TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Revolution OS

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 7
Column Tag: Reviews

Revolution OS

The rise of the free software and open source movements

by Andrew S. Downs

Introduction

Every so often a movie comes along that tells a techie tale in just the right way. Making the rounds right now at film festivals and on various movie channels is an independent film called Revolution OS. Produced and directed by J.T.S. Moore, Revolution OS tells the story of the rise of the Free Software and Open Source movements. Using a combination of news bites, camera shots of Silicon Valley, and occasional statistics illustrating the increasing adoption of Linux and popularity of Linux-related Initial Public Offerings, the movie intersperses such teasers with interviews with key players in these movements.

The movie opens with Eric Raymond recounting an episode in which he encountered the Microsoft VP of Consumer Products at a conference. Eric concludes the encounter by telling the VP "I'm you're worst nightmare." This opening exchange sets the tone for the movie: a growing movement that threatens the dominance of Microsoft.

The talking head format used for these interviews works better than you might expect. The main players are introduced with little fanfare. This allows you to focus on the message that each relays. We meet several of the players in the opening minutes: Eric Raymond, Linus Torvalds, Bruce Perens, and Richard Stallman. The interviews show the passion as well as the facts. The small amount of narration and voiceover provides some variety in the presentation, and in no way detracts from the message. There is no evidence of "Hollywood" in this film.

The tech talk is light. The most complex topic discussed is the distinction between the monolithic kernel architecture of Linux and the microkernel-based GNU HURD. If you read Cliff Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg, the superficial treatment of potentially complex topics is similar though engaging. This makes the movie accessible to a broader audience.

For example, Bruce Perens, the author of the Open Source Definition, discusses open source as a way for developers to collaborate on projects without restrictive intellectual property laws and contracts getting in the way. Those developers sacrifice intellectual property rights in an effort to increase the number of users of the software. This could easily have gotten bogged down in legal terminology, but Bruce makes the topic easily accessible.

We also find out that the connections between the philosopher Stallman, the engineer Torvalds, and the companies that aim to bring these products to market are based not on a bandwagon mentality but on real experience with the underlying products. Michael Tiemann of Cygnus Software and Larry Augustin of VA Linux Systems, who serve as the film's primary entrepreneurs, were both programmers who contributed to the GNU software code base earlier in their careers. No doubt this enhanced their ability to make otherwise free tools a commercial success.

Another indication of the symbiosis between companies and philosophers is Netscape's decision to release its browser source code (the Mozilla project) as open source based on the principles espoused in Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Fearing a Microsoft monopoly and perversion of HTML and HTTP, Netscape became the first commercial vendor to offer its source code as a product.

free vs. Open Source

The movie goes to great lengths to balance the discussion between the Free Software Movement and Open Source. Although Linux and Open Source receive the lion's share of media attention, we find out that Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation predate Open Source by ten years or so.

Free software and open source are not synonymous. Free software is more of a political stance than an economic one: "free" refers not to price but to philosophy. Free software can be used and modified without restriction. In the proprietary, single vendor or non-free software world we know this concept as piracy, except where very liberal licenses apply. Free software began as Richard Stallman's personal crusade about twenty years ago. Interviews with Richard in the movie clearly bring out the zeal and passion in the man. What started as a configurable text editor (Emacs) in the 1980s evolved along several non-contiguous paths, including the Free Software Foundation's GNU project and the Open Source movement where Linux and Apache remain the most obvious examples of successful projects into an essential element of our technology infrastructure. Some businesses base their products on code originating from free software.

Freedom to modify is a pillar of this philosophy. The responsibility accompanying that freedom comes in the form of the GNU Public License (GPL). The GPL states that distributing a product that uses free software within its core or periphery (derivatives of the GPL differ) requires the distributor or vendor to also distribute or make available the product source code so that others may enjoy the same freedom to use and modify.

Making money

One important question with regard to both free software and open source software (which by definition is free-of-charge) is "How do you make money?" At first blush it may appear impossible. After all, I or any programmer or hacker with a compiler can download, modify, and build the finished product. Then I can simply give it to my friends and coworkers, right?

