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

FileZilla 3.51.0 - Fast and reliable FTP...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface. Version 3.51.0: Bugfixes and minor changes: Fixed import of... Read more
KeyCue 9.8 - Displays all menu shortcut...
KeyCue has always been a handy tool for learning and remembering keyboard shortcuts. With a simple keystroke or click, KeyCue displays a table with all available keyboard shortcuts, system-wide... Read more
AppCleaner 3.5.1 - Uninstall your apps e...
AppCleaner allows you to uninstall your apps easily. It searches the files created by the applications and you can delete them quickly. Version 3.5.1: Fixed a code-signing issue causing AppCleaner... Read more
A Better Finder Attributes 7.03 - Change...
A Better Finder Attributes allows you to change JPEG & RAW shooting dates, JPEG EXIF meta-data tags, file creation & modification dates, file flags and deal with invisible files. Correct EXIF... Read more
Postbox 7.0.33 - Powerful and flexible e...
Postbox is a desktop feature-stuffed email client, news application, and feed reader that helps you manage your work life and increase productivity. Now you can organize all your email accounts in... Read more
Adobe InCopy 16.0 - Create streamlined e...
InCopy is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for $52.99/month (or $4.99/month for InCopy app only). Adobe InCopy, ideal for large team projects involving both written copy and design work,... Read more
Steam 2.0 - Multiplayer and communicatio...
Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute a large number of games and related media... Read more
Adobe Lightroom Classic 10.0 - Import, d...
You can download Lightroom for Mac as a part of Creative Cloud for only $9.99/month with Photoshop, included as part of the photography package. The latest version of Lightroom gives you all of the... Read more
Adobe InDesign 16.0 - Professional print...
InDesign is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $20.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous InDesign customer). Adobe InDesign is part of Creative Cloud. That means you... Read more
Adobe After Effects 17.5 - Create profes...
After Effects is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for $52.99/month (or $20.99/month for a single app license). The new, more connected After Effects can make the impossible possible. Get... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Genshin Impact Currency Guide - What...
Genshin Impact is great fun, but make no mistake: this is a gacha game. It is designed specifically to suck away time and money from you, and one of the ways the game does this is by offering a drip-feed of currencies you will feel compelled to... | Read more »
XCOM 2 Collection on iOS now available f...
The XCOM 2 Collection, which was recently announced to be coming to iOS in November, is now available to pre-order on the App Store. [Read more] | Read more »
Presidents Run has returned for the 2020...
IKIN's popular endless runner Presidents Run has returned to iOS and Android just in time for the 2020 election season. It will see players choosing their favourite candidate and guiding them on a literal run for presidency to gather as many votes... | Read more »
New update for Cookies Must Die adds new...
A new update for Rebel Twins’ platformer shooter Cookies Must Die is coming out this week. The update adds quite a bit to the game, including new levels and characters to play around with. [Read more] | Read more »
Genshin Impact Guide - How to Beat Pyro...
The end game of Genshin Impact largely revolves around spending resin to take on world bosses and clear domain challenges. These fights grant amazing rewards like rare artifacts and ascension materials for weapons and adventurers, but obviously... | Read more »
Moto Rider GO has received a huge update...
Moto Rider GO: Highway Traffic is a popular free-to-play racing game that initially launched back in 2017 and has since racked up over 100 million downloads. Today it has received a sizeable update that introduces several KTM and Husqvarna... | Read more »
ORDESA is a spooky interactive film that...
French studio Cinétévé Experience and ARTE have released interactive movie ORDESA for iOS and Android today. It arrives at the perfect time of year, telling a story about a mysterious haunted house that the viewer suddenly finds themselves lost in... | Read more »
Genshin Impact Guide - How to Beat Storm...
