2002, NR, 85 min. Directed by J.T.S. Moore.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 22, 2002
The most remarkable thing about Moore's documentary on the birth of the open source software movement isn't all the internecine warfare involved in the early years of personal computing (although certainly that's not nearly as dull as it might sound) but that he manages to make the story of the creation of the Linux operating system comprehensible to even the least tech-minded of viewers. That's the key to the film's appeal; he has couched the film's arguments in almost Marxist terms, with the developers of free software (i.e., “open source” software whose code is available to be explored and expanded upon by anyone with the inclination) on one side and Microsoft's Bill Gates on the other. It's a pure capitalist versus socialist battle that's raging as you read this, and whether or not you know a Linux kernel from a Kellogg's Corn Pop, it's no hyperbole to call it one of the most important creative battles the world has ever seen. Think of it in these terms: Bill Gates' Microsoft owns the software that runs the vast majority of the world's home and office computers. Because Microsoft is unwilling to share their source code for that software and OS (operating system) with other companies or individuals, they control, in a very real sense, how and what we are able to do with our computers, from creative endeavors to business applications and beyond. On the other side of this very tall and spiky intellectual fence are the advocates of open source, who believe that all (or most) software code should be readily available to be disseminated and used by anyone. It's very much an idealistic, almost hippy-esque attitude, and one of the most goofily charming things in Revolution OS is how many of the open-sourcers sport ponytails and beards, or are seen frolicking with their kids. Bill Gates, on the other hand, is represented by unflattering Dork Vader stills and voiceovers (not that he's the most physically appealing specimen to begin with, but still). One high point comes as the film's female narrator reads an early missive from young Mr. Gates in which he derides the very idea of a free software movement. As the lengthy letter nears its zealously capitalistic conclusion, her voice rises ever higher, ever more shrill, until, by the end, you can practically see the slavering maw of Gates spewing vitriol and greed all over your nice new rug. The sequence starts out as a funny bit of real-life correspondence, a glimpse into what makes the world's richest man tick. But when you stop to think about it, it's really not funny at all. Moore's film contains a wealth of information on his subject, and what feels like a couple of dozen characters, from Finnish scientist Linus Torvalds (credited with the creation of the Linux operating system, Microsoft OS's main rival) to Richard Stallman, the first man to really get behind the notion of an open source movement. In between there are the hackerz, coders, and computer gurus that man the battle stations of creative freedom and, here, are given plenty of time to snipe at the dreaded Microsoft head. Moore's complex and important film is also, believe it or not, immensely entertaining, a David and Goliath story that's still very much playing itself out. With crisp shots and some very impressive editing, Revolution OS lays bare an intellectual battle that's as important as it is arcane. (Revolution OS premiered in Austin during SXSW Film 2001.)