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


In the case of Linus Torvalds’ operating system Linux, however, quality was maintained not by traditional autocracy or rigid standards or relatively isolated development (“cathedrals”), but by the naively simple strategy of releasing every week and getting feedback from hundreds of users within days (the “bazaar”), creating a sort of rapid Darwinian selection on the mutations introduced by developers.

“Linus Torvalds’ style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise,” Raymond recalls.

Through his own experiments with creating the Fetchmail utility, Raymond enumerates key principles of the “bazaar” style of open source software development: begin with a developer’s personal itch, re-use existing code where possible as a scaffolding, treat your users as co-developers, listen to customers, create a large enough base of beta-testers and developers, recognize good ideas from your users (which can be as important as having good ideas yourself!), and leverage the Internet to create communities of interest.

The early growth of Linux synergized with another phenomenon: the public discovery of the Internet, which helped created global communities of developers and users of reliable, bug-free open source platforms. In fact, Raymond characterizes what he dubs Linus’ Law as: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

“An entirely sufficient case for open source development rests on its engineering and economic outcomes – better quality, higher reliability, lower costs and increased choice,” according to Raymond.

The infamous “Halloween Memo” (internal Microsoft strategy document) itself pointed out that the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in Open Source software has benefits that are not replicable with Microsoft’s licensing model and therefore present a long-term developer mind share threat.

“Open Source peer review is the only scalable method for achieving high reliability and quality,” he says. Open Source is also “future proof,” and frees clients from the mercy of unscrupulous or inefficient proprietary software product developers – especially if the outside vendor goes belly-up.

For better peer review and greater control over code and deployment, Open Source is unbeatable. “Closed source code is an unacceptable strategic business risk. When your key business processes are executed by opaque blocks of bits that you can’t even see inside (let alone modify), you have lost control of your business,” Raymond warns.