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

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.)