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02/21/2003 Archived Entry: "Everything I Know About Linux..."
Posted by CKL @ 11:01 AM PST

...I learned from watching the documentary Revolution OS last night (no, not really):

  • Richard Stallman is a bit of a kook.

  • Don't call Eric Raymond a Communist. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

  • Bruce Perens looks a lot like Brent Spiner, especially when he's enunciating.

  • Free Speech != Free Beer != Free Kevin (okay, this wasn't in the movie; it's my pithy distillation of the debate between "Open Source" and "Free Software").

  • Linus Torvalds has cute kids.

  • There are, apparently, no females involved in the development of Linux. The only woman featured in the movie was Susan Egan, the narrator, who never appears onscreen.

Halfway through the movie, my girlfriend asked why they were using a Mac to display web pages. She could tell from the window design, buttons, and font that the filmmakers had used Netscape on a Macintosh, and she didn't understand why they weren't using a Linux box instead, since the movie is ostensibly about how great Linux is.

Frankly, I hadn't noticed, and I wasn't as concerned as she was about the potential hypocrisy, because they were just showing web pages, which, theoretically, should look pretty much the same on any browser and any OS. (Yes, we all know this isn't true, but never underestimate the power of ignorance.) After thinking about it some more, there may be another reason: they probably didn't want to appear to be favoring a particular distribution of Linux, window manager, or desktop environment over another. Never mind the lawyers; you really don't want to annoy the hackers.

Overall, it wasn't a bad documentary, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is. Any programmers who are really interested in Linux can get much more information about it, including its history, from web sites and other online resources. Non-technical computer users will probably be lost somewhere around point 4 or 5 of the Open Source Definition. And business folks will probably complain that there wasn't more coverage of the Red Hat and VA Linux IPOs.

It's certainly an interesting anthropological and sociological phenomenon-- as Eric Raymond points out, the idea that a distributed, decentralized group of random programmers around the world could cobble together a working operating system goes against all traditional ideas of project management. But they did, and not only does it work, it works better than a lot of commercial or proprietary systems. There are important philosophical issues behind the Free Software and Open Source movements, but they're difficult to propagate because most people's eyes glaze over the minute you start talking about kernels and debuggers.

Revolution OS only scratched the surface, but to be fair, the revolution is still in its infancy. Nobody knows where this is going, or where it will end up. What we need is somebody, or a group of somebodies, to document it on video so it can be reviewed later. We'll never be here again, and our children will want to know what it was like.

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