Pick a Free OS

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

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One chapter is devoted to differences between resources in the material world on the one hand, and the software/infoware world on the other. “Widespread use of open source software tends to increase its value, as users fold in their own fixes and features. In this inverse commons, the grass grows taller when it’s grazed on,” Raymond contrasts.

The hacker culture has some elements of a ‘gift culture,’ where participants compete for prestige by giving away time, energy and creativity. “In a gift culture, social status is determined not by what you control but what you give away,” observes Raymond.

Raymond digs deeper into hacker culture to reveal variations in ideology and beliefs: anti-commercial, un-commercial, market-friendly, and pragmatic.

“Not until the Linux explosion of 1993-94 did pragmatism find a real power base. The typical pragmatist attitude is only moderately anti-commercial, and its major grievance against the corporate world is not ‘hoarding’ per se but that world’s perverse refusal to adopt superior approaches incorporating open standards and open software,” according to Raymond.

Linus Torvalds, for example, looked benignly on the growth of a commercial Linux industry, publicly endorsed the use of high-quality commercial software for specific tasks, and gently derided the more purist and fanatical elements in the hacker culture.

Outside of Linux, other Open Source communities developed around languages like Perl, Tcl and Python. Typical styles of Open Source project management are ‘benevolent dictator’ (Linux), voting among co-developers (Apache), and ‘rotating dictatorship’ (Perl).

One chapter is devoted to for-profit and non-profit business models of Open Source development. It is important for companies to identify which business models create niches where open source development can flourish.

For instance, the Apache Web server was built by an Internet-connected group of Webmasters who realized that it was smarter to pool their efforts into improving one code base than to run a large number of parallel development efforts. Cisco open-sourced its print spoolers to effectively hedge against the loss of the software’s original developers.

Netscape open sourced its browser code to prevent extinction at the hands of Microsoft; Apple has also open-sourced Darwin, the kernel which is the core of the Mac OS X operating system. Cygnus Solutions and Red Hat sell branded versions of bundled open source software with support contracts; the Linuxcare startup was funded to specialize in Linux technical support.