Sunday, December 12, 2004
Free as in Freedom - Part Two: New Linux
By Adam Engel
"A frightening array, and seemingly endless. Vaccines created to make people sick, radioactive ammunition designed to sicken and kill our own troops, chemtrails that have left half the country stricken with a debilitating bronchitis that never goes away, the destruction of our Constitution by cynical Congressional fiat, a plan to put all our schoolchildren on prescription drugs the ingredients and consequences of which are never fully revealed until it’s too late, our brains shredded by microwaves from cellphones, the never-ending robbery of our treasury by Israelis to support their genocide of the people whose land they stole, and the sinister plot by corporate giant Monsanto to kill half the world by starvation with bioengineered seeds that produce sterile crops .... the list of horrors inflicted upon us by corporate criminals does not end. “
-John Kaminski, “The Mirage of the Miracle"
[Note: All dialog is culled from email conversations unless otherwise noted. -AE].
Perhaps I was over-zealous in my praise of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in Part One of this article, “Free as in Freedom: GNU/Linux.” That would be unfair to many major corporations and the state of the world they’ve created. Lots of people, especially “successful” Americans, like the world just the way it is. Oh well. It was a history of “GNU beginnings,” the start of a movement that, unlike anything we’ve thus far seen, said “No!” to the corporate-defined order and created an alternative to corporate rule by “copyright,” and an operating system that challenged the way certain corporate monopolies have defined our desktops and how we use them (or go directly to jail).
Well, that was last week’s article, which focused on GNU/Linux. Old. Old. All that progressive, anti-corporate stuff is ridiculous, romantic nonsense anyway, at least according to Eric Raymond, author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” and co-creator (along with various user/collaborators) of the immortal fetchmail program. This article is going to focus not on GNU/Linux, but “New Linux,” the operating system as it exists today, with GUI desktop environments and all the features of your favorite monopoly software (plus thousands of Unix-like programs, tools, utilities etc.). So, time to wrest that sword-helmet-cuirass combo from Richard Stallman—though he did look awful good in that garb—and place them on the person of Raymond’s visionary of the now-and- next-week, the one and only Linus Torvalds.
Also, despite the legitimate concerns of the Free Software Foundation, the operating system will never be called GNU/Linux, just “Linux.” This could be for brevity’s sake, or because the idea of GNU/Linux was promoted too late, or other reasons only we paranoid progressives—actually, I’m not a progressive; I’m an anarchist, but it’s all the same “lefty crowd” (except for Libertarians who manage to “pass” for conservatives or plain old folks) of whiners and discontents, the kind of folks who fail to appreciate all the great stuff corporate monopolies bring to what’s left of life on earth.
I began this article or series of articles because I saw in GNU/Linux an example of a successful rebellion for “the left” to examine as a model. I don’t think I was mistaken, though, as with all movements, once the “revolutionaries” have set the ground, the “liberals” take over and try not only to remake the present, but rewrite the past. If I “lionized” Stallman and “romanticized” GNU and the free software movement to create a “founding” myth—oops. Better the real revolutionary Jefferson than the paper and wax model we have today thanks to generations of post-revolutionary revisionists. Stallman and the FSF did what I said they did, despite my zealous praise, which is why GNU/Linux exists today.
I was fortunate to have found the perfect guide for my journey through the Linux past and present, the politics of Linux: Ben Okopnik, Editor-in-Chief of the Linux Gazette. Yoga instructor and practitioner, Unix instructor and practitioner, writer, editor and Linux aficionado, Ben was both open to new ideas, familiar with “old” ones, and willing and able to point me in the various directions I needed to go to “explain the GNU/Linux model” to mostly non-technical “left” and “progressive” readers.
“Linux is inextricably political—and deliberately so, from its very inception. The OS itself is a tool, as sharp, bright, and beautiful as it may be; creating a better world, in which human beings cooperate rather than fight each other ‘to achieve the same exact ends’ is, from my perspective, the goal,” wrote Okopnik.
It was Okopnik who urged me to publish this article under a GPL-like license and pointed me to the website where this could be done in minutes.
“Please consider releasing this interview under the Open Publication License (the OPL is available at http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/), or something similar. It’s not a condition of the interview, but I’d strongly prefer it. This license respects your commercial rights and can be “adjusted” to suit your exact purposes; it’s the license under which all Linux Gazette (LG) articles are published,” he wrote. “If you release this interview under the OPL, you can define whatever restrictions on distribution you choose; as an example, Cory Doctorow, an excellent and highly-popular writer (see http://craphound.com/) recently released several of his books under the OPL. He talks about his experience on the site, and as a result of that experience has actually eased off on the restrictions he originally imposed. Nor is he the first by far; take a look at, e.g., MIT’s OpenCourseWare site: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html (Good resource to bookmark in any case.)”
“In order to license this article, I just have to declare it?” I asked.
“Yep,” wrote Ben. “Do a run-through of the “wizard” at http://creativecommons.org/license/ to make sure that you have exactly the license you want—it only takes a few seconds—and it’ll generate the legal notice you need. Nice and neat.”
“I don’t have to apply to anyone for approval?”
“Nope; you’re The Boss when it comes to licensing your own stuff. Isn’t that nice?” Ben wrote.
Ben also gave me another perspective on the GNU revolution and its major and minor aspects. For instance, the FSF’s insistence on calling “Linux” GNU/Linux, though valid, violates the peoples’ tendency to abbreviate (hence the many abbreviations and acronyms in the Unix/Linux operating systems themselves), and according to Software Developer and Systems Designer Paul Ford (author of the phenomenal Ftrain - http://www.ftrain.com - website), the GNU/ prefix came too late in the game. All the “Linux” books and CDs had gone to print; the word “Linux” came to mean both the kernel and operating system, though Linus Torvalds and supporters, developed the kernel and GNU the other essentials of the OS.
