Open Source

Iron Man vs. Open Source

First, I must apologize. I know this is old news. But today I saw the Iron Man movie (quite awesome, I must say) and was inspired when I came home and did a search, "Iron Man open source" on Google. I was surprised that I actually had a lot of hits. One hit, in particular, was titled "Iron Man Now Comes With Proprietary Software." This article quoted Matt Fraction (the series writer) saying: "Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist... He has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn't want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He's the open source to Stark's closed source oppressiveness."

What strikes me as odd is that, after seeing the movie, Tony Stark doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would go this route. Okay, okay - it's just a comic (and a movie) but seriously here...I'm torn. Tony Stark is big business...but he's big business that realizes that he has a more important mission than making money. And I realize it's a stretch but couldn't that idea be applied to open source? Because, ultimately, the biggest dilemma open source developers face is that they have a skill and they would like to make a living using it, but their hearts lie in open source software where they can't make any money. It's Tony Stark facing his father's legacy and his new-found need to make good on what that legacy has done.

Now, back to Iron Man : So basically they are taking the tact that Iron Man (aka Bill Gates - Microsoft - proprietary software) is good and Zebediah Stane (aka open source software) is bad. How is that?

Now, before you grouse, I think Bill Gates is one heck of a human being (his philanthropy alone gives him A-okay status with me), but these days Bill Gates and Microsoft aren't necessarily one and the same (just like Linus Torvalds and Linux are not one and the same). But taking this metaphor into the land of comics just doesn't make sense to me. Really.

Comic book fans (I am one myself) tend to be nerds. Nerds tend to be computer geeks as well. Computer geeks tend to think (regardless of what operating system you use) that Microsoft is not "good." Microsoft represents that ugly side of capitalism that goes to 11 (on a scale of 0 being Ben and Jerrys and 11 being Walmart.)

So yeah, I have a problem with Iron Man representing a monopoly. Even in the movie he didn't have a monopoly on the power suit. His second in command (bad guy Obediah) managed to get his hands on his very own power suit.

What I am trying to get at is that I am shocked to see open source indirectly played off as the bad guy in a comic book. I realize I am stretching it a bit but, seriously, any time you portray proprietary software as the good guy, most geeks immediately cast the opposite end of the spectrum (open source) as the bad guy. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a maverick millionaire cum super hero represent open source?

What happens when Tony Stark is fighting the ultimate bad guy and his power suit software gives him the blue screen of death? You think that nasty bad guy is going to wait while Stark reboots his suit? If he were using open source he would just have to hit Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to quickly get him out of X and drop into command line where he could run /usr/bin/ultimate_death_to_baddie and win the fight.

I know, I know - I'm talking comic books when you were expecting to learn something here. Well it's nearly the end of a three day weekend and I've spent the better part of my time working on a Techrepublic-branded Linux distribution. So I needed a little "fun time" at the keyboard. But I know you're all geeks just like me and you love good discussions about operating systems and comic books. So here's your chance to have at them both at the same time!



Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

Editor's Picks