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Taking it to the Streets: Open-source boosters protest in 'Revolution OS.'

Geek History

'Revolution OS' is a love letter to Linux

By Richard von Busack

J.T.S. MOORE'S documentary Revolution OS evangelizes for open-source software. I'm not an expert in the field, but essentially what Moore is saying is that the operating system is what they call the little genie inside your computer. Moore follows the history of cyber-counterculture from Richard Stallman's labors at MIT 30 years ago to the IPO of VA Linux Inc.--a small time in the history of man, an epic time in the history of information technology.

Moore interviews such essential figures as Linus Torvalds, Brian Behlendorf (co-developer of the Apache web server) and Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Moore filmed in widescreen--the perfect format for presenting wall-to-wall geeks. Stallman's conception of the "GNU Project" in 1984 was followed by Torvalds' kernel, named "Linux," which provided a practical and philosophical alternative to the more familiar Microsoft Windows. Eventually, even the dreaded Bill Gates had to acknowledge these rebels. We hear an early Gates communiqué of Feb. 3, 1976, planning his world domination from an apartment in Albuquerque. Even at this early date, he's threatening a dark future for those who freely duplicate software.

Much of the history of Gnu/Linux takes place locally, at Stanford and in various light-industrial parks. Moore shoots, with the cinematic enthusiasm of a true civic booster, a 1999 Linux convention in San Jose. Participants romp with goodies and funny hats, and go to the Usual for a sparsely attended get-together. In a personal appearance that drew 6,000, Torvalds speaks, while his cute kids frolic around onstage, getting underfoot. The film ends in the giddy days of December 1999 when Red Hat and Linux went public, and their stock went to the moon.

And then they went into the crapper. The bust occurs offstage--it's almost as if Moore had inserted a title card: "Unfortunately, after the Death Star was defeated, regrouping Imperial storm troopers slaughtered every last Ewok." The L.A.-based Moore, who made a brief appearance at the San Jose press screening, noted, "When the bottom fell out, it wasn't practical to go back and tear everything up. Revolution OS follows the story to the pivot point."

Compared to these fighters for a more equitable operating system, eyes shining with a vision of a cooperative future, I am but a lazy worm who just wants the damn computer to work when I turn it on. Can such a lowly technophobe consumer be safe with anything more complex than Windows? The good thing is that Gnu/Linux systems allow free attention from volunteer members of the community. But even with Linux, one might wait for a few days from an answer from the user group, which sounds similar to the agony waiting for the operators at Microsoft or Apple technicians to deign to answer your question. Is Gnu/Linux really this God-like?

Revolution OS (Unrated; 85 min.), a documentary by J.T.S. Moore, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the August 22-28, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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