Confession time: I am such an abject computer retard that I don't get 99 percent of the punch lines in Dilbert. (I suspect that even if I were a genius hacker, I still wouldn't think Dilbert was funny, but that's beside the point.) When techies start jabbering about gigs and rams and hard drives, I develop spontaneous narcolepsy and collapse into a crumpled, snoring heap. I have the bruises to prove it.
But if you're anything like me, you'll be as impressed by Revolution OS as I was. J.T.S. Moore's documentary about the creation of the open-source software movement does the seemingly impossible: it makes you give a damn about the creation of the open-source software movement.
For my fellow computer retards out there (don't be ashamed; we're all bozos on this bus), OS stands for Operating System; an operating system is the software that makes a computer a computer, enabling it to run programs and so forth. Without an OS, your computer is just an ugly piece of home dcor. Owning Windows, the OS used by the majority of home and office computers, has made Microsoft chairman Bill Gates richer than Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck combined.
Because Microsoft has steadfastly refused to share its source code for Windows with anybody else (Gates was an early booster of the notion of "proprietary software"), the company has undue control over what you can do with your computer. Gates may be the frailest-looking physical specimen this side of Stephen Hawking, but in the computer world, the man is the proverbial 500-pound gorilla. It's a safe bet that Gates would happily do away with any and all competition if he could.
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Open source proponents, by contrast, believe that software code should be freely shared by all, and Revolution OS chronicles what happens when a bunch of hippie-ish, freak-flag-flying open sourcers go up against Microsoft. It's kind of like David and Goliath, if Goliath were a corporation with all the money and resources in the world and David were a bunch of Trekkies with B.O. and scruffy beards.
This is not one of those documentaries that pretends to be unbiased. From frame one, we are led into sympathy with the shaggy, lovably dorky proponents of open-source software, while the other side is presented with all the subtlety of a capitalist fat cat in a commie newsletter. At one point, narrator Susan Egan (of Herculesand other Disney fare) reads a letter the young Gates wrote to a computer mag in which he ridicules the very notion of open-source software. The letter begins calmly enough, but word by word, it builds in greedy hysteria, until Egan is practically shrieking. While the delivery is arguably overkill, the letter offers a genuinely disturbing glimpse into Gates' mind; it would read like a parody, if we didn't know that Gates would go on to make this nonsense come true.
Revolution OS is hardly competition for the latest noisy, sexy, sensory-overload blockbuster: there are no snazzy special effects, no impressive cleavage to delight the eye (unless you're delighted by the man-boobs sported by the porkier open sourcers). There are plenty of people who will be bored witless and shitless by this film, with its endless talking heads talking about heady things; but if this is a subject that interests you (and it should), you're far better off going to see Revolution OS than you will be spending two hours scratching your head over this morning's Dilbert.
Revolution OS screens at the Lido Theater, 3459 Lido Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-8350. Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m. $5.50-$8.50.