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New York Times: Robin Hoods of Cyberspace [Book Review of "The Hacker Ethic"]

Mar 03, 2001, 18:30 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Steven Johnson)

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"It can sometimes seem as if the number of people who have speculated on the social implications of Linux, the free computer operating system collectively engineered by thousands of programmers worldwide, exceeds the number of people who have actually used Linux itself. Ever since the open-source software movement entered into the public consciousness in the late 90's, we've been awash in prophesies about the end of the Windows era and the birth of a less proprietary digital age. Together, the emergence of open-source software and the related Napster music file sharing system constitute the most significant technological development since the arrival of the World Wide Web."

"Up to now, most ruminations on the impact of open-source software have limited their view to the computer desktop itself: does the stability of the Linux platform prove that open software development models are intrinsically more stable than the proprietary ones used by Microsoft? Is there an economic model that can support the development of free software?"

"These are important questions, but they don't do justice to the most remarkable fact about the open-source movement: at the very epicenter of New Economy capitalism, something that looks a great deal like a wired version of communism has prospered beyond anyone's wildest imagination. While private companies are free to sell ''flavors'' of Linux, and to sell technical support, no one owns Linux proper. It belongs to the people. If the Web served as a launching pad for the Xtreme capitalism heralded in magazines like Fast Company and Wired, the launching pad itself was partly built by freely contributed collective labor."

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