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THE CODE: SYNOPSIS by Hannu Puttonen
MAKING MOVIES and ADR PRODUCTIONS present
a film by Hannu Puttonen
THE CODE
Linus Torvalds Richard Stallman
Story of Linux A little operating system that showed the world an alternative…

Synopsis

In 1991, a 20-year old Linus Torvalds, a thin, bespectacled, Swedish- speaking Finnish computer science student sends a posting to an Internet newsgroup asking for advice on how to make a better operating system. His project is a hobby, he says, and would never become ‘big and professional’. But in ten years he and his loose alliance of hackers all over the world creates an operating system – Linux – that challenges Windows 2000 for the server market and is now poised to dominate the next generation of handheld and desktop computers. What makes Linux different, and deeply troubling for traditional software companies, is that no one owns it. Every user is free to adapt it in any way they wish, as long as they pass it on to others on the same terms.

The Code presents the first decade of Linux from 1991 to 2001. Besides Torvalds, it includes many of his closest allies in development process, that is nowadays seen as the greatest success story of the Internet culture. Eventually, Linux becomes a viable business solution within the computer industry. Media loves the story of ‘a single hacker against the forces of darkness’. ‘Linux’ becomes a catch phrase. Torvalds turns into an international media star. No more a shy nerd, but a relaxed, witty media performer par excellence. Linus is a Jesus for a politician, respected and adored by both Linux enthusiasts, the counter-culture – and the big businessmen. A rare combination, this time or any other. But even after all this attention Linus Torvalds remains, as a person, an enigma. When interviewed in the media, he is always asked the same questions and usually giving the same answers too. We think we know him, but do we really? Why did he put his code into the Net for free, initially? Many can still not understand it. Maybe because ‘given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow’, giving a way to a better product? Or is there something more to it?

The hero of the film is the archetype of our times: the programmer. In The Code programming is seen partially as an art form. Like artists, programmers will do it even if they do not get any money. Through Torvalds and his cohort, following the code development process, we get into the mind-set of a programmer – and the communication between programmers. Operating from his study in San Jose, California, Linus is the benevolent dictator among hundreds of Linux developers around the world. This room is the centre of their universe. Everything goes through Linus, or his right hand man Alan Cox, a Welshman. Developers compete in order to get their solutions and improvements accepted by Linus. He openly admits that he developed only 2 % or 3 % of the code in the beginning, and that he built upon the work by earlier programmers, like Richard Stallman. Developers are like monks in their virtual monastery. Their change of e-mails through the years opens the Linux saga in the film like a letter novel. Leadership in Linux universe is about getting people to trust enough that they take advice, making them to do things because of their own reasons, not due to any external pressure. Linus is strict, loyal, dictatorial, humble and positive, all at the same time. And this is the key to the fulfilment of the collective dream. Resembling cybernetics and communism, it would have never been built without teamwork, collective responsibility – and centralized planning.

Along the way, Microsoft recognizes competition, and throws some mccarthyian dirt towards Linux, calling it un-American. Regardless of this, Wall Street applauds, and for a brief time Linux is the cream of the crop at the stock exchange market. What is more important and revolutionary, the Linux phenomenon makes a lot of ground in Asia and Africa, where an open source code and a free operating system are something concrete, not just fancy, elitist idealism. The process started in Europe and the United States, but it is bound to be completed somewhere else.

The Code is about the human urge to share and exchange, to achieve something through collaboration, the profit motive not being the dominating factor. Linux and the free software movement have showed new ways to make profit in computer industry, while raising heated debates on the ethics of business and the old issue of freedom of speech. In the end, The Code tells a key story of the digital age, a symbolic saga about capitalism during the last fin de siècle of the second millennium and the early steps of the third one.

Hannu Puttonen

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