I have recently started to read with renewed interest some historical treatments and thought pieces about computers, programming, the internet, and technology. I am playing catch up in this area. My work life has been so focused on one software project that I have wanted respite from reading about anything related to computers in my leisure time. But now I suddenly have five or six books on the topic going at once. I will post about the good ones as I finish them.
On list for today is The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musing on Linux and Open Source by and Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric S Raymond. I give this collection of essays high marks. Raymond is a key evangelist, propagandist and theoretician on "hacker culture" and the open source programming movement. His work has taken me a big step forward in understanding a phenomenon that I feel simultaneously attracted to and threatened by (as owner of a software firm).
Raymond's title essay uses the metaphors of cathedral and bazaar to describe two different models of programming. Cathedral is planned development, closed source, while bazaar describes the chaos of different agendas and approaches that characterize open source development, where the computer program is made public and anyone can submit changes. That such a method works well, particularly on complicated programs is surprising and mind-altering. Many eyeballs tame complexity.
Raymond's other essays tackle the economics and ideology of open source, including such questions as why people would program for free (gift culture, reputation incentives), the relationship between developer time and sale value, and how open source challenges the prevailing software order, different models for making money off open source, when to be open and when to be closed. He does a good job in organizing the issues.I find myself several steps away from the ideologues of the open source movement, but I recognize the power of their ideas. I think it is a very important book, one I wish I had read sooner, and one that I will read again.