Rebel Code

By Dave Green, 10 May 2002

My friend Lee calls this book ‘the stories behind the press releases that changed the world.’ That’s not necessarily a criticism, because it provides a solid, largely accurate account of the explosive growth of the ‘open source’ movement during the 1990s. They’re all here: Linus Torvalds and Linux, Brian Behlendorf and Apache, Larry Wall and Perl - and many, many more, each living their variation on the age-old myth of boy needs software, boy writes software, boy posts source code to internet, other coders join in ... and hey presto, world-class application!

Well, not in every case, obviously, but if you can get through the dryly academic writing style, it’s hard not to be inspired by a grassroots information-sharing philosophy that’s proved remarkably robust and offers possibly the last, best hope against the copy-protected corporate dominance of Microsoft and Apple et al. The downside is that, despite his rebel talk, Glyn Moody seems determined to keep a critical distance from all the crazy dudes he’s describing (‘It is interesting...’, ‘It is ironic...’, ‘It was appropriate...’, he intones, excitingly). And, for all the local colour he provides, he might as well have done the interviews over email.

For an alternative viewpoint, Free As In Freedom – Richard Stallman’s crusade for free software – covers much of the same material, but focuses on the GNU part of GNU/Linux. GNU was the essential foundation for freely distributable utilities, predating Linux, which Stallman, the gifted mathematician and uncompromising ‘free software’ idealist, devised. Rebel Code is chronological, comprehensive and £7.99. Free As In Freedom is idiosyncratic, personality-driven and, on Stallman’s insistence, free to download or pass on to your friends. Sure, you’ll probably learn more from Rebel Code. But Free As In Freedom is the example to follow.

Dave Green is co-editor of Need To Know [], Britain’s most sarcastic weekly technology newsletter Rebel Code: Linux And The Open Source Revolution // Glyn Moody // Penguin // £7.99 // []