The Imperfect Revolutionaries

by | Dec 31, 2004

Darby and I watched the documentary Revolution OS tonight. It’s a low budget film written, directed, produced, shot and edited by JTS Moore. Prior to this project, Moore, a Hollywood screenwriter, had little knowledge of hacking, open source politics or the characters involved. A friend suggested the idea for the film.

The level of discourse in the film is quite technical, but the political themes and business opportunities are readily available to the less technically inclined. One area of tension that emerges in the film–and all good films need tension–is the conflict between Richard Stallman’s purist “free software” philosophy and Linus Torvalds’ “open source” execution of that philosophy.


Stallman mentions that free means free as in free speech, not free, as in free beer. He also says he intended for there to be business applications from the very beginning of his work with GNU (Gnu’s Not Unix), his project to replace Sun’s proprietary Unix workstation. A project that pre-dated Linus Torvald’s independent, but related efforts in Finland to construct an operating system kernel. Torvalds’ kernel combined with Stallman’s programs ostensibly made up the first versions of what became known as Linux.

Today’s Linux OS, argues Stallman, ought to be rightly called GNU-Linux. But Linus does not like that option. He sees GNU-Linux as but one bundle or distribution of the operating system, like Red Hat Linux or others available on the market today.