Linux to star on silver screen

Hollywood and Linux: Not a likely combination, but one that has geeks worldwide salivating

In the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, just as the Raptors are about to make dinosaur dinner of the cast, the film's young female star comes across a computer system and utters a phrase that endears her to geeks everywhere.

"This is a Unix system. I know this," she says, restarting the security system and saving her companions from becoming prehistoric snack food. The phrase prompted chuckles and cheers from the nerdiest audience members. Now it's Linux's turn on the big screen.

The movie Antitrust, set to open 12 January, pits the open source movement against a multibillion-dollar technology company in the Pacific Northwest that, according to promos, "will stop at nothing" to maintain control of the computing world. "There is no second place," the film's official Web site states.

The plot apparently goes something like this: the movie's computer-whiz hero, Milo, turns down launching a startup with a friend and instead goes to work for the malevolent company, called Winston. He soon discovers the company's evil tactics and attempts to save the day.

The film promises to be a Linux lover's dream, featuring shots of the Gnome desktop, consulting work by Linux leaders, and cameos by at least one of the Linux movement's geekiest idols.

To John "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, Antitrust is more than just a movie -- it's a crusade. "This is a way of bringing the concept of open source and the fact that there is an alternative to the general public, who often don't even know that there is one," he said.

Hall, a consultant on the film, was offered a cameo, but couldn't make it because he had to attend a computer trade show in China. Instead, the role went to Miguel de Icaza, Linux icon and peppy leader of the Gnome desktop project, who in the film presents the hero with an open source award. Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy also appears in the film's trailers.

Already, members of the open source community are salivating over the film's release. They've flocked to the official MGM Web site to bash Microsoft and extol the virtues of open source software. The forums there read more like postings on the open source news Web site Slashdot than the starstruck opinions that often appear on such sites. Some postings urge people to switch to Linux. Others offer tech support.

Microsoft is never mentioned specifically in the film, but Winston apparently has many similarities to the software giant. The folks in Redmond don't seem too worried, though. "From the trailers, we couldn't tell if the movie was about [America Online] or Oracle," Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said.

But not everything has gone smoothly for the open-source fans hoping to explore every nook and cranny of the Web site. Some videotaped interviews are available only in Apple Computer's QuickTime format, meaning many Linux fans can't see them.

Hall does have one worry about the film. The open-source community is a notoriously tough crowd, built on a culture of public criticism. Because the Linux source code is open, people are constantly tinkering with it and critiquing it in an effort to improve each new kernel release.

What's more, Unix hardliners are still nitpicking today over how the girl in Jurassic Park could discern a Unix system with one quick glance.

But Hall is urging people to lighten up, and, for once, ignore any technical flaws. After all, these are Hollywood producers we're talking about, not a crowd that would let the mundane details of geeky computing get in the way of star-studded drama and intrigue.

"I think their heart is in the right place," Hall said. "If people are going to rip this movie apart because of this technical issue or that technical issue, they're not understanding what the movie is about."

Linux has been receiving a lot of attention as a usable platform. It was plenty good before 2.4.0 came out, and it will be plenty good until 2.4 is ready to be put in a commercial distribution. Evan Leibovitch thinks that anyone who thinks that 2.4.0 is a really big deal -- good or bad -- hasn't really been paying attention. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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