Before Linux, Raymond writes, “I believed that the most important software needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with not a beta release before its time.” By contrast, the Linux community resembled “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” Linux’s Internet archives were overflowing with versions of the system, and new releases appeared with alarming frequency. “Linus was treating his users as co-developers in the most effective possible way,”Raymond concluded. “Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.”
As Raymond’s conversion took hold, he realized that the open-source faith had been around long before Linux. Similar processes had given rise to some of the crucial parts of the global computing infrastructure, such as TCP/IP, the Internet’s standard transmission protocol; SMTP for e-mail; and Apache, the software that powers more than 60 percent of Web servers. For hackers, Raymond says, building systems that benefit all is partly a form of play and partly a matter of prestige. Programmers volunteer to tackle complex problems because it’s exhilarating to find a good solution, but also because turning that solution over to the community is a philanthropic act that reflects well on the giver. Properly guided by a winsome visionary like Torvalds, in Raymond’s view, these forces can produce software that puts commercial products to shame. After all, open-source programs reflect the best efforts of the best minds, have been debugged by hundreds or thousands of reviewers-and they come with 24/7 “customer support” from the programming community.
“Factory software,” by contrast, offers none of these advantages. “The closedsource approach allows you to collect rent from your secret bits, but it forecloses the possibility of truly independent peer review,” Raymond writes. And worse: “When your key business processes are executed by opaque blocks of bits that you can’t even see inside (let alone modify) you have lost control of your business.”
The threat that customers might take back control by choosing open-source software has become a serious worry for software giants. In the words of the famous Halloween Memo, an internal strategy document leaked from Microsoft in 1998,”Recent case studies provide very dramatic evidence…that commercial quality can be achieved/exceeded by OSS [open-source software] projects…. The free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long-term developer mindshare threat.”
Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon in order to avoid being run over. Raymond’s white paper played a direct role, for example, in Netscape’s decision in 1998 to make public the source code for its 5.0 Web browser. And while open-source software itself can’t be sold for a profit, an important new industry is springing up to service it. Red Hat, a Linux-support company, watched its market capitalization soar into the billions shortly after its initial public
offering last August.
Both as an overview of the opensource movement and as a case study in economic and cultural change, Raymond’s book is a great read. The author is far from impartial, but he is realistic; he admits there are areas, such as office applications, where closed-source software is still appropriate. In the end, however, he
believes that the entire computing infrastructure-operating systems, the Internet and communications software-will be open source,”cooperatively maintained by user consortia and by for-profit distribution/service outfits with a role like that of Red Hat.” If that happens, The Cathedral and the Bazaar could well be remembered as the most important book on the software frontier of the 1990s.