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BOOK REVIEW: Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution

Feb 25, 1999, 03:03 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dwight Johnson)


Edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark Stone
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1999, $24.95US

Reviewed by Dwight Johnson

Open Sources is a look into the minds of fourteen of the leaders of the Free Software movement.

Writing in the pages of Open Sources, they reveal themselves, not just as highly skilled programmers and astute businesspeople, but as profound thinkers and social architects with a revolutionary vision for the future.

Editors Chris Dibona (VA Research), Sam Ockman (Penguin Computing) and Mark Stone (O'Reilly) have written an excellent introduction, putting the Open Source movement into a social, political, historical and philosophical context.

Open Sources is a book of readings and one of the best reads I have had in years.

Eric S. Raymond, hacker and author of 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar' et al. has written 'A Brief History of Hackerdom', which shows how the early practice of sharing code in academia, the development of Unix and the Internet combined to create the Open Source movement.

Marshall Kirk McKusick, Berkeley Unix contributor, author and teacher, extends Raymond's history with 'Twenty years of Berkeley Unix: From AT&T-Owned to Free Redistributable', showing how Free Unix developed at UC Berkeley in the seventies and eighties and culminated in the nineties in the different flavors of BSD which included the free NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD distributions.

Scott Bradner, network pioneer and Harvard University professor, in 'The Internet Engineering Task Force', explains how a completely open and relatively informal and unstructured body, the IETF, has been successful at building the open standards for communications protocols that have made the Internet possible.

Richard Stallman, creator of Emacs and gcc, founder of the Free Software Foundation and author of the GNU General Public License (GPL) writes in 'The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement' how he became a Free Software advocate and what he did about it to create the Free Software movement.

Michael Tiemann, founder of Cygnus Solutions, in 'Future of Cygnus Solutions: An Entrepreneur's Account', writes how his reading of Richard Stallman's 'GNU Manifesto' inspired him to found a successful business.

Paul Vixie, author of 'bind' and founder of the Internet Software Consortium, in 'Software Engineering' has written a hard-nosed account of how Open Source programmers and their projects can benefit from a software engineering approach to product development.

Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, has written 'The Linux Edge', a short history of the Linux kernel, how he came to create it, why he thinks it was successful and where it might be headed.

Robert Young, CEO of Red Hat Software, Inc., in "Giving It Away: How Red Hat Software Stumbled Across a New Economic Model and Helped Improve an Industry", writes about the history of Red Hat Software and the business strategies that have made Red Hat the leading Linux distribution.

Larry Wall, creator of Perl, displays a programming mind that is at once playful, poetic and profoundly metaphysical in his essay 'Diligence, Patience, and Humility'.

Brian Behlendorf, a co-founder of the Apache Group, in contrast to Wall, is all seriousness. In 'Open Source as a Business Strategy', he investigates a range of strategies a software development company might use to incorporate Open Source software into its business.

Bruce Perens is former head of the Debian Project, one of the authors of the Open Source Definition and co-founder, with Eric Raymond, of the Open Source Initiative. In 'The Open Source Definition', he tells how the term 'Open Source' came into being and discusses the ramifications of the different Open Source licenses from the GPL through public domain.

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., in 'Hardware, Software, and Infoware', argues that the Web has changed the paradigm of what an application is away from one that is software intensive to one that is information intensive.

Jim Hamerly and Tom Paquin, leaders in the movement to open-source the Netscape browser, in 'Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla', tell the story of how the Netscape browser became Open Source.

Finally, Eric S. Raymond, in 'The Revenge of the Hackers', fills in his earlier 'A Brief History of Hackerdom' with the events of 1998 which created the Open Source Initiative as a strategy for marketing Free Software and propelled him into the role of its chief evangelist.

If you are just being introduced to Free Software, you will find no better introduction to the thinking behind it than Open Sources.

If you have been into Free Software for a year or two, Open Sources will give you a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of it.

If you are an old Free Software hacker, Open Sources will give you fresh and fascinating glimpses into the minds of its creators, movers and shakers.

A wit once said that the hardest product to sell is life insurance because you have to die to get the benefits.

Free Software must surely come in a close second. How do you get people to pay for what they can get for free over the Internet?

In the pages of Open Sources, the most successful of the Free Software business people reveal their success secrets:

  • Bob Young of Red Hat Software tells you the secret is creating a brand name people trust.
  • Michael Tiemann of Cygnus Solutions tells how he got his inspiration for business from Richard Stallman's 'GNU Manifesto' and went on to build one of the most successful service businesses in the software industry.
  • Each of the contributors to this book has built a remarkably successful career leveraged around Free Software.

    One thing that will continually amaze and confound the reader of Open Sources is the astonishing diversity of the people who have managed to succeed with it.

In the end, there is absolutely nothing bad to say about Open Sources except that if you can't afford to buy a copy you might just have to steal one.


Buy Open Sources.
(In affiliation with Computer Literacy.)