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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Bigger doesn't imply better. Bigger often is a sign of obesity, of lost control, of overcomplexity, of cancerous cells
Developers are not guaranteed success
just because they adopt an open-source strategy
against competitors who have not
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
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.
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 key feature of Bazaar is monetary based exchange
and as such it is flawed metaphor for the OSS development. I
believe that as a metaphor for OSS development it is both incorrect and
misleading. Windows shareware can be to certain extent called bazaar
("try before you buy"), not OSS.
CatB discussion of differences between
so called "Cathedral model of development" and "Bazaar
model of development" is naive and is not-based on facts. 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.
The critique of Brooks
Law is even weaker the Bazaar metaphor and probably is the weakest
link in CatB paper. I think that it's simply naive to assume that
Internet connectivity can change Brooks Law in a general case. The
main advantage of OSS as Internet-based phenomenon is the ability to
connect geographically distributed pool of talent and the quality of that
pool is vital for the project's success. IMHO without Minix community --
already organized by Andy
Tannenbaum group of highly qualified and highly
motivated developers -- Linux would be impossible (In 1991,
when e-mail access was far from being a commodity, Minix newsgroup had
approximately 40,000 members).
Is it easy to get a meaningful feedback from users in
OSS environment ? Contarary to CatB musings the answer is no.
OSS does not automatically provide quality feedback. With
notable exception of software for internet infrastructure and system
programming tools where users are professionals the real answer is no and
that's why CatB details subtle almost machiavellian tracks to achieve this
OSS is not a panacea, it suffers from
the many problems similar to the problems of commercial projects and
has it's own unique problems. Numerous architectural flaws of Linux
are widely known and partially rectified over time -- from the software
engineering point of view they are similar to architectural problems of
any prototype that was converted into a production system; therefore the
claim about an architectural superiority is pretty weak. The problem of
the stagnation of early architecture solutions and waste of time and
effort on debugging them instead of solving underlying architectural
problems is ignored. The other problem is that heroic efforts in debugging
have higher status that architecture and planning phases (see below). Lack
of attention to the architecture is a problem that no amount of debugging
can address, because it's too late -- the cost of an architecture error is
probably at least ten times higher that of the most nasty coding error.
Some view lack of attention to architectural integrity a principal
shortcoming of the distributed model with its stress on the
writing/compiling/debugging cycle and argue that only a few very talented
individuals are able to transgress this problem. Hacker culture is
generally not known for its attention to the architectural problems, but
please note that not all OSS developers are hackers...
The pool of talented developers that can
spend their time on open source projects is very limited and as such OSS
projects usually suffer from lack of development resources and luck of
feedback. While everyone pays tribute to Linux's original
author, Torvalds, as "a benevolent dictator" guiding Linux
kernel development, no one has a very clear idea of what would happen if
he were to retire or otherwise disappear from the scene. The question is:
"What would happen to Linux if Linus Torvalds were run over by a
truck?". Most open source projects (probably
90%) have just one main developer. Even highly popular projects like Linux
have problems with attracting volunteer developers for particular tasks
and now essentially switch to paid developers model. Quality feedback for
OSS projects is difficult to get and is usually insufficient for guiding
CatB mythology cannot change the stubborn fact
that probably 99% of Open Source projects never ever had more than
one maintainer. More often then not the latter is the same as the
initial developer. So the grim reality of OSS projects that you may have
users but getting qualified feedback or help in development is not that
simple, not much simpler than for closed source commercial products. CatB
myth about huge volume of high quality voluntary feedback is just another
myth. Like platinum, talent is a very rare commodity that naturally
concentrates on development and high quality feedback is impossible
without talent. But it's only one side of the coin. The other side of the
coin is that for innovative projects the level of feedback cannot be high,
because not many people can understand the innovation. I am convinced that
if we are talking about innovation, not imitation, the author need to be
ready to pursue his dream on his own regarding the support of rejection of
the crowd. With very few exceptions, the applauds of the crowd for really
innovative products usually come too late ;-). This is the case in
mathematics and this is the case in programming because programs can
be considered as a special class of the applied mathematical theories.
