On the last day of The Bazaar, I caught up with Eric Raymond in
the hotel lobby of the Hotel Empire as I was checking out. Since we
were both there and we were both hungry, we decided to get some
breakfast. I had visited the Opera Espresso diner the night I
arrived in New York, so we headed there and ordered the same
breakfast; Eggs and corned beef hash. The odd diner feel made Eric
feel at home.
We talked about all kinds of cool stuff, including Eric's latest
book. However, when you're sitting at a diner discussing the
community, thoughts don't travel in a linear fashion. I decided to
call Eric after the show at home and conduct a real interview
there. So, this evening I talked to Eric a while more. Here's the
best of the conversation.
Eric! You're working on a cool new book. How's it
"I have finished Chapter 7, the chapter on interface design!
What I'm doing is an attempt to capture the community wisdom of the
UNIX tradition. My perception is that there are a lot of guidelines
about how to do good design, and expertise that's passed between
UNIX programmers as a kind of folk tradition, and these things
mostly don't get written down. Unfortunately, the result of this is
that we have a generation of eager young programmers that would
like to grok what the UNIX tradition is about, but they can't, and
it's not their fault."
What's the working title?
"'The Art of Unix Programming'. The reference to 'The Art of
Computer Programming' by Knuth is deliberate."
What is the creative process difference between writing a
manuscript for 'The Art of UNIX Programming' and essays like 'The
Cathedral and the Bazaar?'
"From the beginning, I had the idea about this book that I would
write as a draft, expose it to a community of expert peers and
reviewers early in the process, and then use their feedback to
refine the draft. The purpose of this method is when you're trying
to write a book about community wisdom, it can't all come out of
your own head. In some respects this is similar to what I've done
before, 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar' and the following two papers
have a change history attached to them, and I incorporate feedback
in later versions. Going further back, the 'New Hacker's
Dictionary' was a collaboration, with me in the middle, but a
collaboration of hundreds of people."
How far along is the manuscript so far?
"I've released the preface, contents page and chapter one. I
have draft chapters up to chapter seven. However, I have made a
deliberate decision to space out the release of the material so
there will be a higher quality discussion around each piece."
How long has it taken?
"I have been working seriously on this book for about 2.5
What's next after the book?
"I don't know yet. I'll probably find something interesting to
hack on, whether it's a piece of code, a book or a social system
remains to be seen."
What did you think of The Bazaar?
"Fun, but sadly underattended."
You're well-known for your roadshow Open Source evangelism.
How much are you traveling now?
"I'm spending about half my time on the road. About half of that
time is spent talking to street-level developers, user groups and
so forth, and the other half is spent talking to corporate types,
CEO's, finance people, investors and so forth. So, I oscillate
between talking to the West Nowhere LUG and the Forbes New Economy
Conference. That's a really strange transition, culturally
What is the most well attended LUG meeting you've ever
"That's tough. The largest was probably the joint
Swedish/Danish; I think it was called Skåne Linux User Group.
They're actually centered in Copenhagen, and the Swedish city of
Malmø, and I actually gave part of my speech on the ferry
between Copenhagen and Malmø. No, that wasn't the largest,
I'm sorry. The largest would have had to have been the last time I
was in Arizona. Five groups got together and put on a giant event.
There were about 400 people there."
We all have our reasons for being part of the Open Source
universe. What do you think is the coolest thing about the
"The fact that it accomplishes complex collaborative work
without any use of coercion at all."
You and I have discussed privately who you'd like to publish
'The Art of UNIX Programming.' While I don't want to tell tales
outside of school, who's interested?"
"There are three publishers hot for this book. I guess it
wouldn't be telling tales to say that O'Reilly, Macmillan and
Addison-Wesley are all interested in this book."
Do you think people will buy your work for name as well as
"I detect genuine interest in the topic material, and I think
that there are people at these publishers who agree with me that
such a book is very much needed. Do they also want to cash in on my
current box office? Sure. What else is new? Why would this be a
novel or a startling phenomenon? That's not even bad, it's just
life. I try to be realistic about these things. The reason I try to
be realistic is partly because it keeps me anchored in
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