“Revolution OS” is a documentary about computers. More specifically, it is the story of the development of Linux and open source software.

I know that sounds scary.

Additionally, the people interviewed in the film also seem very scary. This is a perfectly normal response.

However, don’t let that stop you from seeing this film. The film covers one of the most important computer developments that we have been alive to experience.

Let me give you the brief summary of the timeline. A man named Richard Stallman – a sort of new-age techno-hippie – while working as a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began developing a system called GNU.

GNU means “GNU’s Not Unix.” That’s a geek joke, which helps explain why it isn’t particularly funny. However, GNU is very important. GNU was and is a major part of the free software movement. This, by the way, means free like “liberty,” not free like “no cost.”

Back in the day, the software on computers was owned entirely by companies – most of it still is – and if you wanted to, for instance, make their software better, you needed to get their permission, pay them money, etc.

Stallman thought that was a sort of backwards way to do it. Why should he pay them to make their software more versatile? To make a long story short, he wrote a software license which said, “anyone can modify my software, and redistribute it, so long as their new software is under this license as well.”

A while later, a Finn named Linus Torvalds came onto the scene. He suggested that people start working on a Unix-based operating system from the ground up. He started, and finished, where the GNU project left off – a crucial piece of software – the kernel.

And that’s basically it. Things progressed from there, Torvald’s kernel with the rest of the GNU system is what is commonly called Linux. And this film is its story.

The documentary had loads of interviews with relevant figures in Linux’s history, with Stallman and Torvalds being some of the bigger “celebrities” that were featured. This made the movie compelling, and also humorous, as many of these people seem too cartoonish to be real people. They actually are prototypical computer nerds, and seem exactly like you’d expect.

The film was informative, which is good, and entertaining to a large extent, but one thing it lacked was unbiased coverage. While I agree with the point of view the film’s creators clearly had, there is a very clear indication that the filmmakers are overtly pro-Linux.

And while it is expected that anyone who was that interested in a subject would have some opinion on it, that does not undermine the point that there is still something to be said for equal coverage of both sides of the issues.

I’m willing to forgive this film though, partially because I agree with its slant, and partially because it is doing a good thing. See, it isn’t just geared towards geeks like me. It was made so that, if you can get past how scary some of the interviewees are, lack of technical knowledge will not prevent you from understanding or enjoying this film. It addresses the underlying philosophy more than the technical aspects, and that is the important part of the Linux movement.

Powell can be reached at lpowell@campustimes.org.



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