“Note that this distinction, much as RMS (Richard M. Stallman) and others may have tried to promote it, did not make it into the common lexicon. Just as in the case of the ‘X Window System,’ universally known as ‘X,’ a short simple identifier is what people will use when it’s available. As an example, looking through my 55 MB ‘sent mail’ archive (gads, but I do a lot of writing!), I find myself using the term ‘GNU/Linux’ exactly once, back in 2000,” wrote Okopnik.
“Everyone I know calls it ‘Linux.’ Everyone appreciates Richard Stallman’s extraordinary contributions. He’s a genius, and has a MacArthur genius grant to prove it. But the ‘GNU/’ prefix was added a few years too late. I’ll call it GNU/Linux in writing, sometimes, though. Honestly, I don’t care what people call it. That entire debate seemed anathema to the open source ethos, too similar to someone protecting their registered trademark,” Ford commented.
Regardless of what it’s called—I’ll call it GNU/Linux out of respect for its GNU origins—GNU/Linux is a political phenomenon, the creation of user/developers for its own sake. Or rather, for their sake. Rather than succumb to the Microsoft Monopoly, which places Windows on virtually every PC sold in America, they created their own free system and licensed it not for the benefit of an elite few, but for anyone with the capability to alter the code.
Okopnik describes the “typical” Linux user thus:
“I don’t want to idealize Linuxers in my answers; none of us humans are perfect saints, and the wild bunch who cleave to this OS and this community are little different in that respect. However, just as exaggeration in teaching is used to emphasize a point, isolating or highlighting the common trends and traits in this case can provide an interesting introduction. Keeping that in mind:
KDE and GNOME: Linux for The Rest of Us
“I first came to Linux in 1996, when it was already a world-wide phenomenon, but still a ‘techie/hacker’ thing. I was on the command-line for six months before I installed X-windows; nevertheless, I was surprised at the number of alternatives a Unix-type system gave me, especially as a writer in terms of text formatting and manipulation etc. Emacs, vi and though I didn’t get into Tex or nroff, I used Applixware, once it came out. to do the formatting one does in Windows. Because of various jobs I took as both a free-lance and cubicle-bound ad-man and copywriter, I had to install Windows and gradually moved away from Linux for about four years. When I came back to it with SuSE 9.0 in December of 2003 I was astonished. KDE, (KDE.org free desktop environment), GNOME (GNU’s free desktop environment), Open Office (OpenOffice.org’s free office suite), the whole new GUI interface floored me,” I wrote Okopnik.
“This is not an uncommon reaction in this venue,” wrote Okopnik. “The rates of growth and development in Linux are simply phenomenal—and still accelerating.”
“Essentially ‘every school’ in India runs Linux. Same for South Africa. France has passed a law that says ‘Open Source is to be implemented whenever possible’; Brazil, which was ~8% of Microsoft’s business a couple of years ago, has followed suit. Germany has been using Linux in their security departments, and is now implementing it at every level—federal, state, and local. China has decided that it’s their official OS; Korea and Japan have joined them in investing several billion dollars in FLOSS software development recently. Most of South America is switching, led by Peru (Dr. Villanueva Nunez, a Congressman, responded succinctly and brilliantly to the fear-and-doubt tactics that Microsoft tried to sow when the decision was made; the translation can be found in many places on the Net.) This is just off the top of my head; there are many other countries which have decided that FLOSS simply works for them (generally by making them competitive in the world market and removing an unnecessary barrier to their pool of talented but poor would-be techies.)”
“What’s FLOSS?” I asked.
“An unwieldy compromise of a name that the majority can live with. As you’ve probably figured from your exchange with Stallman, there’s some disagreement about exactly what this whole movement should be called—and Free/Libre/Open Source Software is what we got as a result. Like dead yeast in beer, it’s harmless and doesn’t even affect the flavor,” wrote Okopnik.
“Once money is not the primary motivator, a number of interesting results show up. FLOSS is a social experiment gone successful—mainstream—wild, a meritocracy/gift-based culture that focuses on exchanging people’s best abilities for community recognition and respect. Part of the secret of its effectiveness is that you can’t cheat people out of respect the way you can with money—it can always be lost or withdrawn. Like any other human system, it has its imperfections (see Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” or James P. Hogan’s “Voyage into Yesteryear”, both of which describe a respect-based system as the basis of an economy), but they’re a) usually self-correcting and b) several orders of magnitude less extreme at the edges than what we have now,” wrote Okopnik.
I wrote to Okopnik, “KDE and GNOME, especially KDE 3.1x, worked as well as or better than the Win2000 I had installed four years ago, and I’ve yet to experience a full crash—that’s par for the daily use of Windows 2000. More significantly, I was turned onto ‘the New Linux’ by someone who knew about as much about the Unix command-line as the typical Windows user knows about DOS. Similarly, I turned someone else who was sick of Microsoft’s shoddy but expensive products to the mind-boggling array of free software programs that run under Linux, though he had neither the time nor the inclination to learn about the operating system. Like many users, all he wanted and needed was a word-processor, a browser, a mail program, some games, and as little trouble as possible. SuSE 9.0 provided him with all of these things, and now, after a year on Linux, he knows slightly more about the Linux command line than he did it’s retarded younger brother, DOS. Have you noticed more of an interest in Linux or an enhanced readership since Linux became both market and user friendly? If so, are these new users less interested in the ‘technical’ aspects than in having a stable GUI-based system to for work and email and net-surfing?”
