Book review: The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Open Source software seems for the young generation as sure as the sun rises. And even if I witnessed the emergence of Open Source, I more often than not forget that there was a time when Linux didn’t exist. This recent history brought us a lot, but we may only have handpicked some of this revolution’s fruit. Eric Raymond is one of the guys behind this revolution, and he took some time to think about the changes it brought.

Content and opinions

The second edition of the book is split in 5 main essays. The first one is about the history of Linux. As I’ve said, I often forgot about the early stages of this revolution, and this essay is a nice sum up of what happened and where. The world was not as connected as it is now, and some things were supposed impossible to do. As usual, several people proved the saying wrong, but for once, those who failed are still mentioned. Without them, Open Source would not have been the same also!

The second essay gave its name to the book. It compares how the Linux kernel and how proprietary software are built. There are fundamental issues, and some differences that we tend to forget that are highlighted: we are not all the same (contrary to what current society tries to feed us). This mix of differences is what the author points as a reason for Open Source success.

The third essay is a bit more philosophical. I have to say that I don’t know what to think about it. I didn’t work in renown projects, so I don’t know exactly how ownership works in bigger scale, although I understand the different points the author makes.

When I read the fourth essay, Adobe and Microsoft tried their new license scheme (Creative Cloud and Office 365). It was really interesting because in this essay, the author speaks about the failure of one main aspect of proprietary software: you only pay once. And sure enough, Adobe and Microsoft move tries to address this problem. And all things considered, it is a valid move, they want to secure a source of income and the clients want to buy something they know will be fixed if they find bugs. Adobe’s mistake is, I think, that they wanted to much and solved this problem in a wrong way. If you check other software editors that provide this kind of scheme, like Mathworks, you pay for maintenance, but if you stop paying, you can still use your piece of software, you cannot expect fixes, that’s all. A subscription is fine, but not the way Adobe did it. There are other ideas in this essay, I wanted to highlight that thoughts from a decade ago can still echo today.

The last essay ends the loop started with the first essay on the prequel of the revolution by telling the story of the end of the revolution and of what can come. The trends the author envisioned were quite true, some were not at all. I’ll let you discover them.

Conclusion

I really liked the book. The History essays were really interesting, and although some predictions were wrong, the majority were right, and the ideas behind them still much relevant today.

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