sponsor and exhibitor agreement to specifically ban vendors from marketing or demonstrating products that compete with VMware’s offerings.

From the agreement:

Sponsors and exhibitors must market or demonstrate products on the exhibition floor and in the sessions which are complementary to VMware products and technologies. Complementary products and services are defined as products/services that do not overlap/substitute with VMware’s products/capabilities, and help expand the reach and solution scope of VMware’s capabilities solely as deemed by VMware…

In a few hours this excerpt generated some outraged reactions in the community.
The idea that VMware deceived its own principles seems unacceptable.

Additionally, considering that VMware now competes with pretty much everybody in the virtualization market, it’s unlikely that the company would throw out of the window all the money that its competitors would spend to be at VMworld. 

VMware promptly answered and clarified that competition is still welcome at VMworld 2009:

…Just to be clear, the exhibitor sponsorship contract we are using is standard across the industry. Nothing out of the ordinary or meant to limit the value of VMworld.
As you’d expect, Microsoft and Citrix have already signed up and will of course be participating in the conference this year, as well as hundreds of other companies.
We encourage companies to exhibit and participate that compete with us in one fashion, but complement us in others…

Update: After the official answer that VMware published online, Brian Madden further investigated and provide additional, concerning details that seem to not match with the reassuring statements the company just provided:

…What VMware did NOT disclose is that both Citrix and Microsoft are being confined to 10-foot by 10-foot booths this year, even though they both asked for larger ones. VMware will not accept their money for larger booths and is denying them the space. The larger booths, it turns out, are only available to VMware TAP partners, with all non-partners limited to the 10×10 booths.

The best part is that a provision in the sponsor agreement says that (1) exhibitor employees must remain in the boundaries of their booths, and (2) no crowds watching demos are allowed to spill out of the booth into the common traffic areas, and if they do, VMware reserves the right to “resolve the situation.” (I am absolutely not making that up…

While this may be still an industry standard sponsorship agreement (as VMware claimed above), it certainly sounds very different from what the audience used to see in the previous years at VMworld.