Please remember that in no way Linux kernel development can be considered
as innovative activity; this was just an attempt to replicate
functionality of existing Posix kernels.
Fundamental to the OSS phenomena
discussion of the status
competition and performance in work groups is primitive and
misleading. A vast amount of sociological literature exists about this
complex phenomena; see, for example, references to the LSH99.
The role of political maneuvering to raise status (ESR himself is a good
example here ;-), the pervasive existence of unfair status
hierarchies (favoritism), the positional threadmill and the burnout of
leaders, wide time fluctuations of the morale and performance of
persons involved (performance anxiety, "shirking", fear of
exclusion, desire to leave the group, envy, malicious gossip, hypocrisy,
harsh words, mutual repulsion and cynism), poisoning of the peer
review process (unfounded criticism and even worse [Roberts99]),
cult-style opinion pollution and the use of political mechanisms to
suppress opposition (Lysenkoism
) are ignored. Actually Lysenkoism is one of the most dangerous disease of
the academic groups and I see a similar danger for OSS. For example,
some of Slashdot
zealot's letters are very close in spirit to "letters of workers and
peasants" to the newspaper Pravda during the Lysenko years
with the immortal phrase "I never read [the book], but I condemn
it". In this context the desire to maintain doctrinal purity
(compare with ESR's desire to live in a world "where software
doesn't suck" with the honor of establishing this list probably
reserved for OSI :-) looks strangely familiar. All these
issues are not new and were discussed in the sociological literature on
this phenomena (actually no decent references were given in CatB; this
creates an impression of ESR's original contribution to the field.)
The important problem of technostress (combination of
performance anxiety, information overload and role conflicts) among OSS
players and burnout of the leaders is not even mentioned. Craig Brod,
who may have coined the term defines technostress as: "... a modern
disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new computer
technologies in a healthy manner. It manifests itself in two distinct and
related ways: in the struggle to accept computer technology, and in the
more specialized form of overidentification with computer technology."
Computer obsession like other diseases often destroys the person who is
addicted and as a professional computer science educator I see a danger in
the romanticizing of the OSS world, especially for
college audiences. The phenomenon formally known as burnout
has been defined as "a syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion,
involving the development of negative self-concept, negative job
attitudes, and loss of concern and feeling for clients." Factors
implicated as causes of burnout for software developers include long-term
stress, conflict between idealistic expectations and reality, e-mail
overload, impossibly heavy workloads, and poor management. The
effects can be devastating. In a recent work on this topic, Janette
Caputo lists 73 symptoms, ranging from apathy to heart attacks, that have
been reported in burnout studies. Percentage of OSS developers who
suffered at least once from depression caused by burnout is unknown. For
the additional discussion see my overload
The role of the on-line services
(including such players as LinuxJournal,
Linux Gazette, Linuxtoday)
and especially on-line forums (Slashdot)
in the formation and development of the OSS movement is completely
ignored. Funny enough some researchers consider forums like Slashdot
to be addictive and in this sense Slashdot zealots can be considered as
prisoners of the "Slashdot cage": "On-line service
is not as reliable as cocaine or alcohol, but in the contemporary
world, it is a fairly reliable way of shifting consciousness....
Compulsive gamblers are also drawn to the tug of war between mastery and
luck. When this attraction becomes an obsession, the computer junkie
resembles the intemperate gambler.... Unlike stamp collecting or reading,
computers are a psycho-stimulant, and a certain segment of the population
can develop addictive behavior in response to that stimulant."
[Dr. Shaffer( Harvard)The Addiction Letter, August, 1995].
The bazaar model has no predictive power as for the OSS's strong and weak points, and as such is just an interesting, historically important and pretty nice metaphor -- but that's probably it. I am strongly convinced that an academic model of OSS explains the phenomenon much better, including the model's weaknesses -- the main topic of my paper.
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.
My responce to the letter by Paolo Pumilia to the FM
A second look at The Cathedral and The Bazaar
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