Okopnik responded, “Actually, this is an issue that I brought up in an involved discussion with the LG staff and the Answer Gangsters (The Answer Gang answers Linux questions sent to us by our readers, and the discussions and the answers become part of LG.) My viewpoint here is that it’s actually a very good thing—modulo the awareness that the Command Line (CLI) exists. That is, people are perfectly welcome to come to Linux and use only its GUI capabilities as long as this serves their needs—but when the GUI proves insufficient, the capabilities of the CLI are there, just underneath, providing the perfect security blanket.
“In an article I wrote for Java Developers Journal, I related an example of this. I had a client whose Web developer left them in the lurch with several hundred HTML files without the ‘.html’ extensions. This wouldn’t be too bad by itself—renaming a group of files isn’t difficult—but the thousands of HTML links within the files referred to those extension-less names as well. With GUI-only tools, this is a nearly-unsolvable disaster. From the CLI, it was a matter of a single short line of code.
”The readership of the Linux Gazette (LG) has certainly changed over time. Where we used to get dozens of questions on fairly technical topics in The Answer Gang, we now get only a few—and they tend to be simpler, less technical. The email I get from our readers indicates that there has indeed been a definite shift in the user base; the old Linuxer who would bang on a problem for hours so that it could be reported (and quickly fixed) is being… well, not replaced, but reduced, percentage-wise, as the mainstay of the population. The new user is often just that—a computer user who just wants that email/web/document/spreadsheet processor and maybe a few games on the side. There is, however, a cultural shift that occurs even in those users after a while: you cannot live in a society based on a given moral premise and ignore that premise, or even stop it from penetrating into your life (even if you try to prevent it.) The original “hacker ethic” of Linux lives on, strong as ever in those who use the full extent of this OS, and inherent (and growing, however slowly) in those who use it even without that full knowledge.
Paul Ford wrote, “I used to think there was too much emphasis in the community on ‘claiming the desktop,’ trying to compete with Windows, but the latest GNOME is attractive and elegant, and works great, looks as good as MacOS X, and doesn’t feel like a thin skin over Unix at all. It’s an environment I could use every day. So I was wrong--the desktop was a good aim, it just took a while to get things to a good point.’”
According to George Staikos, a KDE developer and spokesperson, “The KDE project was formed by a small group of computer programmers and Linux and UNIX users who were fed up with the lousy state of user interfaces available for their operating systems. They wanted something that was fast, powerful, featureful, and looked good. Notice that making money was not one of the requirements. They set out to accomplish this task in the most effective manner possible, which was to use the Qt toolkit (at the time distributed free of charge for non-commercial use under a restrictive license, but now distributed under the free GPL license for non-commercial use). Because there were very many people around the world with similar desires and compatible skills, because there was no risk of someone hijacking the project and turning it into a business, and because there was actually proof-of-concept working code already being produced, the project quickly grew. After a few years, the core of the system was very solid and new programmers could easily find a niche to work in, implementing that feature they always wanted or fixing that bug that has bothered them for so long. These individuals are what makes KDE work. They keep the project evolving, bringing new ideas and new manpower. There is relatively no risk involved in contributing, and the rewards are plenty. Developers (including coders, translators, documenters, artists, and more) can contribute whatever they have time for.
“Of course there are other requirements to keeping such a project going. We need bandwidth, servers, funds for promotion and travel, and more. This tends to come from corporate users who are kind enough to contribute back to ensure the progress of the project, and from home users who perhaps can’t contribute in other ways. Some people also contribute system administration time. This is all very vital to the success of KDE.
“It’s important to note, however, that KDE is indeed paid for, as much as any other software is. KDE is paid for by individuals, and paid for in a distributed manner. Our time, as KDE developers, is worth as much money as any other software developer (More, if you ask me. KDE developers tend to be one smart bunch!). KDE is indeed a very costly project, and is paid for by society itself, as much as a result of the lack of momentum of the commercial sector to create a useful solution to existing problems.
“What is KDE ‘worth’? The freely available SLOCCount tool gives me an estimate of $22.6 million just for the KDE libraries alone, a small fraction of what is KDE. Most of the code in the KDE libraries was developed from 1999 through 2004, almost 6 years in total. Not including the Qt toolkit, KDE must be worth well over $250 million. This also doesn’t include artwork, documentation and language translations, which KDE is well known for.
Total Physical Source Lines of Code (SLOC) = 608,228
Development Effort Estimate, Person-Years (Person-Months) = 167.61
(Basic COCOMO model, Person-Months = 2.4 * (KSLOC**1.05))
Schedule Estimate, Years (Months) = 3.75 (45.01)
(Basic COCOMO model, Months = 2.5 * (person-months**0.38))
Estimated Average Number of Developers (Effort/Schedule) = 44.69
Total Estimated Cost to Develop = $ 22,641,821
(average salary = $56,286/year, overhead = 2.40)
[the above data was generated using David A. Wheeler’s ‘SLOCCount’ tool]
I wrote, “Was KDE originally supposed to be free-ware? I remember when I first saw the specs in the mid-late nineties, I thought it seemed too good to believe. Yet it’s here and working and continues to grow in functionality and popularity. In fact, the SuSE 9.x package uses KDE as its Graphic base. Can this go on without some serious cash flow?”
Staikos wrote, “Yes, KDE was definitely supposed to be free, both in cost, and in terms of speech. KDE was to be available free of cost to all, and available for modification and learning as desired as long as it was not abused for commercial gain by others who weren’t interested in contributing back. That is to say, the licensing prohibits using KDE code in a non-free project, though you may use KDE for that project. For example, you cannot copy source code from KDE and embed it in your commercial, closed-source application. The KDE license actually requires you to release the source for your application as well. However, you may make calls to the KDE libraries from your application. In short, free to use, yes, free to steal from, no.
