By: Juancarlo Anez
Abstract: Juancarlo Aqez describes how Eric S. Raymond illuminates open source development and culture.
Eric S. Raymond illuminates open source development and culture from the
perspective of an "accidental revolutionary."
By Juancarlo Aqez
A recently published book, The Cathedral and The Bazaar,
collects the "musings" of a hacker. Two years earlier the hacker's
insights into hacker
culture and open-source software development had caught the attention of Netscape
and Microsoft. Why would Netscape and Microsoft be interested in the musings of
a hacker? And why would you be?
Eric Raymond, former student of mathematics and
philosophy, Tae-Kwon-Do aficionado, musician, and now
himself in his papers as a convincing analyst of the sociology,
anthropology, economics, and technology behind open source. His
portraits of the hacker culture and of the open-source way of
developing software are points of reference for every
analysis of open source that's followed. Raymond has become one of
the most vocal among open-source evangelists, speaking at numerous
computing and business conferences around the world, and giving frequent
interviews to the media.
Eric S. Raymond was already well-known in
hacker circles in 1998. Raymond was the maintainer of the Hacker's Jargon File
(published in print as The
New Hacker's Dictionary), he was the official maintainer of
fetchmail (a program for mail transport over dial-up
connections), he had made important contributions to the Gnu Emacs
editor, and he had written the first version of his paper "The
Cathedral and the Bazaar," which was already
furiously circulating around the Net.
But it was not until 1998 that Eric Raymond became a prominent
figure outside programmer circles. Early that year, in the middle
of the "Web browser wars," Netscape Communications announced that
it would disclose the source code to Navigator, its Web browser, as
open source. Raymond's arguments in "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" were
mentioned in Netscape's announcements as part of the reason for its decision. Later,
the last week of October near Halloween day, Raymond disclosed a
confidential Microsoft memo. Discussed in this memo were the threats that open
source software posed to the company's software, and the strategies
Microsoft could adopt to counterattack -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt among them. A couple of days later Raymond disclosed
yet another Microsoft memo, this time one that discussed the
specific threats that Linux represented to Windows NT.
The Microsoft memos quoted two of Raymond's papers extensively.
One of them was "The Cathedral and
(1997), an analysis of the community-oriented, open-source way of software development
its successes, and its superiority over traditional, profit-oriented
("cathedral") practices. The other paper was "Homesteading the Noosphere"
(1998), an analysis of hackerdom as a "gift culture" driven by desire for prestige and
peer recognition. Raymond annotated the
Microsoft memos thoroughly, interspersing his comments throughout the
documents using different colors. These addenda clarified his papers as well as aspects of open source software and culture
that the memos had misinterpreted. They also speculated about ways in
which the open-source community could defend itself against Microsoft's
strategies. Raymond's edited version of the memos have
been known ever since as the "Halloween Documents."
Microsoft finally acknowledged authenticity of the memos. Even
though Microsoft said that they did not constitute the company's
"official position," the memos were seen as recognition of the
viability of open source and Linux by none other than the
monster king of operating-system land itself.
Last autumn O'Reilly
published Raymond's revised and edited papers in book form. Along with "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"
and "Homesteading the Noosphere", are several more of Raymond's papers.
Brief History of Hackerdom"
(1992) Raymond recounts his view of the
events that defined the hacker culture, tracing them back to the
'60s MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and the initial deployment of
the ARPANET, the Internet's precursor.
"The Magic Cauldron," first published at Raymond's Web site in
June 1999, analyzes the
evolving economics behind the open-source phenomenon. In this chapter Raymond discusses the differences
between a software's use-value versus its sale-value, proposes that
"software is largely a service industry operating under the
persistent but unfounded delusion that it is a manufacturing industry," and goes on to explore several different actual and
speculative business models around open source.
In "The Revenge of the
Hackers" previously published by O'Reilly in Open Sources:
Voices from the Open Source Revolution in 1999),
Raymond recounts his experiences as
open-source evangelist and describes how a group of people (Raymond, Tim
O'Reilly, and Linus Torvalds, among others) actually designed and
executed a strategy to promote open source and bring it to the
attention of executives in Fortune 500 companies.
The book closes with three appendices: "How to Become a Hacker,"
"Appendix to The
Magic Cauldron" (or "Why Closing Drivers Loses a Vendor
Money"), and a final chapter with very complete "Notes and Acknowledgements."
The notes include several discussions of views published in response to Raymond's papers.
Most of the papers in the book are available at Raymond's site and from other Web sources,
but having endured the experience of reading them from a computer screen and
from hard copies made with a personal printer, I can only recommend
that you get the book if you want to read them. (Besides, you'll have more dead trees
on your conscience if you print the papers yourself.) Like other O'Reilly
books, this one is well-edited and nicely laid-out. The
one-and-a-half-line spacing, the not-so-white paper, the small
size, and the hard cover make for very comfortable reading.
How much Raymond's papers and the Microsoft memos
contributed to the Linux phenomenon is something for historians to elucidate. At the time the memos were disclosed, the Department of Justice's
monopoly suit against Microsoft was
already under way. Encouraging the media to portray Linux as a threat
to Windows NT would have been just too convenient for Microsoft. We may never
know for sure if the "Halloween Documents" were intentionally
"leaked" to make Linux look good. The fact remains, however, that since the
disclosure Linux, open source, the documents, and Raymond's papers have received
steady front page coverage all around.
Raymond's papers and the events that surrounded their original
publication are keys to a thorough understanding of the open source phenomenon. The papers in The Cathedral and The Bazaar are
worth reading for anyone interested in open source, where it will
lead, and its possible effects, and the format of this new book presents them in
the elegant showcase they deserve.
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