Yes, you can if the license permits it. But your next question might be "How do I configure it for my system?" Or "Why did it not install properly on my system?" If you have time and desire you may be able to determine the answers on your own. But businesses typically do not plan for, pay for, or sometimes allow this experimentation to occur on their dime. They prefer to call or email someone else for support.

And there lies the answer to the moneymaking question. The rise in outsourcing encourages firms that specialize in support (including packaging, installation, configuration, and usage issues) of open source and free software products. Businesses can then expense support costs by purchasing a packaged GNU/Linux product from a vendor such as RedHat, Caldera, SuSE, or VA Linux and receive ongoing support from outside the company. This reduces or eliminates the need for in-house expertise, though pockets of knowledge within the company will remain and likely grow.

Microsoft

Microsoft's role in the movie is cannon fodder for several anecdotal episodes discussing encounters between free software and open source luminaries and Microsoft managers and the company-at-large. One of the most memorable is Bill Gates' 1976 letter to the Homebrew Computer Club, in which he verbally clubs those developers who used Microsoft's BASIC compiler without paying for it. In contrast, the Windows Refund Day protest in 1999 provided less drama, since Microsoft provided drinks rather than water cannons when the protestors showed up at their building. But the movie is not a Microsoft bashfest. Rather, it illustrates the reasons behind the rise of open source and free software. These people changed the world in response to the proprietary software philosophy, of which Microsoft is the most visible proponent.

Apple

So where is the Apple and Mac OS connection in all this? The movie discusses free software (the GNU tools) and open source (Berkeley Unix) products that are familiar territory to Mac OS developers with the rise of OS X. The GNU development tools lie at the center of Project Builder, the development environment that ships with OS X. Berkeley Unix, itself an attempt to bring freedom to the category of operating systems by competing with AT&T's proprietary Unix, has over the years given rise to offshoots that use open source and collaboration as their development philosophy. FreeBSD is one of those offshoots and sits near the core of OS X. (The Mach microkernel resides underneath. Mach is another open source project that receives little air time in the movie but broke new ground in kernel development.)

At the other end of the Mac OS spectrum are technologies such as Aqua and QuickTime that are unlikely to become open source candidates since they are key to differentiating Mac OS from competing operating systems.

In the middle lie extensions to the kernel and BSD subsystems, including Directory Services and Rendezvous. These remain open source projects maintained by Apple and interested developers outside the company.

Suggested Reading

I enjoyed this movie, but it may leave some technophiles longing for more. Its treatment of technical issues is light. If you find the movie intriguing or simply want to learn more about the people, ideas, and products involved, here are several books you should consider reading:

    The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric S. Raymond, 1999, 2001. O'Reilly and Associates, Inc. The essays in this book capture the essence of the open source philosophy and attempt to quantify and explain the "why" behind the "what".

    Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software, by Sam Williams, 2002. O'Reilly and Associates, Inc. This book presents Richard Stallman's free software philosophy and history through recaps of interviews with the man himself and other sources.

    Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond, 2001. HarperCollins. Half-written by Linus Torvalds, with the balance consisting of interview recaps, this book provides insight into Linus' character and views on life, Linux, and the pursuit of family.

    Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark Stone, 1999. O'Reilly and Associates, Inc. This contains essays by Stallman, Raymond, Torvalds, Perens, Tiemann and others.

    Rebel Code: The Inside Story of Linux and the Open Source Revolution, by Glyn Moody, 2001. Perseus Publishing. An account of the rise of Linux from a spare-time college project to its dominance today.

Also, check out the Revolution OS web site at http://www.revolution-os.com/.


Andrew writes embedded system software in New Orleans, LA. You can reach him at andrew@downs.ws.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