“Indeed KDE is growing rapidly in popularity. We do need to find new ways to support the project in terms of getting the hardware we need, the administration help we need, the legal work done, and paying for conferences and developer meetings. It’s an ongoing struggle.
“Making money is not a bad thing, and I think making money off of KDE is a good thing for KDE. Stealing code from KDE is however not a good thing, and that’s what the GPL protects us from. Most of KDE is licensed under the GPL, while the libraries tend to use the LGPL in order to permit commercial KDE applications to be developed. Some portions of KDE are under more liberal licenses such as the Berkeley Software Development (BSD) license because the author did not have concerns with others using that code in non-free software. KDE as a project maintains that our software must be compatible with the GPL, but it need not be specifically licensed under the GPL,” wrote Staikos.
I wrote, “I know several people who, finally fed up with Windows, and not wanting to deal with getting a new Mac, switched over to Linux even though they know only the rudiments of command line arguments and don’t plan on learning much more. Like many users, all they use their computers for is word-processing, presentations, a web browser and email. Since the advent of KDE and GNOME, people can use Linux the way they use Mac or Windows without spending the time and effort necessary to learn a Unix-like OS. This would have been unthinkable a few years back, even with relatively user-friendly Window Managers like Windowmaker and IceWM. One of the people I’m interviewing for this article, the editor of the Linux Gazette, confirmed this ‘trend’. More and more of his readers are concerned with ‘typical’ user issues rather than the more technical aspects of Linux. Do you think that with the advent of GUI-based Desktop Environments such as KDE that Linux will appeal to a wider audience who want a choice other than Mac or Windows?”
Staikos wrote, “Most definitely. This was the original goal of KDE, and still remains one. However KDE does not have the resources to provide a real end-user system. We only ‘ship’ source code, and it is up to the distributors to set their preferred configuration defaults, customize the menus, and determine which applications to add or remove. These things are absolutely vital to creating a valuable end-user experience, and in fact are different for each target market. I think Linux with KDE is already a perfectly suitable solution for the average desktop system. The obstacles in place are more monopolistic in nature. Users are accustomed to the way MS Windows works. They learned this over many years, and expect that all computers work this way, even if it’s inefficient or poorly designed. They’re impatient to learn a new system, and balk at the idea of using Linux. Furthermore, most commercial applications are designed only for MS Windows. It’s hard to justify using Linux when your favorite video game or other software only runs on Windows. Hopefully we will change this over time, as KDE becomes more popular and software developers can justify porting to Linux.
While GNU/Linux is “inextricably political,” both Ford and Okopnik admit that most users are less into the politics than the practical applications of the system itself.
Ford wrote, “Linux has a pretty amazing advantage in that you get something for free, or a very low cost, out of the movement. It’s hard for any movement based on ideas to compete with that—it’s not like you can say, ‘if you buy into Noam Chomsky’s theory of foreign policy, we’ll give you a free Chomsky hat.’ Whereas Linux can say, ‘if you’re willing to believe that Open Sourced software works, we’ll give you a free operating system with all the trimmings and cranberry sauce.’ So the two ‘movements’ don’t really compare.”
While for the Stallman and the FSF the difference between the “free” and “open source” movements is significant, for Ford they are pretty much the same.
“I think they’re usually interchangeable,” Ford wrote. “And in truth, I don’t really care that much. If a license is similar to the GPL, I’ll go with it. For things like OCR or image editing, I don’t mind buying commercial tools. They tend to be in much better shape than their open-sourced counterparts. They’re very task-based—I’m scanning a page, or creating an image. If good replacement software comes along, I’ll use that. But in the meantime, the work is done—I’ve got my output....But for any programming project, where people need to work together, and thousands of hours go into developing code, I’m terrified of commercial software. Lock-in is terrifying....Basically, when I’m looking for a tool, I go “shopping” for the open sourced version first. Open-sourced software lets me try out a huge number of solutions to find the best one—if I don’t like one package, I can see if there’s a better one,” wrote Ford.
According to Okopnik, the allure of GNU/Linux is rooted in the moral imperative created by the FSF and Stallman, “but is not strictly about it. That’s the flexible, fun approach that gets people involved, people who would run away from a purely political approach. Most people would have a great time living in a true democracy—but that does not mean that they all want to become politicians, or involve a significant chunk of their time in running the whole shindig,” wrote Okopnik.
Okopnik pointed me to Eric S. Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”—http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/—for a different take on the politics of GNU/Linux, or in this case, “New Linux.”
New Myths for New Linux: Linus’s Law and the Bazaar
“Linux is subversive. Who would have thought even five years ago (1991) that a world-class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part-time hacking by several thousand developers scattered all over the planet, connected only by the tenuous strands of the Internet?” writes Eric S. Raymond in his essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar, http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/, which chronicles the creation of his popular, fetchmail program for GNU/Linux.
Raymond extols the development techniques of Linus Torvalds, main developer of the Linux kernel, as the new paradigm for software development.
“Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.” http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/
Like Okopnik, he sees Linux users as a particularly self-reliant bunch; many Linux users, he concedes, are also Linux developers. This was written in the late 1990s, before the GNOME and KDE desktop environments increased GNU/Linux’s appeal among the general public.
“Another strength of the Unix tradition, one that Linux pushes to a happy extreme, is that a lot of users are hackers too. Because source code is available, they can be effective hackers. This can be tremendously useful for shortening debugging time. Given a bit of encouragement, your users will diagnose problems, suggest fixes, and help improve the code far more quickly than you could unaided. Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.
“The power of this effect is easy to underestimate. In fact, pretty well all of us in the open-source world drastically underestimated how well it would scale up with number of users and against system complexity, until Linus Torvalds showed us differently.
