Raymond on Open Source

Anthropologist Eric Raymond is a participant-observer in the culture of Internet hacking. In The Cathedral & The Bazaar Raymond celebrates the open source revolution that has permitted collaborative development of some of the most influential software on the Internet Age. He also discusses the implications for the future of open sourcing and the relationship to other media.

[C]omputer software is an increasingly critical factor in the world economy and in the strategic calculations of businesses. …[Y]ou are almost certainly familiar with many of today’s truisms about the information economy, the digital age, and the wired world; I will not rehearse them here. I will simply point out that any significant advance in our understanding of how to build better-quality, more reliable software has tremendous implications that are growing more tremendous by the day.

… [O]pen-source software [is] the process of systematically harnessing open development and decentralized peer review to lower costs and improve software quality. Open-source software is not a new idea (its traditions go back to the beginnings of the Internet thirty years ago), but only recently have technical and market forces converged to draw it out of a niche role. Today the open-source movement is bidding strongly to define the computing infrastructure of the next century. For any¬one who relies on computers, that makes it an important thing to understand.

I just referred to the “open-source movement”. That hints at other and perhaps more ultimately interesting reasons for the reader to care. The idea of open source has been pursued, realized, and cherished over those thirty years by a vigorous tribe of partisans native to the Internet. These are the people who proudly call themselves “hackers”—not as the term is now abused by journal¬ists to mean a computer criminal, but in its true and original sense of an enthusiast, an artist, a tinkerer, a problem solver, an expert.

The tribe of hackers, after decades spent in obscurity struggling against hard technical problems and the far greater weight of mainstream indifference and dismissal, has recently begun to come into its own. They built the Internet; they built Unix; they built the World Wide Web; they’re building Linux and open-source soft¬ware today; and, following the great Internet explosion of the mid-1990s, the rest of the world is finally figuring out that it should have been paying more attention to them all along.

The hacker culture and its successes pose by example some fundamental questions about human motivation, the organization of work, the future of professionalism, and the shape of the firm and about how all of these things will change and evolve in the information-rich post-scarcity economies of the 21st century and beyond. The hacker culture also, arguably, prefigures some pro¬found changes in the way humans will relate to and reshape their economic surroundings. This should make what we know about the hacker culture of interest to anyone else who will have to live and work in the future. …

Raymond, Eric. The Cathedral & The Bazaar. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2001, pp. xi-xii. || Amazon || WorldCat

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