“Joy, humor, and playfulness are indeed assets;”~ Eric S. Raymond
As of late, i’ve been asked by an extreme set of divergent individuals what does “Open Source Software” mean?
That is a good question. While i understand the words and words do have meanings i am not sure its the words that matter here. Many people who ask me that question hear “open source” and hear or think “free’ which is not the case.
Also if you have been on linkedin at all you will see #Linux, #LinuxFoundation and #OpenSource tagged constantly in your feeds.
Which brings me to the current blog and book review.
(CatB)as it is affectionately known in the industry started out and still is a manifesto as well accessible via the world wide web. It was originally published in 1997 on the world wide wait and then in print form circa 1999. Then in 2001 was a revised edition with a foreword by Bob Young, the founding chairman and ceo of Redhat.
Being i prefer to use plain ole’ books we are reviewing the physical revised and extended paperback edition in this blog circa 2001. Of note for the picture, it has some wear and tear.
To start off as you will see from the cover there is a quote by Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s first Evangelist:
“The most important book about technology today, with implications that go far beyond programming.”
This is completely true. In the same train of thought, it even goes into the aspects of propriety and courtesy within conflict environments and how such environments are of a “merit not inherit” world, and how to properly respond when you are in vehement disagreement.
To relate it to the book review: What is a cathedral development versus a bazaar environment?
Cathedral is a tip of the fedora if you will to the authoritarian view of the world where everything is very structured and there are only a few at most who will approve moving the codebase forward.
Bazaar refers to the many. The many coding and contributing in a swarm like fashion.
In this book, closed source is described as a cathedral development model and open source as a bazaar development model. A cathedral is vertically and centrally controlled and planned. Process and governance rule the project – not coding. The cathedral is homeostatic. If you build or rebuild Basilica Sancti Petri within Roma you will not be picking it up by flatbed truck and moving it to Firenze.
The forward in the 2001 edition is written by Bob Young co-founder and original CEO of RedHat. He writes:
“ There have always been two things that would be required if open-source software was to materially change the world; one was for open-source software to become widely used and the other was the benefits this software development model supplied to its users had to be communicated and understood.”
Users here are an interesting target. Users could be developers and they could be end-users of warez. Nevertheless, i believe both conditions have been met accordingly.
i co-founded a machine learning and nlp service as a company in 2007 wherein i had the epiphany after my “second” read of Catb that the future is in fact open source. i put second in quotes as the first time i read it back in 1998 it wasn’t really a read in depth nor having fully internalized it while i was working at Apple in the CPU software department on OS9/OSX and while at the same time knowing full well that OSX was based on the Mach kernel. The Mach kernel is often mentioned as one of the earliest examples of a microkernel. However, not all versions of Mach are microkernels. Mach’s derivatives are the basis of the operating system kernel in GNU Hurd and of Apple’s XNU kernel used in macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS.
That being said after years of working with mainly closed source systems in 2007 i re-read Catb. i literally had a deep epiphany that the future of all development would be open source distributed machine learning – everywhere.
Then i read it recently – deeply – a third time. This time nearly every line in the book resonates.
The third time with almost anything seems to be the charm. This third time through i realized not only is this a treatise for the open-source movement it is a call to arms if you will for the entire developer community to behave appropriately with propriety and courtesy in a highly matrixed collaborative environment known as the bazaar.
The most obvious question is: Why should you care? i’m glad you asked.
The reason you care is that you are part of the information economy. The top market cap companies are all information-theoretic developer-first companies. This means that these companies build things so others can build things. Software is truly eating the world. Think in terms of the recent pandemic. Work (code) is being created at an amazing rate due to the fact that the information work economy is distributed and essentially schedule free. She who has distributed wins and she who can code anytime wins. This also means that you are interested in building world-class software and the building of this software is now a decentralized peer reviewed transparent process.
The book is organized around Raymond’s various essays. It is important to note that just as software is an evolutionary process by definition so are the essays in this book. They can also be found online. The original collection of essays date back to 1992 on the internet: “A Brief History Of Hackerdom.’