TrailRunner 3.8.834 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
iFFmpeg 6.2.5 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a comprehensive media tool to convert movie, audio and media files between formats. The FFmpeg command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does all the hard... Read more
DaisyDisk 4.4 - $9.99
DaisyDisk allows you to visualize your disk usage and free up disk space by quickly finding and deleting big unused files. The program scans your disk and displays its content as a sector diagram... Read more
iFFmpeg 6.2.5 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a comprehensive media tool to convert movie, audio and media files between formats. The FFmpeg command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does all the hard... Read more
DaisyDisk 4.4 - $9.99
DaisyDisk allows you to visualize your disk usage and free up disk space by quickly finding and deleting big unused files. The program scans your disk and displays its content as a sector diagram... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.07 - Customize Multi-T...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.071 - Customize Multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
BetterTouchTool 2.07 - Customize Multi-T...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom... Read more
PDFpen 8.3.2 - $74.95
PDFpen allows users to easily edit PDF's. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even correct text and edit graphics! Features... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 6.5.20 - Catalog your d...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast Finder-like intuitive look and feel Super-fast search algorithm Can compress catalog data for... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Pokémon GO Generation 2 evolution guide
At long last, Niantic Labs finally unleashed the Generation 2 Pokémon into the wild. Pokémon GO trainers are scrambling to grab up this new set of 80 Pokémon. There are some special new tricks required to catch all of these new beasties, though.... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
It feels as though the New Year got off to a creaking start as far as mobile games go, but that's changed over the past few weeks. The last few days alone have seen the debut of a number of wonderful games, so we thought we'd take the time to... | Read more »
Recruit more scallywags and discover new...
Get ready to show off your sea legs all over again in Oceans & Empires’ new grand update, which aims to make the act of rising to the role of seven seas ruler even more fresh and appealing, thanks to a richness of new content on both iOS and... | Read more »
Mage the Ascension: Refuge (Games)
Mage the Ascension: Refuge 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The groundbreaking roleplaying game Mage: The Ascension manifests in our turbulent present with Refuge, an... | Read more »
Vampire: Prelude (Games)
Vampire: Prelude 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The classic roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade returns to digital games with a Prelude of things to come. Experience a... | Read more »
Digby Forever Guide: How to dig to the d...
Digby Forever is a sparkling homage to arcade classics, and while you may be tiring of the number of arcade games being thrown at you, this endless digger finds many ways to stand out from the rest of the pack. The game manages to be challenging... | Read more »
The best sales on the App Store this wee...
It's been quite the week in mobile games, but if the latest releases(there were some pretty darn good ones, in case you missed out) aren't really doing the trick, perhaps some of these discounted games will. Many of these premium games had their... | Read more »
Why the new Fire Emblem Heroes update sh...
It’s exciting to see Nintendo delving into the mobile sphere, regardless of whether it’s to give fans another platform to enjoy their fans or simply a sound business venture. Two of the company's announced mobile games have finally come to... | Read more »
New Fire Emblem Heroes update adds new h...
Fire Emblem Heroes received a sizeable update first thing this morning. The update features a batch of fresh content along with a few updates to the game's systems. [Read more] | Read more »
The Deep Paths (Games)
The Deep Paths 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: 25% off launch sale!!! The Deep Paths: Labyrinth Of Andokost is a first-person, dungeon crawling RPG, with traditional grid-based... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for up...
Amazon has 15″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray: $2720.38 $79 off MSRP - 15″ 2.7GHz... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free: -... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Newegg has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (MMGG2LL/A) on sale for $1029.99 including free shipping. Their price is $170 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Choose Newegg... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $1...
B&H has 12″ 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1149 $150 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz... Read more
InTouch Health Expands iOS And Windows Produc...
Specialty telehealth enterprise provider InTouch Health has announced an expanded range of FDA Class I listed medical devices and software solutions for ambulatory, non-acute and non-emergent... Read more
iMobie Airs World’s 1st iCloud Manager with M...
iMobie Inc., an Apple-related software company, announced their newly-updated iPhone manager AnyTrans with exclusive feature to sync and manage contents across multiple iCloud accounts. With it,... Read more
New Proactive Apple Support Professional Cert...
Watchman Monitoring has announced Proactive Support Professional Certification at MacTech Pro. Watchman Monitoring is a premier Proactive Support Software as a Service (SaaS) tool for IT... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2015 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina Apple MacBook Pro on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A): $... Read more
Back in stock: Apple refurbished 13-inch Reti...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $360 off original MSRP, starting at $1099. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Technician - nfrastructure (United S...
Let’s Work Together Apple Technician This position is based in Portland, ME Life at nfrastructure At nfrastructure, we understand that our success results from our Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* macOS Systems Integration Administra...
…most exceptional support available in the industry. SCI is seeking an Junior Apple macOS systems integration administrator that will be responsible for providing Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.