Open Sources


This is a very strange book by almost any criteria. Firstly, much of the content is available on the web in one form or another. This includes an appendix which is literally a Usenet discussion printed. Secondly, most of the writers are techies first and writers second. You don’t get that kind of admission from most writers, even when it’s obviously true.


There are fifteen essays by eighteen writers. I’m not going to go through all of them, but I shall note some of the highlights.

The style prize, without doubt, goes to Larry Wall for ‘Diligence, Patience, and Humility.’ It’s one of the longer essays, has dozens of useless-looking diagrams and for much of the time seems to go nowhere. You keep reading, though. You may not see where it’s going, but you’re intrigued. And it’s worth it — despite initial appearances, it does go somewhere!

As a Linux-biased web site, I couldn’t miss out Linus Torvalds piece, ‘The Linux Edge.’ His simple message — Linux has survived by having a good design — is thoroughly investigated, but the best bit is that he criticises just about everyone else in the industry, often without much justification, and still comes out the other end smelling of roses! I’m not sure how he did it, but I know I’d hate Bill Gates more if he said pretty much the same things.

As always he comes across as very modest, and attributes many of the good ideas to other people.

I liked Marshall Kirk McKusick’s potted history of Unix too. I think I’ve seen much of that before, but not in one place.

Since he practically started the whole thing, I need to mention Richard Stallmans ‘The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement.’ It’s an interesting piece in that he contradicts some of what the other authors in the book have to say (as has been well documented, he dislikes that phrase ‘Open Source’ and demands that people call it ‘free’ software). It’s clear that he knows exactly what he wants and where he wants to go, but it’s equally clear that he’s going to put a lot of businesses off free software if he keeps going the way he is. RMS, I respect what you’re saying, but calm down!

The final mention goes to the two Eric Raymond essays. Raymond has been at the centre of the Open Source movement since the Cathedral and the Bazaar,’ and fully deserves the opportunity to write two pieces in Open Sources. The first piece ‘A Brief History of Hackerdom,’ describes the key points and people that gave rise to our current position. The second, ‘The Revenge of the Hackers,’ looks to the future.

Like much Raymond stuff, some is ‘personal’ and has a number of anecdotes about himself. It seems that many people hate this, but I feel that where it doesn’t get in the way of the message and while it’s still interesting and well written, it’s fine. The two essays are, indeed, fine.


I can’t really criticise this book. All the people in it are more influential than myself, better developers than myself, better writers than myself or, more commonly, all of the above. So while I like some of the writer more than others, and while I actually disagree with some of the assertions made, it is, at least, well written and thought provoking.

As a book intended to document the new-found popularity of the Open Source model, the book is a classic and a must-buy.

The facts

Author: Edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman and Mark Stone

Cost: US$24.95

ISBN: 1-56592-582-3

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