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Softpanorama Bulletin
Vol 12, No.01 (January, 2000)

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Commentary to the paper
"Open Source Software Development
 as a Special Type of Academic Research
(Critique of Vulgar Raymondism)"

Developers are not guaranteed success
just because they adopt an open-source strategy
against competitors who have not
Linus Tolvalds

This paper  should not be listed as a critique of the Cathedral and the Bazaar(CatB). This is more an attempt to explore the limitations of the open source development model. I never intended to write a point-by-point critique of the ESR's essays in this paper (although after ESR published his book wrote a special paper in CatB). This is a last century attempt to understand the problems and weaknesses of the movement and I did compile Webliography,  and research materials that will hold its own value). The main point was that ESR describes Open Source as a revolutionary phenomenon, whereas for me it is another form of scientific community. Similarly for me Linux model is not a new and revolutionary development model, but a logical continuation of the famous GNU project of the FSF -- the project with strong connections to the MIT. I am convinced that this connection was crucial to the success of GNU project like the connection to the University of Helsinki immensely helped the Linux project during early, most difficult stages.

I also object simplistic and incorrect cult of the hero that is an implicit part of CatB philosophy: open source development: developers are supposed to be happy working insane hours for free all their life and have no personal lives, all in the interest of the all-important Product. In the popular consciousness, the open source myth of superhero Linus Torvalds propagated by ESR and several other talented writers has acquired a status similar to that of the movie cowboy drinking whiskey alone at a bar before and after shooting a bunch of enemies. Actually both are perfect examples of a Hollywood aesthetics "the cult of super hero". It's interesting to note that in this Linus Torvalds cult  ERS is much closer to the national socialist aesthetics( "Linux uber alles") than this "a libertarian, a friend of the free market, and implacably hostile to all forms of Marxism and socialism (which I regard as coequal in evil with Nazism)." would imagine :-). I would argues that with very few exceptions of people who benefited from open source IPO gold rush the "heroic OSS programming" or "Linux uber alles", if you wish, causes bad code, unhappy people, and reduced reliability of the open source projects and that there are limits including size and complexity that open source projects should not cross or they became as close to regular commercial proprietary projects as one can get.

The main problem here I think that OSS development like science require certain courage and if not moral high ground then at least honest understanding what is good and what is evil including the dangers of commercialization. Think about how all this crazy OSS IPOs rush influenced the players. For example it definitely stimulated greed in the OSS environment with developers requiring "a fair share" from RH IPO. Developers who sold themselves to a Linux distributors are in the same situation as scientists who went to a private company or organize their own to capitalize on the success. And  the latter has certain dangers that one needs to understand. Pyotr Kapitsa sited Rutherford saying that a scientist can not serve both to God and to Money. And this danger of trying to sit between two chairs to a large extent is applicable to the open source developers. Again this crazy OSS IPO wave are somewhat alarming and the fact that major OSS sites (for example Slashdot) became commercial is a mixed blessing making the movement closer to a religious sect than to the science. In any case, money changed the game. Many developers have contributed to the development of Linux. Some of those early developers (OSS nobility) have profited along with owners and employees of  Andover.net, Caldera, Red Hat, VA Linux, as billions of investment dollars have flowed into Linux IPOs. ESR himself became a multimillionaire as a director of VA Linux. But many contributors are not stockholders in any Linux startup and that's create certain differences between those who have stock and wanted it to preserve and multiply its value and those who do not have any financial interests in any of the "Linux companies". Serving financial interests of "Linux companies" in some respects limits the freedom of choice for the whole OSS community and the technical choices dictated by such interests might undermine creativity of those who have no vested interest in such companies.

The second idea here is the principal value of simplicity -- availability of source is useful but the ability to look and modify the tool diminish rapidly with the growth of the codebase. I would argue that very large and complex open source projects are probably as closed as proprietary commercial projects of the same size.

