Dot-com documentaries draw devotees

Legions of ex-Kozmo-nauts showed up to relive their collective rise and fall through the documentary "e-dreams."

4 min read
Now that C++ programmers and Internet entrepreneurs have given up sleeping under their desks in favor of sleeping under freeway overpasses, the late-'90s delusion that computer geeks were the equivalent of rock stars has finally been laid to rest.

In its wake, however, has come another, more pernicious delusion: Now we appear to think that computer geeks are movie stars.

How else to explain the recent rash of high-tech-themed works on stage and screen? First we had the "Startup.com" film, then the plodding stage play "Ctrl+Alt+Delete." Last week the pace picked up with a new documentary, "e-dreams," about the rise and fall of Kozmo.com. The same week, the Rumor Mill finally got a chance to see "Revolution OS," a history of the open-source/free software movement.

The New York preview of "e-dreams" last week was a cross between a biz-dev conference, a Hollywood premiere and a group therapy session, as legions of ex-Kozmo-nauts showed up to relive their collective rise and fall.

Brash co-founder Joseph Park appeared with a posse and got a surprisingly warm reception from his former underlings despite scenes in which he blabs damagingly to the press and presides over an infamous and profligate company Oscar fete just days before the crash of 2000.

"It was like watching a car accident happening in slow motion," Bill Dolan, a former content editor, said after the lights went up. (Dolan confessed later that the bill from the Oscar party at the members-only Havana Room topped $26,000--$1,400 of it spent on cigars.)

Many in the Kozmo-politan audience claimed to have no regrets, but watching it all happen again on the silver screen pulled more than a few heartstrings. Even I found myself teary-eyed watching Kozmo executives running around in a tizzy after reading scoops by News.com reporter Greg Sandoval.

The movie, lacking the soap-operatic personal drama that animated its predecessor "Startup.com," is slickly produced and ticks merrily along its predictable story line: Boy gets idea, idea gets funding, funding gets spent, board ousts boy, investors lose shirts.

Park told me he's seen this movie four times and still brings friends and family along to witness his life as a dot-com cover boy. We don't plan to see it again; seeing it once gave us enough deja vu to last a lifetime.

Lately, Park hasn't been doing much besides growing facial hair and "happily relaxing" in his 18-month sabbatical. He plans a comeback in some capacity, as yet undisclosed. When asked if he wanted to become a corporate soldier or to continue his track record as a serial entrepreneur, he replied with a "no comment."

If nothing else, Park has finally learned how to communicate with the press.

Open-source marauders
Who knew that geeks were more interesting than suits? Probably a lot of people--but more will be convinced if "Revolution OS" ever breaks out of the festival and confab circuit where it has been circulating for nearly a year.

The movie is too quick in taking the side of its subject; the shots at Microsoft are even cheaper than the ones you find here, for example, and the movie is conspicuously silent on what a disappointment Netscape's open-source effort turned out to be.

But unlike "e-dreams" or even the comparatively fascinating "Startup.com," "Revolution OS" gives the impression that there might actually be something more than somebody's bank balance at stake in the story it's telling. Listening to Richard Stallman tout the virtues of free software--a better society, stronger communities and improved lives--almost made me want to go out and debug Mozilla for the rest of the night.

Linus Torvalds In addition to the ideology, passion and intelligence captured in this movie, there is a great deal of valuable history and an important lesson from Linus Torvalds on the pronunciation of his first name. If you are speaking English, it's pronounced like the Peanuts character, or the chemistry and peace Nobel laureate, to rhyme with "minus." If you're speaking Swedish or Finnish, as Stallman seems to think he's doing, you have other options.

The international pronunciation of Linux rhymes with "cynics."

Next to the pronunciation lesson, our favorite part is at the end. After 90 minutes of learning the virtues of free information and the evils of intellectual property, the movie leaves us with this parting thought: "This motion picture is protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Unauthorized duplication, distribution and/or exhibition may result in civil liability and criminal prosecution."

We close with a coda from last week's column detailing Time magazine's blown iMac cover story embargo, which noted that an online version of the story included a link to Apple's store. Titled "Buy the iMac," the link had disappeared this week, replaced with one we found more to our liking: "CNET: Product Review."
  Not bad, but it's nothing compared with your rumors.