“In fact, I think Linus’s cleverest and most consequential hack was not the construction of the Linux kernel itself, but rather his invention of the Linux development model. Linus’s open development policy was the very opposite of cathedral-building. Linux’s Internet archives were burgeoning, multiple distributions were being floated. And all of this was driven by an unheard-of frequency of core system releases.
“Linus was treating his users as co-developers in the most effective possible way:
“Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
“Linus’s innovation wasn’t so much in doing quick-turnaround releases incorporating lots of user feedback (something like this had been Unix-world tradition for a long time), but in scaling it up to a level of intensity that matched the complexity of what he was developing. In those early times (around 1991) it wasn’t unknown for him to release a new kernel more than once a day! Because he cultivated his base of co-developers and leveraged the Internet for collaboration harder than anyone else, this worked.
“Granted, Linus is a damn fine hacker. How many of us could engineer an entire production-quality operating system kernel from scratch? But Linux didn’t represent any awesome conceptual leap forward. Linus is not (or at least, not yet) an innovative genius of design in the way that, say, Richard Stallman or James Gosling (of NeWS and Java) are. Rather, Linus seems to me to be a genius of engineering and implementation, with a sixth sense for avoiding bugs and development dead-ends and a true knack for finding the minimum-effort path from point A to point B. Indeed, the whole design of Linux breathes this quality and mirrors Linus’s essentially conservative and simplifying design approach.
“So, if rapid releases and leveraging the Internet medium to the hilt were not accidents but integral parts of Linus’s engineering-genius insight into the minimum-effort path, what was he maximizing? What was he cranking out of the machinery?
“Put that way, the question answers itself. Linus was keeping his hacker/users constantly stimulated and rewarded—stimulated by the prospect of having an ego-satisfying piece of the action, rewarded by the sight of constant (even daily) improvement in their work.
“Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.
“Or, less formally, ‘Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. I dub this: ‘Linus’s Law’. http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/”
So, Raymond is replacing the “old heroes” with a new one, Linus. Simple and “essentially conservative.” The very words, “Cathedral” and “Bazaar,” were already in use to describe two different development styles; nevertheless, they are loaded like cluster bombs, and Raymond takes advantage of this, implying that the New Linux style is the wave of “the now” and the future, while the “old way” of the FSF—he even mentions Stallman and his most successful creation, GNU Emacs as relics of the Cathedral—is as obsolete as any old Church.
‘Cathedral vs. Bazaar’
“In Linus’s Law, I think, lies the core difference underlying the cathedral-builder and bazaar styles. In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you’ve winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect....In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena—or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release. Accordingly you release often in order to get more corrections, and as a beneficial side effect you have less to lose if an occasional botch gets out the door....And that’s it. That’s enough. If ‘Linus’s Law’ is false, then any system as complex as the Linux kernel, being hacked over by as many hands as that kernel was, should at some point have collapsed under the weight of unforeseen bad interactions and undiscovered ‘deep’ bugs. If it’s true, on the other hand, it is sufficient to explain Linux’s relative lack of bugginess and its continuous uptimes spanning months or even years,” wrote Raymond. http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/
I wrote to Stallman, that, according to my reading of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Raymond, who used to develop GNU software, seemed to classify the GNU/FSF method of development as “Cathedral” style as opposed to the “Bazaar” style used by himself and Linus Torvalds.
“Is he still saying this? I thought he had stopped… It is not true. There is no single GNU/FSF development method, since each package maintainer can handle this as he likes. In fact, some GNU packages tried the Bazaar model before ESR did. ... The fact is that before the Bazaar model, the Cathedral model was the only one. We used it, ESR used it, and everyone used it.... I think ESR tried to associate that model with GNU so as to make us look bad. He does not like our philosophy, so he hoped that by making us look bad, he can reduce our influence. However, I told him this was not true, and I thought he had taken it out. Hence my question about whether he is still saying this.”
Raymond went on to point out that the old corporate model of top-down design no longer applied, that developers were more apt to create great software if they were allowed to have fun while doing so, enjoy their work as opposed to living a “Dilbert” life in a cubicle; nonetheless, this applies to the corporation. Raymond’s vision of the future is one of the successful corporate software product.
When this essay was first published in 1997, Netscape released its code as “open-source.” Exactly as Stallman had warned, “open source” was a corporate methodology of co-opting the free software movement and sucking free software into its own code. Raymond’s epilog to “The Cathedral and the Bazaar:”
“Epilog: Netscape Embraces the Bazaar
It’s a strange feeling to realize you’re helping make history.... On January 22 1998, approximately seven months after I first published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Netscape Communications, Inc. announced give away the source for Netscape Communicator. I had had no clue this was going to happen before the day of the announcement.
“Eric Hahn, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Netscape, emailed me shortly afterwards as follows: ‘On behalf of everyone at Netscape, I want to thank you for helping us get to this point in the first place. Your thinking and writings were fundamental inspirations to our decision.’
“The following week I flew out to Silicon Valley at Netscape’s invitation for a day-long strategy conference (on 4 Feb 1998) with some of their top executives and technical people. We designed Netscape’s source-release strategy and license together.
“A few days later I wrote the following:
‘Netscape is about to provide us with a large-scale, real-world test of the bazaar model in the commercial world. The open-source culture now faces a danger; if Netscape’s execution doesn’t work, the open-source concept may be so discredited that the commercial world won’t touch it again for another decade.
‘On the other hand, this is also a spectacular opportunity. Initial reaction to the move on Wall Street and elsewhere has been cautiously positive. We’re being given a chance to prove ourselves, too. If Netscape regains substantial market share through this move, it just may set off a long-overdue revolution in the software industry.’” http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/
So, unlike GNU and the FSF making history, by turning the corporate model on its head and inventing a successful alternative, Raymond “made history” by eliciting positive reactions on Wall Street.