If you've followed our progression guide for Genshin Impact up to Adventure Rank 25, you have reached the point where you can face off against Stormterror on a weekly basis for some pretty sweet rewards. Beating this deadly dragon isn't as easy as... | Read more »
MU Origin 2’s new update welcomes back l...
MU Origin 2 developer Webzen continues to churn out new content for the popular MMORPG and, true to form, it’s just released another update. This one encourages lapsed players to return to the game with the promise of new quests and rewards. [... | Read more »
Genshin Impact Guide - Everything you ne...
Genshin Impact has unveiled its first of what we can expect to be many special events and ongoing content updates. This latest update adds the Elemental Crucible Event. This event is available to any players that have reached Adventure Rank 20,... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple has 2020 13″ MacBook Airs available sta...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2020 13″ MacBook Airs available starting at only $849 and up to $200 off the cost of new Airs. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a... Read more
These major wireless carriers will give you a...
Apple’s wireless partners are offering several deals on iPhone 12 pre-orders right now. If you’re willing to switch carriers, you can get a free iPhone 12 right now. Here’s where to take advantage of... Read more
4 day sale at Sams Club: Save $24-$29 on Appl...
Sams Club has Apple Watch Series 6 GPS models on sale this week for $24-$29 off Apple’s MSRP, starting at $374. Sale ends this Thursday, October 22nd: – 40mm Apple Watch Series 6 GPS: $374.98, save $... Read more
US Cellular offers Apple iPhone 12 Pro for $8...
US Cellular has the 2020 128GB iPhone 12 Pro available for $829 off MSRP for new customers signing up for an Unlimited data plan, or $5.66 per month. Cost of the phone is spread over a 30 month... Read more
Buy one Apple Watch SE or Series 6 at AT&...
Buy one Apple Watch SE or Series 6 at AT&T, and get $200 off the price of a second Apple Watch. One new line required, and price discounted reflected in bill credits over a 30 month period. The... Read more
AT&T offers free iPhone 12, $800 off iPho...
AT&T is offering Apple’s new iPhone 12 for free, or up to $800 off the iPhone 12 Pro, for customers opening a new line of service plus an eligible trade-in. Discount is applied via monthly bill... Read more
US Cellular offers free iPhone 12 for custome...
US Cellular has the 2020 64GB iPhone 12 available for free for new customers signing up for an Unlimited data plan. Cost of the phone is spread over a 30 month period. The fine print: “Promotional... Read more
New Xfinity Mobile promo: Take $250 off Apple...
New customers opening a new line of service can take $250 off the purchase of Apple’s new iPhone 12 or iPhone 23 Pro at Xfinity Mobile through 1/4/21. Service plan required. Their offer reduces the... Read more
New at Verizon: Get the Apple 2020 64GB iPhon...
Verizon is offering the new 2020 64GB iPhone 12 for free for customers switching and opening a new line of service, pre-orders starting at October 16, 2020. They’re offering up to $800 off on 128GB... Read more
Verizon offers the new iPhone 12 Pro for $800...
Verizon is offering the new 2020 iPhone 12 Pro for $800 off MSRP for pre-orders, starting on October 16, 2020. Their offer reduces the price of the 128GB iPhone 12 Pro, for example, to only $199.99... Read more

Jobs Board

Department Manager- Tech Shop/ *Apple* Stor...
…their parents want, and our faculty needs. As a Department Manager in our Tech Shop/ Apple Store you will spend the majority of your time on the sales floor engaging Read more
Geek Squad *Apple* Consultation Professiona...
**782284BR** **Job Title:** Geek Squad Apple Consultation Professional **Job Category:** Store Associates **Store Number or Department:** 000140-San Carlos-Store Read more
*Apple* /Mac IT Support - Randstad (United St...
Apple /Mac IT Support **job details:** + location:San Francisco, CA + salary:$45 - $50 per hour + date posted:Thursday, October 8, 2020 + job type:Contract + Read more
Partner Champion, *Apple* - Insight Network...
Partner Champion, Apple Tempe, AZ, US Requisition Number:78333 As an Apple Partner Champion at Insight, you represent and manage gross profit goals for a valued Read more
Platform - Workplace Eng - *Apple* Enterpri...
MORE ABOUT THIS JOB We are looking for an Apple Platform Engineer who will bring a unique engineering skill set, support, clarity, organization and above all else, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.