Sunday, March 1, 2009

Revolution OS and thereabouts

OK, so I just watched Revolution OS (on the Roku/Netflix box, of course), which I'd been putting off out of concern it might be more propaganda than information. The opening minute or so did little to allay that, but it turned out to be a pretty good documentary, and as even-handed as you could expect from something that interviewed Open Source folks entirely. It did this by getting in touch with several of the principals, including rms, esr and Linus, and pretty much just letting them talk. This is often a good idea, especially when the principals involved are thoughtful, creative, articulate and intellectually curious.

What emerged was a clear picture of the history of Free Software/Open Source, how "Open Source" came to be the dominant name, and the essential differences between the two: Free Software advocates want all software to be free because it's a Good Thing. Open Source advocates want particular software to be open because it's a Useful Thing. It may not surprise the attentive reader that I tilt toward the latter.

There are ironies along the way, for example a small one in Netscape adopting Open Source not through grassroots activism by engineers -- though this did occur -- but because it was eventually imposed from the top down by management; a large one in that the entire Open Source movement, which is at best indifferent to rms' s central goal of making all software free, depends crucially on GNU code and even more crucially on the GPL [more precisely: on the GPL and licenses directly influenced by it]. Rms himself points this out in his acceptance of the Linus Torvalds award at the 1999 Linux world. Linus's daughters trot back and forth behind him on stage all the while.

If you're looking for a spirited debate over Open Source vs. not-open, you won't find it -- except for an early quote from Bill Gates (who did not directly participate), there are no dissenting voices. If you're looking for knock-down, drag-out Linux vs. Windows, as the marketing collateral implies, you won't find that either. And a good thing. Revolution OS is a much more a chance to put a human face on the names you see floating around and get an idea of what they were thinking. Considered from that point of view, it succeeds nicely.

But I didn't really set out to write a movie review here. I really just wanted to share something amusing I ran across while chasing a link from a link from a page I looked up out of curiosity after watching the movie. This is from Jamie Zawinski, who has done more Open Source development than most of us, I would wager. Zawinski says:
But now I've taken my leave of that whole sick, navel-gazing mess we called the software industry. Now I'm in a more honest line of work: now I sell beer.

Specifically, I own the DNA Lounge nightclub in San Francisco. However, it takes quite a lot of software to keep the place running, because we do audio and video webcasts twenty-four hours a day, and because the club contains a number of anonymous internet kiosks. So all that code is also available.

This all sounds fine and noble, and I like the design decisions, but I have to wonder: Just how anonymous can an internet kiosk be in a nightclub full of webcams? Checking sports scores without having to establish an account anywhere? Sure. Plotting world domination? Maybe not so much.

By the way, this turns out to be post number 300. I made a production of 100 and 200, but from here on out I probably won't until some more significant milestone. Hmm ... 100π is about 314 ...

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