Stallman was absolutely right when he warned that the greatest threat to the movement he and others created would come from within, under the guise of “open source”:
“The largest division in the community is between people who appreciate free software as a social and ethical issue and consider proprietary software a social problem (supporters of the free software movement), and those who cite only practical benefits and present free software only as an efficient development model (the open source movement). This disagreement is not just a matter of names--it is a matter of differing basic values. It is essential for the community to see and think about this disagreement. The names ‘free software’ and ‘open source’ are the banners of the two positions. See ‘Why Free Software Is Better Than Open Source’ (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html). The disagreement over values partially aligns with the amount of attention people pay to the GNU Project’s role in our community. People who value freedom are more likely to call the system “GNU/Linux”, and people who learn that the system is “GNU/Linux” are more likely to pay attention to our philosophical arguments for freedom and community (which is why the choice of name for the system makes a real difference for society). However, the disagreement would probably exist even if everyone knew the system’s real origin and its proper name, because the issue is a real one. It can only go away if we who value freedom either persuade everyone (which won’t be easy) or are defeated entirely (let’s hope not). -Richard Stallman, (http://www.gnu.org)
A subsequent email interview indicates that Raymond would most certainly not be upset if the free software movement and the FSF were “defeated entirely.”
According to Okopnik, “the NSA, the DOD, NASA, NWS, and many other government agencies are committed to Linux (the DOD, in particular, had actually made and then cancelled a multimillion dollar contract with MS, based on the latter being unable to meet their performance promises.) Sun, IBM, Oracle, Novell, and many other companies are aligning behind it; hardware manufacturers are now either including Linux drivers or are making them available on their sites. Special effects—in e.g. Titanic, Shrek, The One, and many other movies - are being done on Linux, simply because you can’t build a real server farm for crunching serious processing under Windows (incidentally, one of the most powerful computers in the world is a massively-parallel rig built by students in Australia. Guess what it runs?) The overwhelming majority of Web servers on the Net run Linux - and many of those that don’t are running Apache, a piece of FLOSS software...I couldn’t even start to draw an outline of just how huge and pervasive the entire FLOSS penetration into the OS market actually is.”
So it is not taking a great leap to presume that GNU/Linux, specifically, the New Linux, may be on its way to becoming a “proprietary open source” system. That is, the code will be open, but someone will own it. Seen in this light, the “bazaar” model is not so beneficial to its users. Any corporation that does not go open source will lose, for they’d be missing out on a huge free development pool. Then again, how long would that last? Would developers submit bug reports and fixes and improvement hacks to a company that will incorporate the fixes into their proprietary software, then charge those same users for providing this invaluable service? Why would they bother hiring professional programmers at all? Perhaps they’d pay small rewards for individual fixes and hacks sent in by user/developers.
But according to Raymond, such questions are not worth asking, much less answering, and merely show how little “progressives” understand the open source movement (I never should have identified myself as a “progressive”; sounds too namby-pamby, like “liberal”; I should have described the magazines I write for as anarcho-libertarian-market-conservative. Then again, are readers of such magazines and web sites as “The Progressive” and “The Progressive Review” non-persons? Is it somehow more legitimate to identify oneself as a “conservative”? Conserve what? Corpses in Iraq? Anyway, if “Progressive” is such a powerful word, imagine what dark emotions are stirred by the GNU/ prefix to GNU/Linux...).
I wrote to Raymond, “The main point of this two part article is to call attention to the fact that while ‘progressives’ have been in-fighting and ‘lesser eviling,’ an entire movement evolved to challenge corporate control of the desk top—and it’s ‘winning.’ Why do you think this has gone ‘unrecognized’ by ‘progressives’ in the U.S.? This is a major demonstration of the power of community over the corporation.”
He replied, “Your question answers itself. Adopting the self-description ‘progressive’ is, among other things, a way of announcing ‘I am so blinded by a Marxist-derived fear and hatred of markets that I cannot reason about anything related to economics without making ludicrous errors!’ ... The open-source movement and corporations get along well because both are fundamentally about the same thing—voluntary cooperation in markets. The corporate market is primarily monetized and the open-source one primarily non-monetized, but that is an unimportant detail...But for ‘progressives’ to really understand why it is an unimportant detail they would have to abandon their most cherished myth, of the market as an exploitation machine run by malevolent plutocrats. I expect them to get clear about this about the same time that we start seeing competent biology from Creationists or competent geography from Flat-Earthers.”
So, corporations are about “voluntary cooperation in markets,” and the monetization of corporations is a “minor detail.” We “progressives”—something I never identified myself as, actually—have so much to learn, but since we obviously all think alike, the knowledge such people as Raymond could impart will spread among us like a virus. And who said anything about Marxism? Is one either a “conservative” or a “Marxist?”
I wrote, “The first part of this article is about the history of GNU/Linux, Stallman and the GNU programmers (including yourself), the SF, “copyleft,” the how and the why of the free software movement. Part Two is about “New Linux”—the immense growth in distribution, diversity and user-friendly interfaces—supported hardware drivers, HOWTOs and other documentation, distribution-specific easy-install GUI’s for beginners. First of all, what is your opinion on the insistence of certain members of the free software community to use the term GNU/Linux at all times, correcting the majority who refer to the OS, probably because it’s just easier, as ‘Linux’?”
Raymond replied, “Insistence on the ‘GNU/Linux’ label is political move by people who want to preserve and extend the reputation of the FSF. Myself, I agree with Linus Torvalds that this is a ridiculous form of special pleading—anybody who takes their argument seriously should really honor *all* the historical contributors and call it ‘GNU/X/Unix/Linux’, or ‘GNU/X/BSD/Unix/Linux’, or even ‘GNU/X/BSD/Unix/Multics/Linux’
Why not Linucks? Or Lynn Ucks? What’s in a name? Look at all us flat-earth “progressives,” lumped together like the coal Santa reserves for incorrigible brats.
