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

OmniOutliner Pro 4.6 - Pro version of th...
OmniOutliner Pro is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more
Alfred 3.1 - Quick launcher for apps and...
Alfred is an award-winning productivity application for OS X. Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords, and file actions at... Read more
OmniOutliner 4.6 - Organize your ideas,...
OmniOutliner is a flexible program for creating, collecting, and organizing information. Give your creativity a kick start by using an application that's actually designed to help you think. It's... Read more
Default Folder X 5.0.6 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click on... Read more
Adobe Creative Cloud 3.8.0.310 - Access...
Adobe Creative Cloud costs $19.99/month for a single app, or $49.99/month for the entire suite. Introducing Adobe Creative Cloud desktop applications, including Adobe Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC... Read more
MYStuff Pro 2.0.25 - Create inventories...
MYStuff Pro is the most flexible way to create detail-rich inventories for your home or small business. Add items to MYStuff by dragging and dropping existing information, uploading new images, or... Read more
Viber 6.2.0 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device, so... Read more
Data Rescue 4.2.3 - Powerful hard drive...
Use Data Rescue to recover: crashed, corrupted or non-mounting hard drive deleted, damaged, or lost files reformatted or erased hard drive One powerful new feature found in Data Rescue 4 is... Read more
Microsoft Remote Desktop 8.0.34 - Connec...
With Microsoft Remote Desktop, you can connect to a remote PC and your work resources from almost anywhere. Experience the power of Windows with RemoteFX in a Remote Desktop client designed to help... Read more
Microsoft Remote Desktop 8.0.34 - Connec...
With Microsoft Remote Desktop, you can connect to a remote PC and your work resources from almost anywhere. Experience the power of Windows with RemoteFX in a Remote Desktop client designed to help... Read more

Find out the story behind League of Ange...
If you’re looking for a new thrilling MMORPG to play with your friends then you’ll be excited to hear that there is a sequel to one of the most well known titles in the genre – namely League of Angels 2. With a brand new 3D engine offering... | Read more »
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Blazing...
I'm not sure if it's possible to say you are an anime fan but also never have seen one episode of Naruto. If it is, then I resemble that remark, and if not, I offer a hearty apology. [Read more] | Read more »
5 mobile games that let you explore spac...
No Man's Sky hasn't exactly turned out to be everything it was promised. Though its core concept of exploring an unimaginably vast universe of different planets is an intriguing one, the execution has left many PS4 and PC gamers feeling like they... | Read more »
Mummy madness in new action game Tomb He...
Hot on the tail of Bump Hero, ZPlay is giving gamers another reason to get screen bashing with a brand new release. Tomb Heroes is a challenging action game in which you battle enemies in various tombs around the world. You can select from nine... | Read more »
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) (Games)
Siralim 2 (RPG / Roguelike) 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Siralim 2 is an old-school monster catching RPG. Summon and customize hundreds of creatures to fight for you as... | Read more »
Clean Text (Productivity)
Clean Text 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars (Games)
Gemini - A Journey of Two Stars 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: *** SPECIAL LAUNCH SALE: $2.99 (25% off) *** "A mesmerizing and unexpectedly emotional journey." -- Los... | Read more »
How to get four NFL superstars for your...
Even though you're probably well on your way to building a top notch squad for the new season in Madden NFL Mobile, let's say you could beef it up by adding Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Von Miller, and Todd Gurley to your roster. That's... | Read more »
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!...
Cartoon Network Superstar Soccer: Goal!!! – Multiplayer Sports Game Starring Your Favorite Characters 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Become a soccer superstar with your... | Read more »
NFL Huddle: What's new in Topps NFL...
Can you smell that? It's the scent of pigskin in the air, which either means that cliches be damned, pigs are flying in your neck of the woods, or the new NFL season is right around the corner. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

RESCUECOM 2016 Semi-Annual Computer Reliabili...
The beginning of a new school year is upon us again, in which students and parents have some very important choices to make, often including the purchase of a computer or tablet. Whether you are... Read more
VRS Design Damda Glide Series iPhone 7 and 7...
What makes the Damda Glide Series for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus special? Case maker VRS Design says its Damda Glide Series is the first mobile case to incorporate a semi-automatic mechanism for... Read more
Apple refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $350 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $829... Read more
Check Apple prices on any device with the iTr...
MacPrices is proud to offer readers a free iOS app (iPhones, iPads, & iPod touch) and Android app (Google Play and Amazon App Store) called iTracx, which allows you to glance at today’s lowest... Read more
Save $120 with Apple refurbished Time Capsule...
Apple has certified refurbished Time Capsules available for $120 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each Time Capsule, and shipping is free: - 2TB Time Capsule: $179, $120 off (not... Read more
9-inch 32GB iPad Pros on sale for $70 off MSR...
B&H Photo has 9″ 32GB WiFi Apple iPad Pros on sale for $70 off MSRP, each including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 9″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $529 $70 off MSRP - 9... Read more
Mac minis on sale for up to $140 off MSRP
Adorama has Mac minis on sale for up to $100 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP Amazon has the... Read more
Back To School with OtterBox Essentials
Back to school means back to an environment that is tough on tech. OtterBox has the back to school essentials you need to keep tech safe from drops, bumps, scratches and hallway havoc. Check out the... Read more
VRS Design Releases New iPhone 7 Plus Case Li...
With a device as large and costly as the iPhone 7 Plus, it is primal instinct to protect it from potential damage. According to a study by SquareTrade in 2012, iPhone damages cost Americans roughly $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 51218354 Fredericksburg, Virginia, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description:SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* /Mac Support Engineer - GFI Digital,...
FI Digital, Inc. is currently seeking candidates for a full time Apple Support Engineer to add to our Maryland Heights, Missouri IT team. Candidates must be dynamic Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
Apple Solutions ConsultantJob Number: 51218534Pleasant Hill, California, United StatesPosted: Aug. 18, 2016Weekly Hours: 40.00Job SummaryAs an Apple Solutions Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 51443201 Mishawaka, Indiana, United States Posted: Aug. 25, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.