The book is not a “how-to” cookbook but rather what i call a “why to” map of the terrain. While you can learn how to hack and code i believe it must be in your psyche. The book also uses the term “hacker” in a positive sense to mean one who creates software versus one who cracks software or steals information.
While the history and the methodology is amazing to me the cogent commentary on the types of the reasoning behind why hackers go into open source vary as widely as ice cream flavors.
Raymond goes into the theory of incentives with respect to the instinctive wiring of humans beings.
“The verdict of history seems to be free-market capitalism is the globally optimal way to cooperate for economic efficiency; perhaps in a similar way to cooperate for generating (and checking!) high-quality creative work.”
He categorizes command hierarchy, exchange economy, and gift culture to address these incentives.
Goods are allocated in a scarce economy model by one central authority.
The allocation of scarce goods is accomplished in a decentralized manner allowing scale through trade and voluntary cooperation.
This is very different than the other two methods or cultures. Abundance makes command and control relationships difficult to sustain. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.
It is clear that if we define the open source hackerdom it would be a gift culture. (It is beyond the current scope of this blog but it would be interesting to do a neuroscience project on the analysis of open source versus closed source hackers brain chemistry as they work throughout the day)
Given these categories, the essays then go onto define the written and many times unwritten (read secrets) that operate within the open-source world via a reputation game. If you are getting the idea it is tribal you are correct. Interestingly enough the open source world has in many cases very divergent views on all prickly things within the human condition such as religion and politics but one thing is a constant – ship high-quality code.
Without a doubt the most glaring cogent commentary comes in a paragraph from the essay “The Magic Cauldron.” entitled “Open Source And Strategic Business Risk.”
Ultimately the reasons open source seems destined to become a widespread practice have more to do with customer demand and market pressures than with supply-efficiencies for vendors.”
“Put yourself for the moment in the position of a CTO at a Fortune 500 corporation contemplating a build or upgrade of your firm’s IT infrastructure. Perhaps you need to choose a network operating system to be deployed enterprise-wide; perhaps your concerns involve 24/7 web service and e-commerce, perhaps your business depends on being able to field high-volume, high-reliability transaction databases. Suppose you go the conventional closed-source route. If you do, then you put your firm at the mercy of a supplier monopoly – because by definition there is only one place you can go to for support, bug fixes, and enhancements. If the supplier doesn’t perform, you will have no effective recourse because you are effectively locked by your initial investment.”
“The truth is this: when your key business processes are executed by opaque blocks of bits that you cant even see inside (let alone modify) you have lost control of your business.”
“Contrast this with the open-source choice. If you go this route, you have the source code, and no one can take that away from you. Instead of a supplier monopoly with a choke-hold on your business, you now have multiple service companies bidding for your business – and you not only get to play them against each other, but you also have the option of building your own captive support organization if that looks less expensive than contracting out. The market works for you.”
“The logic is compelling; depending on closed-source code is an unacceptable strategic risk So much so that I believe it will not be very long until closed-source single-vendor acquisitions when there is an open source alternative available will be viewed as a fiduciary irresponsibility, and rightly grounds for a share-holder lawsuit.”
THIS WAS WRITTEN IN 1997. LOOK AROUND THE WORLD WIDE WAIT NOW… WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Open Source – full stop.
i will add that there was no technical explanation here only business incentive and responsibility to the company you are building, rebuilt, or are scaling. Further, this allows true software malleability and reach which is the very reason for software.
i will also go on a limb here and say if you are a software corporation one that creates software you can play the monopoly and open-source models against each other within your corporation. Agility and speed to ship code is the only thing that matters these days. Where is your github? Or why is this not shipping TODAY?
This brings me to yet another amazing prescient prediction in the book that Raymond says that applications are ultimately where we will land for monetary scale. Well yes, there is an app for that….
While i have never met Eric S. Raymond he is a legend in the field. We have much to thank him for in the areas of software. If you have not read CatB and work in the information sector do yourself a favor: buy it today.
As a matter of fact here is the link: The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary
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