"Open Sources", Chris DiBona/Sam Ockman/Mark Stone, 1999,
%E Chris DiBona chris@...
%E Sam Ockman
%E Mark Stone
%C 103 Morris Street, Suite A, Sebastopol, CA 95472
%I O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
%O U$24.95/C$36.95 800-998-9938 fax: 707-829-0104 nuts@...
%P 272 p.
%T "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution"
The distinctive of open source software is that the source code is
available to everyone who wants to look at it. This means that users
and even independent observers can ascertain exactly what the software
is doing, determine whether it is safe, and make improvements or
modifications to it in order to best suit their own needs. It also
means that anyone can get a copy of the source code and use the
program, which makes business models for open source systems just a
little bit different than those for companies selling proprietary
While many see open source software primarily in terms of being
inexpensive (read "free"), the concept basically refers to the
unimpeded flow of ideas. As the authors in this volume frequently
repeat, open source software is "free as in speech, not as in beer."
However, the proponents of the open source movement would also point
out that this liberal exchange of thought has a benefit in the
increased production of high quality software, generally with a lower
investment or effort. Therefore, it is quite valid to examine the
open source concept in terms of business and economics.
Which seems to be why business is a major thrust in this book of
essays on a software methodology. The introduction equates the open
source movement with science, and looks at economic, as well as
technical and social, drivers of open source software. Eric Raymond's
history of hackerdom makes similar points, although it shows an
interesting UNIX bias. While making a good point about the relative
paucity of MS-DOS freeware, it ignores the cultural contributions made
by the Amiga, Apple, Atari, and Fidonet communities that paved the way
for the Internet explosion of the mid 1990s.
A history of the Berkeley UNIX (and Berkeley Systems Distribution)
gives detailed stories of developmental directions. There is a brief
outline of the history, functions, and operations of the Internet
Engineering Task Force, pointing out that it has done rather well for
an organization that doesn't actually exist. Richard Stallman's
history of the GNU project presents a jarringly different philosophy
from a number of the others in the book, but ultimately it indicates
the strength of a work (and movement) that can accommodate such
A piece from Cygnus presents a story of open source business success.
There is a comparison of software engineering in terms of both the
standard process and open source. Linus Thorvalds' piece on Linux
makes interesting observations on kernel architecture and portability.
The story of Red Hat's experience with retail marketing is important,
although the analysis of the proliferation of Linux versions is not
completely comforting. Larry Wall's philosophical meandering is, as
always, fun, thought-provoking, and eminently re-readable. The
strongest part of Brian Behlendorf's article on business strategy is
the discussion of licensing models. Bruce Perens expands on this with
his commentary on the open source definition, and comparison with
other licences. Oddly, for a publisher, while Tim O'Reilly's piece
touches on some hot buttons, it doesn't really say much. The story of
the Netscape Mozilla project, and the opening of the Navigator source,
is an intriguing glimpse into a story that is still ongoing. Eric
Raymond closes off with his hacker's revenge wrap-up of a number of
the stories mentioned in previous essays.
Appendix B is a copy of the open source definition and GNU's General
Public Licence. Appendix A is a collection of Usenet postings
comprising a debate, in early 1992, primarily between Linus Thorvalds
and Andrew Tanenbaum, on the viability of Linux. As such, many people
would think that the material would be about as interesting as
watching paint dry. Instead, the debate brings out some absolutely
fascinating points, and is well worth the space it is given.
I can readily commend this book to a wide variety of audiences:
programmers, analysts, business managers, computer hobbyists, and even
philosophers. The subject matter is much larger than programming
methods or Linux history alone. Perhaps a future edition might expand
to include a look at open hardware, or the copyright meditations from
David Brin's "The Transparent Society" (cf. BKTRASOC.RVW).
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKOPNSRC.RVW 20000611
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