As soon as you will outgrow a certain limit in your codebase or find yourself on the "Make Money Fast" path OSS became much less healthy occupation and the advantages of working for Red Hat in comparison with working for, say, IBM are less evident. Please note that the quality of "After the IPO Distributions" is generally less than "before IPO Distributions" ;-)

I agree that the first several paragraphs of my paper contain polemic statements and as such are different from the rest of the paper. I apologize for any inconveniences that it may cause. I hope, however, that at least some readers enjoy it as a natural reaction to ESR's (IMHO harmful for the Open Source community as a whole) numerous and vicious personal attacks on Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation -- see his infamous letter to RMS -- Shut Up And Show Them The Code that is mentioned in the introduction to my paper. The latter is really outrageous and the lack of civility justifies the word "vulgar".  In this response to the RMS Slashdot posting, ESR tried to present RMS as a dangerous fanatic and FSF as an organization that outlived its usefulness. The truth is that GPL-based products enjoy substantial commercial success and GPL proved to be a viable license for commercial software developers and distributors. The success of the Red Hat IPO is an implicit confirmation of this fact. The critical role of FSF tools (especially GCC) and GPL license for the success of Linux should not be underestimated and here CatB views are definitely simplistic and incorrect.

Some polemic that is present in the paper should not overshadow the main idea -- We do not understand anything until we know the limits of applicability. The OSS movement requires careful study of its limitations and without understanding these the participants can find themselves in trouble, which can be at least partially avoided. As a guiding principle volunteer developers should better consider themselves to be a part of academic research and act accordingly to stay sane in high-pressure, high noise,  high-stress level world of Internet-based open source software development that sometimes in its extremes can bear some alarming similarities to an atmosphere of a high demand cult. That's the main message that I tried to convey. I hope that for young developers the paper will help to avoid some traps/illusions of the OSS that make it close to the "commercial cult" model. Actually some religious cults were moderately successful in their commercial activity. I also warned against Marxist religious overtones and Lysenkoism.

What is Vulgar Marxism

Any OSS participant should be aware of these religious overtones when "Open Source" implicitly means "sacred", which can negatively influence the investigation and adoption of other important technologies like BeOS, information appliances as well as the use of OSS software in the Windows environment. It's well known that Marxism with its utopian vision of communism as a future of mankind has been classified as religious atheism; Lunacharski (the first Minister of Education in Soviet Russia ) and several other prominent Bolsheviks even wanted to convert Marxism into religion. Many Christian groups have combined their Christianity with Marxism (sometimes referred to as the "Christian Left." Moreover the World Council of Churches has been described as "an instrument of Soviet policy" [David A. Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth].  I feel that ESR is trying to get people to buy into Open Source Software by romanticizing the entire process and stirring up the backlash against "M$". Unfortunately, he became a hostage of this OSS evangelism and sometimes needs to distort reality in order to present it in a favorable for the OSS light. The gap between the The Cathedral and the Bazaar discussion of the OSS development process and the religious outlook may not be as great as it seems, especially if one view it as an Open Source Manisfesto that should be considered sacred and must not be doubted or questioned (similar to how Marxists treat Karl Marx's famous The Communist Manifesto ).

As for Lysenkoism I would like to stress that Lysenkoism is not only about political correctness. It also has a lot of common  with so called high demand groups. A group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behavior. High demand groups can be commercial (companies), political and technological. Be aware, especially if you are a bright, intelligent and idealistic person. The most likely person to be caught up is the one who says “It will never happen to me. I am too intelligent for that sort of thing.”. The idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of persons. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult. That's why university grounds is the most fertile environment for high demand groups.

I would like to reiterate that ERS's views of economic superiority of open source are close to vulgar Marxism with it's economic determinism.  "vulgar Marxism " is a legitimate scientific term. As Professor  Robert M. Young stated in his work Marxism and the history of science [R. C. Olby et al., eds, Companion to the History of Modern Science. Routledge, 1996, pp. 77-86.]:

 "The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. There are variations in how literally this is taken and various Marxist-inspired and Marxist-related positions define the interrelations among science and other historical forces more or less loosely. There is a continuum of positions. The most orthodox provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure. This is referred to as economism or vulgar Marxism."

It's funny that ESR called open source community a bazaar. Open source community is closer to "gift economy" -- a prebazaar non-monetary exchange and from economic point is inferiors to the bazaar. It's important to understand that as an economic form the bazaar is superior to "gift economy" because money provide for the universal  measure of the value of goods. So from this point of view open source community as such has nothing to do with bazaar and paradoxically can be called anti bazaar phenomenon. Even such primitive economic for of exchange as barter is closer to the bazaar than open source.

Moreover what really need to be explained is the fact that the core kernel developers have been paid staff for several years (Alan Cox, David Miller, Donald Becker). We can also count Linus himself in this group although his employment relationship with Transmeta is not that simple. Transmeta appears to pay him to work on Linux full time in exchange for the publicity benefits. Here situation is also really anti-bazaar in spirit.

