BOOK: The Cathedral and the Bazaar


Marketing is contest of Words. The very propose of marketing is to present “your thing” in a more favorable light that everyone else’s “thing”.

Doing this effectively seldom includes providing COMPLETE comparative information and often is approached by substituting enthusiasm for real information.

Everybody in technology does this. The Linux advocates revert to anti-Microsoft rhetoric or a standard song and dance from the People’s Republic of Stallman about the philanthropic moral imperative of Open Source.

Much to my lament I view a good deal of Microsoft’s own marketing activities with a similar lack of enthusiasm.

A full three quarters of the Linux advocates I talk to are just full of shit. They pull the standard Stallman like arguments or they execute a convenient flavor of selective blindness.

I see it all the time. Some irrelevant weenie over at Slashdot writes that Windows (all versions and flavors) is totally insecure and the entire Linux community begins to repeat this “data” which is now considered empirical fact. 

But when an independent third party market analyst says something that reflects on Microsoft in a positive way the Linux community discounts it in its entirety because “even though Microsoft didn’t commission the study, Microsoft sheer size and power influences all data in the world – unless it’s anti-Microsoft. Then it’s all true.

So when I picked up Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and The Bazaar” I expected an obscenely biased dissertation on the evils of Microsoft and how the Open Source freedom fighters would save the world.

Why not, Raymond has been in the middle of real Open Source development since the very early days.

I was pleasantly surprised. Raymond is not a fan of Microsoft, but he is a very smart guy and reasonably pragmatic about the issues of the Open Source development model, business in a capitalist world, and the politics of the human condition.

The first edition of this book was published in 1999 with a refresh published in 2001. A number of predictions that Raymond makes here have transpired, a number of others have.

While I don’t agree with all of Eric Raymond’s assertions and contentions, I do agree with much of what he writes.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

First, Eric refutes the common Open Source myth that more “eyes” on the code means fewer (security) defects. He correctly observes that Open Source projects teams are distributed but generally small and those developers outside a project team might be looking at the source code but are generally doing quality reviews.

He suggests that what drives the quality of Open Source software (which he feels is generally better than closed source commercial applications) if the fact the developers CHOOSE to work on the things they are passionate about and that it is that passion that translates into quality.

At Microsoft I think generally developers get to work on the products that they are passionate about, but I think that, given the assumptions about quality, Raymond’s opinion is a very interesting one.

Another interesting difference in Raymond’s perspective is his unusual business insight (for an Open Source developer). He agrees that commercial motivations must play some part in most Open Source consideration and that projects should be Open Sourced when it makes sense relative to the project’s / organization’s goals and that, in fact, not ALL software should be Open Sourced.

The growth of Open Source Software has undoubtedly changed the Software Development industry and the way we write software, in both the Open and the Closed Source product efforts. It’s certainly had an effect on how Microsoft develops software.

So if you’re in the Software business there are two reasons you need to read this book,

1.) You won’t find a better explanation of the Open Source Culture (The REAL one) and how the management of Open Source projects really work.
2.) The book offers very valuable perspective on the business aspects of Open Source from a primarily tempered perspective.

Eric Raymond has written several good books. Another GREAT programming booth by Eric is “The Art of UNIX Programming”.

I’d like to read more from Eric on the culture and business of programming, but until he writes THAT book I’ll have to keep reading his blog here ( ). (I’ve also just read his book “Understanding Open Source Software Development”.