I wrote, “Do you think that by becoming more user-friendly, embracing a larger user base, in an attempt to appeal to ‘average users’ who just want a word-processor, email and a browser on GUI (which Linux now offers via KDE), Linux is ‘compromising’ its position as a free operating system—free as in speech, not beer etc., losing it’s ‘edge?’”
Raymond responded, “This question only makes sense within a world-view that equates being ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ with a sort of surly oppositionism. Thank you, I would much rather co-opt the bourgeoisie and succeed in my revolution than sneer at them and fail.”
Another “misunderstanding.” I meant creative edge. I’ve never been into “cool” or the bourgeoisie, much less the possibility of goading them into “revolution.” But of course, since his entire world view shifted into “package mode” at the word “progressive” (I knew I should have just admitted I’m a burn-down-the-house anarchist. I would have used the word “leftist,” but that particular term scares such people, who dream of leading bourgeois revolutions (when was the last time anyone used that old word, “bourgeoisie,” anyway? Freshman Sociology?) to death.
I wrote, “GNU and the FSF are all about free software. No compromise. While this served to create a ‘revolution,’ Linux is now past the revolutionary stage. In “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” you speak only about “open source,” not “free software.” What’s the difference, according to you?”
Raymond replied, “The software, the technology, the developers, and even the licenses are essentially the same. The only thing that differs is the attitude and the propaganda—how the results are marketed to the rest of the world....Early versions of CatB did in fact refer to ‘free software’. That was before a bunch of us got together in early 1998 to invent a label that would be less likely to make businessmen and journalists write us off as Communistic flake cases...We promulgated the label ‘open source’ as a banner for a new style of argument—one which co-opts people with real-world results rather than cramming an ideology down their throats. Six years later, I think we can say this move was pretty successful.”
So. “A bunch of us” got together and decided to create a terminology that would be used by the rest of the world, something that wouldn’t offend the businessmen and mainstream journalists who serve us all so well. Supported by corporate sponsors and the media they control, it “was pretty successful.” This would be funny, almost corny, if the events of the past four years didn’t put the corporatization of humanity under the New World Order in stark, murderous perspective. So those who disagree with the corporate order are “communist flake cases.” Well, at least we’re not terrorists.
I wrote, “Can Linux maintain the freedom and community/volunteer attitude that inspired so many user/programmers to spend many unpaid hours developing and perfecting the system and its applications? Fetchmail is a perfect example of a user/programmer devoting enormous amounts of time to a project simply because it was a ‘good idea,’ and like most good ideas, worth creating. It belonged in the world, but it wasn’t, I
assume, requested by the Division Manager of Linux Central....”
Raymond replied, “No, it wasn’t. As you say, fetchmail was a triumph of people volunteering on a good idea—there is no Division Manager, anywhere… I’m always puzzled by questions of the form ‘Can Linux keep this up?’ They seem to proceed from an assumption that large-scale voluntary cooperation is somehow fragile and exceptional, in danger of being overwhelmed at any second by malevolent forces that are far more powerful...This assumption is deeply wrong—voluntary cooperation in a win-win mode is the rule in 99.95% of human interactions, otherwise the streets would run with blood. Trade in the market, ordinary social communication, and even our use of language with each other are all systems of voluntary cooperation far more elaborate than the open-source movement. Yet *those* we take for granted and do not even register as cooperation, persisting despite the evidence of our own daily experience in the belief the “natural” behavior of human beings is a sort of dog-eat-dog Hobbesian strife within which open source is inevitably doomed. It’s absurd when you think about it.”
It is absurd. First of all, the Hobbesian definition of humanity came out of nowhere. I didn’t mention it. Surely it was on this man’s mind. Secondly, the excitement, the “edge” I was referring to comes out of a community-based free operating system that programmer/users can participate in creating. A sense of participation and power over one’s own destiny. An alternative to Microsoft not merely because “it’s there,” but because of the philosophy behind it. I wonder how many programmers volunteer to spend hours fixing bugs in Microsoft’s code. Or if the “bazaar” mentality will be able to sustain itself under a “proprietary Linux.”
I wrote, “The FSF, and others in the free software movement, are adamant about keeping free software free to the extent that they would have boycotted KDE if the Qt development tools hadn’t been released as free software. If a proprietary application was developed that would accelerate the growth and development of Linux to the point where Windows users would jump ship and flock to Linux in droves, but the owner of the proprietary app would have a degree of control (more than most at any rate) over Linux, would you support this?”
Raymond replied, “No, I wouldn’t. But my reasons for rejecting it would be different in flavor than the FSF’s. They would utter moralistic arguments about the goodness of sharing and the evil of secrecy. I would point out that proprietary control leads to bad engineering and bad outcomes, appealing to the self-interest of users rather than moral principle.”
Again, it’s good to see strong, pragmatic minds fighting the urge toward sharing and transparency. Such pragmatic minds would surely have pointed out the Bush administration’s lying its way to the destruction of 100,000 Iraqis not because it was “wrong,” just not cost effective.