Now about community. As derived by " ESR and Co" open source movement is about selling open software to big business and this might destroy free software community. The "community" is going to have to look elsewhere for "community-ness" because a mixture of a "community" and a  big-business is a tricky think to achieve. A pretty problematic mixture, no matter what VA Linux subsidiary Slashdot will try to say on this matter. Look at various non-commercial movements that started as a "community" and then became commercialized and where they are now after commercialization. Aren't the roots of the PC in a "community". Look at the PC industry now. As one. I feel that open source is an academic community and like science should strive for independence and should be independent of commercial interests to the extent possible (actually science now is not that independent too and that led to the problems). .

I do not pretend to have discovered all these problems. I just tried to systematize and classify available knowledge. It's easy to accuse me of citing too many references, but I hope that the quality of the collection and organization of this quotes shows that it is not eclectic and that I really thought a lot about these problems (see some research materials).

Another important aspect of the paper is demonstration that the bazaar metaphor is internally contradictive (that should be obvious to any attentive reader of CatB). Here are some relevant points (my second  paper contains some more and presented under a different angle):

The polemic part has a sideline that exposes the closeness of ESR views not to anarcho-capitalism, as he pretends, (ironically called in the USA "libertarianism" -- an eclectic political movement often called anarchism for the rich), but to the anarcho-communism -- a variety of pre-Marxist grassroot communist philosophy. For example the idea of  a gift economy is very close to anarcho-communism. This is not accidental -- it's a logical consequence of the fact that ESR's views are pretty much opportunistic and eclectic. Therefore radically different approaches can happily coexist in his papers and as any opportunist he can switch between mutually incompatible approaches as a matter of convenience.

Having said that, I think that CatB is an important paper that pioneered the discussion of OSS as a social organism and the value of using Internet in software development. Probably, if we discard the  "open source uber alles" part, the same or a similar strategy can be applied to the majority of software projects. I see the main value of the paper in pointing out some subtle almost machiavellian mechanisms that can be used to get and keep followers. Although CatB suffered from the mixture of Marxist-style messianism (just compare CatB and The Communist Manifesto ;-) with the attempt to investigate the phenomenon of distributed Internet cooperation in software construction (OSS movement per se), the paper itself was and is very important as one of the first discussions of the phenomenon. Later works have the benefit of referring to a much wider range of materials, including CatB.  I would like to stress that although some of ESR's ideas are wide of the mark, his contribution to starting the discussion and laying out a framework of ideas must not be undervalued.

In conclusion I would like to reiterate that the paper was devoted to the problems that OSS has and I hope it will serve as a useful starting point for further research. Of course, both in argumentation and stylistically, my paper could be much better -- English is not my native language. I apologize for factual errors, grammar errors and misspellings. Please note that I corrected some of the errors in the final proof that was posted at the FM site a day or two later.  I especially apologize for the (corrected later) error with FreeBSD/OpenBSD split (should be NetBSD/OpenBSD), the error which actually puts FreeBSD in a somewhat negative light whilst being completely untrue. Actually in Eastern Europe FreeBSD dominates the ISP scene and in this area Linux is much less visible.

Supplement: Response to Paolo M. Pumilia

Date: Sun, 07 Nov 1999 11:42:36 -0500
From: Nikolai Bezroukov
To: ejv@uic.edu
Subject: Response to Paolo M. Pumilia

Dear Mr. Pumilia,

I appreciate your attention to my paper and pointing out its shortcomings I am painfully aware of. I just would like to stress that the paper was devoted to the exploration of the limitations of the open source development model. I never intended to write a point-by-point critique of the ESR's essays (although I do have a WEB page with webliography, and research materials). The main point was that ESR describes Open Source as a revolutionary phenomenon, whereas for me it is just another form of a scientific community. Similarly for me the Linux model is not a new and revolutionary development model, but just a logical continuation of the famous GNU project of the Free Software Foundation (FSF)-- the project with strong connections to MIT. I am convinced that this connection was crucial to the success of GNU project like the connection to the University of Helsinki immensely helped the Linux project in its early, most difficult stages.

