Tron: An open source legacy |

Tron: An open source legacy

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I was pretty excited to see the announcement about a sequel to Tron. The original movie was one that helped define my career as a bona fide geek. I still remember being wowed by the light cycles and over-the-top scenes.

When I first started using Linux, one of the first open source games I played was GLTron, a faithful recreation of the movie's light-cycle scenes. Maybe it was the simple, fast-paced gameplay or the fact that the graphics were identical to that of the film in almost every way, but that game still sticks out in my mind as one of my first open source

gaming experiences. Suffice to say, open source and Tron are married in my mind forever thanks to that program (not to mention that both are tantamount to my geek cred).

So I was pretty shocked to see that the entirety of the new film, Tron: Legacy, is essentially an advertisement for open source software. The overtones of the open source way are found throughout the film.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the new Tron yet (and plan to) you might want to stop here.  Or scroll down till you see the bold text again.

The opening scene features the protagonist, Sam, 'stealing' source code—though technically it's his code to begin with. The code is being held  by a decidedly evil programmer and the board members of a large software company engaging in unfair lock-in tactics. The source code of the operating system is then released to the masses for fair use and improvement of the product. Aside from the psuedo-terrorism aspect, it's a story open source fans can really get behind.

However, Disney and its writers didn't stop with the opening sequence. The whole point of the movie is solving all of the world's problems by releasing an open source program from the Grid, aka the cyber-universe created in the original film. This is met with resistance that is eventually overcome in the movie's climax. The good guys win and we're left to assume that the open source program teaches the rest of the world to share, collaborate, and become a better place.

End spoiler.

It's not the first time that Disney has advocated open source, dating back to their switch to Linux and monetary support of Crossover Office to help get Photoshop running in Linux. Disney was quick to announce that this saved Disney, Pixar, and other animation studios thousands of dollars a year in license costs alone. It was a huge deal at a time when most corporations were far from considering deploying Linux on anything other than scientific workstations. Still, it's one thing to use open source as a cost-cutting business move. But to make it the underlying premise of an entire feature film--well that's pretty cool to say the least.

I saw the film while visiting family over the holidays. My younger brothers specifically requested we see it. Little did I know the movie would lead to our first conversation about the open source movement. It started on the ride home. They had a fundamental understanding right out of the gate. I could see that they understood immediately why the old way of developing software was broken, and that the open source way seemed more right. More fair.

I have not really mentioned open source in the past due to their age.  At this point in their lives, I thought they probably lack the understanding of the fundamentals of licensing and programming to properly grasp the concept. So it made me wonder how many other families had an open source discussion after watching the film? How many more might later see a mention of open source in the news and finally get it? This is a pretty big deal.

Tron: Legacy is proof that our movement is gaining more momentum than any of us expected. Think about it: The highest grossing movie of the 2010 holiday season deals explicitly with open source software.

This should stand out on the timeline of open source progress--the path of returning freedom to users. Considering that is the theme of the two movies, it makes a lot of sense.

If you haven't checked the movie out yet, you owe it to yourself. I'm not a proper film critic, so I won't comment on the quality of the story or acting. Yet I can say that hearing the iconic Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) mention the need to have software released to the masses via an open source model is worth the price of admission alone.

If you've seen the film, what did you think? Did you have a chance to have that open source dialog with your friends and family? Do you agree with how the producers portrayed our movement? Give us your take in the comments section below.


About the author

Travis Kepley - Travis Kepley is a Senior Instructor at Red Hat where he helps employees, partners and customers understand how Open Source Software can create a better IT and business infrastructure. Travis started at Red Hat in January of 2008 as a Technical Support Engineer before becoming a Solutions Architect prior to moving to his current role. Travis graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and now lives in Raleigh with his wife and dog. When not extolling the virtues of open source...