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Book Review

The Cathedral & the Bazaar
by Eric S. Raymond

ISBN: 0596001088
Publisher: O'Reilly
Pages: 256

Over the last years I have found myself using an increasing amount of open source software. Several times, I was astonished by the high quality of these products. How do open source projects manage to tame the complexity of large-scale software development? What mechanisms actually make it work? Eric S. Raymond’s book, basically a collection of essays, answers the questions from several perspectives.

After a short and interesting introduction to the hacker culture and its history, Eric S. Raymond introduces and compares two fundamentally different development models in the main essay: the Cathedral model (closed source) and the Bazaar model (open source). He draws several examples not only from Linux but also from his own experiences. The chapter is filled with interesting observations and I found it very thought provoking.

The following essay (“Homesteading the Noosphere”) looks at the motivational aspect. Eric S. Raymond’s comparison with “gift cultures”, where the participants compete for status and prestige by giving away time and expertise, is excellent.

In “The Magic Cauldron” the author investigates the economical aspects of open source. I personally found his categorization of the economic value of software into “use value” and “sale value”, together with the accompanying discussion, a very strong argument for open source. The approximation that 95% of all software is developed for use, not sale, indicates that the software industry would be better described as a service industry instead of the traditional view as a manufacturing industry.

The only minor criticism I have, is the treatment of closed source. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the arguments for closing source only receives a very brief treatment and the book left me wondering if there isn’t more to it.

Too summarize, this is a brilliant work; interesting, thought provoking, and actually fun to read. Besides, as Eric S. Raymond lives as he preaches all essays in the book are freely available from his homepage in one version or another.

Reviewed September 2005

©2005 Adam Petersen