Pick a Free OS

Book: The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary

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By Eric S. Raymond

1999 O’Reilly Publications, California

269 pages; US$19.95

The explosive growth of the Linux operating system, Apache Web server and indeed the Internet itself are testimony to the power of a style of networked collaboration called “Open Source,” based on the free sharing of source code so that others can improve on it. This free-flowing style of technology sharing has created unprecedented shifts in the power structures of the computer industry.

The growth, development trajectories, cultural underpinnings, intellectual foundations, business potential and challenges facing the Open Source movement are superbly articulated in Eric Raymond’s landmark manifesto, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”

This book is about much more than computer science; it is a must read for anyone interested in the future of not just the software industry but of intellectual property, work culture, human motivation, Internet-driven global peering, and new business models in the Information Age.

Eric Raymond, author of email transport program Fetchmail, is widely regarded as an anthropologist, ethnographer, and historian of the Internet hacker culture. The Open Source revolution also owes some of its success to Raymond’s clear articulation of the power of the model, according to Bob Young, CEO of Linux distributor Red Hat.

The author traces the evolution of hacker culture (not to be confused with media mis-portrayals as anti-social deviants) through three generations: the first U.S.-wide critical mass of PDP-based hackers networked via ARPANET (especially at MIT, CMU, and Stanford), the Unix/C programmers (networked via Usenet), and the PC-generation of hobbyists.

Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation created and distributed free software like Emacs and GNU. The term Open Source (www.opensource.org) was formally invented in 1998, and attempted to overcome some of the anti-commercial connotations of the term “free software.”

Unix’s promise of cross-platform portability got lost in bickering among half a dozen proprietary Unix versions. “The proprietary-Unix players proved so ponderous, so blind, and so inept at marketing that Microsoft was able to grab away a large part of their market with the shockingly inferior technology of its Windows operating system,” according to Raymond.