I agree that the first several paragraphs contain polemic statements and as such are different from the rest of the paper. I apologize for any inconveniences that these statements have caused. I hope, however, that at least some readers enjoy it as a natural reaction to ESR's (IMHO harmful for the Open Source community as a whole) numerous and vicious personal attacks on Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation -- see his infamous letter to RMS -- Shut Up And Show Them The Code that is mentioned in the introduction to my paper. It is really outrageous and the lack of civility justifies the word "vulgar". In this response to the RMS Slashdot posting, ESR tried to present RMS as a dangerous fanatic and FSF as an organization that outlived its usefulness. The truth is that GPL-based products enjoy substantial commercial success and GPL proved to be a viable license for commercial software developers and distributors. The success of the Red Hat IPO is an implicit confirmation of this fact. The critical role of FSF tools (especially GCC) and GPL license for the success of Linux should not be underestimated.

Some polemic that is present in my paper should not overshadow the main idea -- We do not understand anything until we know the limits of applicability. The OSS movement requires careful study of its limitations and without understanding these the participants can find themselves in trouble, which can be at least partially avoided. As a guiding principle, volunteer developers should better consider themselves to be a part of academic research and act accordingly to stay sane in the high-pressure and high-stress level world of Internet-based open source software development. Sometimes in its extremes this development environment can bear some alarming similarities to the atmosphere of a demanding cult. That's the main message that I tried to convey. I hope that for young developers the paper will help to avoid some traps and illusions inherent in the OSS model. I especially warned against Marxist religious overtones and Lysenkoism.

Any OSS participant should be aware of these religious overtones when "Open Source" implicitly means "sacred", which can negatively influence the investigation and adoption of other important technologies like BeOS, information appliances as well as the use of OSS software in the Windows environment. It's well known that Marxism with its utopian vision of communism as a future of mankind has been classified as religious atheism; Lunacharski (the first Minister of Education in Soviet Russia) and several other prominent Bolsheviks even wanted to convert Marxism into religion. Many Christian groups have combined their Christianity with Marxism (sometimes referred to as the "Christian Left." Moreover the World Council of Churches has been described as "an instrument of Soviet policy" [see David A. Noebel's book Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth. (1994)]. I feel that ESR is trying to get people to buy into Open Source software by romanticizing the entire process and stirring up a backlash against "M$". Unfortunately, ESR became a hostage of this OSS evangelism, which sometimes distorts reality in order to present OSS in a favorable light. The gap between discussion of the OSS development process in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and a religious outlook may not be as great as it seems.  If you view the Open Source Manifesto as a sacred text that must not be doubted or questioned, then it is just like the way Marxists treat Karl Marx's famous Communist Manifesto.

As for Lysenkoism I would like to stress that Lysenkoism is not only about political correctness. It also has a lot of common with so called high demand groups. A group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behavior. High demand groups can be commercial (corporations), political and technological. Be aware, especially if you are a bright, intelligent and idealistic person. The most likely person to be caught up is the one who says "It will never happen to me. I am too intelligent for that sort of thing." The idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of individuals. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult. That's why universities are the most fertile environments for high demand groups.

I would like to reiterate that ERS's views on the economic superiority of open source are close to vulgar Marxism with it's economic determinism. Contrary to your impression "vulgar Marxism " is a legitimate scientific term. As Professor Robert M. Young stated in his work "Marxism and the history of science" [see R.C. Olby, G.N. Cantor, J.R.R. Christie and M.J.S. Hodge (editors), Companion to the History of Modern Science. (1996), pp. 77-86.]:

"The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. There are variations in how literally this is taken and various Marxist-inspired and Marxist-related positions define the interrelations among science and other historical forces more or less loosely. There is a continuum of positions. The most orthodox provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure. This is referred to as economism or vulgar Marxism."

Another important aspect of the paper is the demonstration that the bazaar metaphor is internally contradictive. Linux actually can be classified as belonging to the cathedral model, not to the bazaar model according to ESR's own criteria. At the same time several authors pointed out that Microsoft can actually be classified as an almost perfect example of the bazaar model. I hope to return to this point later in my forthcoming response to ESR's letter published in this issue.

In conclusion I would like to reiterate that the paper was devoted to the problems that OSS has and I hope it will serve as a useful starting point for further research. Of course, both in argumentation and stylistically, my paper could be much better -- English is not my native language. I apologize for factual errors, grammar errors and misspellings. Please note that I corrected some of the errors in the final proof that was posted at the FM site a day or two later.

Nikolai Bezroukov

Webliography

My responce to the letter by Paolo Pumilia to the FM

A second look at The Cathedral and The Bazaar

Nikolai Bezroukov



Etc

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