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The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Thu 12th June 2014

The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental RevolutionaryThe Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Cathedral & the Bazaar is absolutely fundamental reading for any computer scientist that wishes to have an anywhere near reasonable discussion about the state of software development today. It should really also be required reading in management, entrepreneurship and politics, as it outlines some interesting human motivations that, if embraced, could do great good for the world. The open source model of software development should not be feared or abused (as the immediate human nature responses appear to default to), but understood, respected and aspired to in all areas.

This paper copy of the books is a collection of essays by Eric S. Raymond, which fit together rather fluently. Each essay is available for free on Raymond’s website, but I think reading any in isolation would make far less sense than the whole, which this book presents. “A Brief History of Hackerdom” nicely sets the scene, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” presents the central thesis explaining why the open source model produces better software than the closed source model, and “Homesteading the Noosphere” explains the human motivations behind the entire culture (relating it back to John Locke’s philosophy on property). “The Magic Cauldron” discusses the novel business models that are now possible due to open source software and why they are more sustainable than those relied on by closed source software, while “Revenge of the Hackers” explains how Raymond went from regular open source contributor to spokesperson for the community. These only make sense in the context of each other, and each one piles on more convincing evidence to support the model. You must read them all, because they are worth more than the sum of their parts.

Being around real hackers, open source developers, computer science academics, or even reading the tech community news gets you part of the way to understanding the culture and ethics behind open source. However, Raymond has thought so hard about this, lived through it and communicated it so succinctly that it is a crime not to read this so you can fully understand why an innovation in a relatively small technology community is going to have long lasting and important effects on the whole of society.

Raymond’s ego rises to the surface on occasion, but forgive him that and look past it into the principles of these essays. If you have any interest in software development at all, you must read this. I am frankly embarrassed that I haven’t read it before now, so don’t make the same mistake as me!

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