I wrote, “The development of KDE and to a lesser extent, GNOME, has resulted in a ‘New Linux.’ It’s not just for ‘hackers’ anymore. The ‘average user’ can now use a word processor/email/browser combo and leave the PC without having to deal with the command line or the ‘iceberg’ beneath the GUI tip he/she is exposed to. If the purpose of Linux (is there a “purpose?) is to provide an alternative to Windows/Apple etc. then that purpose is served: users have a choice; they don’t have to accept Windows XP pre-loaded on their new desk top. Beyond that, how would you define ‘progress’ or ‘success’ as far as Linux is concerned. There are people who get caught up in the latest benchmark tests pitting Linux against Windows or Solaris, as if it were a sporting event. Once you get into that, Linux becomes just another corporate-sponsored OS. Do you think it will grow along its own path to provide a genuine change in ‘paradigms,’ in the way people relate to the software that powers their machines, or do you see it becoming merely another commercial alternative to what’s out there? (this gets back to the open source question: is ‘open source,’ as opposed to ‘free’ a way of integrating Linux into the corporate software business?).”
Raymond responded, “Whenever I see questions like this, I am reminded of an anecdote about Charles Babbage, the Victorian pioneer of computing. He was once asked ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ Like Mr. Babbage, I find myself ‘not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
“The confusion gets really thick in the third paragraph. Among its implicit assumptions appear to be the following:
1) Benchmark-comparing a piece of software X with commercial software products Y and Z implies that X is “corporate-sponsored”.
2) Corporate sponsorship is like having some sort of case of metaphysical cooties that negates the real value of what Linux programmers have done. These are nonsense individually, and add up to nonsense on stilts. You then go on in the fourth paragraph with an assumption that:
3) The descriptions “changes the way people relate to their machines” and “just another commercial alternative” are mutually exclusive.
“This is also nonsense. Consider as a very obvious example the way that the cell-phone, which is ‘just another commercial alternative’ to land-lines, has radically changed the way people relate to handsets—to the extent that they’re now treated as fashion accessories.”
I don’t understand the “confusion” my questions provoked. The original rebellious spirit of GNU/Linux that set the process of creating a free alternative to Mac and Windows is, as Raymond demonstrates, being set aside for fidelity to “Linux” for its own sake. Thus, when “Linux” advocates “root” for Linux to “beat” Microsoft in a test meant to determine the winner of a government defense contract, support of Linux as anything but “just another OS” is meaningless. In such a scenario, why not Microsoft? Or Sun? Or whoever. If “success” means Linux has reached the point at which the DOD wants it to create weapons of destruction, it’s no better or worse than Microsoft. Just another corporation competing for military (tax-payer) dollars. That’s not a valid question?
Raymond wrote, “Your confusion appears to be a manifestation of progressives’ general inability to understand open-source software except through a haze of romantic idealism that distorts it out of all recognition.”
Again, I don’t see where this haze of romantic idealism exhibits itself anywhere but in Raymond’s imagination. Nevertheless, in the time spent trying to be smart and wry, he could have just answered my question, which he did at last do in one sentence, contradicting himself. If my question was so over-the-top confusing, how was he able to answer it at all?
Raymond wrote, “Having said that, I will now answer your question: the ‘success’ of open sources is defined by the extent to which it gives software users and software developers more choices.”
I have a feeling that Raymond was just messing around. I quoted this interchange verbatim because, in 18 years of journalism, this was the nastiest, most mean-spirited, arrogant, and ultimately vapid (“communist flake cases?” What 1950s-era FBI comic book did he get that one from? Communist? Because I said I write for progressive ‘zines? Or maybe because I mentioned the FSF. Are they considered “communists” now, 15 years after the Cold War?). Perhaps he figured that just in case this article is picked up by a “big” publication, it was a chance to score points with his corporate/bourgeois masters. Does Netscape still exist? Maybe there’s someone there he still wants to impress.
Regardless, his contempt for any questioning of his corporate agenda for GNU/Linux, his dismissal of all that came before him, as if GNU and the hundreds (thousands?) who worked on it were just “flaking around” until Linus Torvalds came out with his kernel in 1991, and his crude, bullying remarks to a stranger asking valid questions, whether meant as a spoof or not, demand attention. It demands a re-reading of the documentation on gnu.org and fsf.org to remind us exactly how the operating system Raymond works with—I wonder how successful fetchmail would have been had raised the issue during a board meeting of SUN or HP—and why.
Especially now. Especially with most of humanity fighting for its very survival against a New World Order (not unlike a New Linux, if such developers as Raymond have their way) that literally puts the profit of a minority against the well-being, perhaps even survival of its own species. And let’s now forget about Iraq and the corporations who are benefiting from what we’ve done there.
Stallman was right. It isn’t a question of this or that operating system succeeding in the marketplace—not even a marketplace; a Windows dominion, though if Okopnik’s facts on other countries developing Linux are correct, this may change. But again, if the power of Linux is harnessed by the DOD to create yet more destruction, who needs it?
As Stallman wrote (http://www.gnu.org): “How will we respond to the next tempting non-free library? Will the whole community understand the need to stay out of the trap? Or will many of us give up freedom for convenience, and produce a major problem? Our future depends on our philosophy.”
Or, as Ben Okopnik wrote, “We need our radicals. They’re ugly, scruffy, pushy, aggressive, loud, and unfit for normal humans to associate with—but, Ghod do we need them! They sacrifice themselves on the altar of whatever the hell their passion may be; they give up their right to be seen as “normal”, and make of themselves targets at which the majority of society will fling rocks and garbage - and we, the human race, get to move ahead just another tiny notch for each one of them. Granted, there are radicals on either side of the fence—and lots of different fences—but the total vector of these little steps *is* in the direction of progress; another pragmatic belief of mine, and although I won’t go into the philosophical ramifications of it, it can be summed up as “‘good’ is just another way of saying ‘pro-survival’.”
Adam Engel (email@example.com) writes for numerous Progressive, Leftist and Libertarian websites and magazines. His novel, “Topiary” will be published by Dandelion Books in the spring of 2006. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license. It is free to distribute, reproduce or modify with the author’s consent. Read more about licensing software, text and documentation at www.creativecommons.org.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.