Response to Nikolai Bezroukov ">
First Monday


A Response to Nikolai Bezroukov


Over the last eighteen months, dozens of people have written thoughtful critiques of The Cathedral and the Bazaar (CatB) and its sequels, Homesteading the Noosphere (HtN) and The Magic Cauldron (tMC). I welcome such criticism; in many cases (as you can see in the change histories attached to these papers) I have incorporated it into later versions.

Nikolai Bezroukov's article in First Monday, unfortunately, adds almost nothing useful to the debate. Instead, Mr. Bezroukov has constructed a straw man he calls "vulgar Raymondism" which bears so little resemblance to the actual content of my writings and talks that I have to question whether he has actually studied the work he is attacking. If "vulgar Raymondism" existed, I would be its harshest critic.

I wanted to like this paper. I wanted to learn from it. But I began to realize this was unlikely when, three paragraphs in, I tripped over the following:

"he promoted an overoptimistic and simplistic view of open source, as a variant of socialist (or, to be more exact, vulgar Marxist) interpretation of software development."

There are many sins of which I can reasonably be accused, but the imputation of "vulgar Marxism" won't stand up to even a casual reading of my papers. In CatB, I analogize open-source development to a free market in Adam Smith's sense and use the terminology of classical (capitalist) economics to describe it. In HtN I advance an argument for the biological groundedness of property rights and cite Ayn Rand approvingly on the dangers of altruism. And the entire body of tMC develops the thesis that open-source development and the post-industrial capitalism of the Information Age are natural allies.

In fact, I find the imputation of Marxism deeply and personally offensive as well as untrue. While I have made a point of not gratuitously waving my politics around in my papers, it is no secret in the open-source world that I am 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 Naziism).

Mr. Bezroukov then proposes an analogy between open-source development and the practices of the scientific community as though it is something I have culpably overlooked. Apparently he somehow missed the fact that two sections of HtN are largely devoted to exploring this connection and suggesting sociopsychological reasons for it.

Gross and peculiar distortions of my analyses follow. Here are a few of Mr. Bezroukov's more obviously false readings of my work:

"Open source is a completely new progressive phenomenon (bright future of mankind) with no analogs in history."

Somehow Mr. Bezroukov's has missed, or ignored, those sections of CatB which explicitly relate the Linux bazaar mode of development back to Gerald Weinberg's "egoless programming" and earlier open-source communities including the MIT AI Lab and Berkeley. He has also failed to address those portion of HtN in which I relate open-source development to the history of experimental science and engineering, or the section of tMC in which I suggest an analogy between current developments in open-source world and the preindustrial system of aristocratic patronage for the arts.

"All open source projects are the same and employ the so-called "bazaar model"."

In CatB itself, I criticize the Free Software Foundation for not applying the bazaar model to its free software/open source projects.

"Microsoft need [sic] to be destroyed."

Neither CatB nor any other of my papers ever makes this claim, even by implication. I grepped them and reread to check.

While I have made no secret of my detestation of certain of Microsoft's business practices, I have publicly (a) refused to cooperate with the D.O.J lawsuit on grounds of free-market principle, (b) repeatedly exhorted open-source developers that we need to be for software quality, not just against something, and (c) given my talk to a mostly friendly audience at Microsoft!

"The open source movement consist of ideal cooperative people."

How Mr. Bezroukov reconciles this reading of my work with all the material in HtN on conflict resolution is hard for me to understand. The "ideal cooperative people" he supposes me to believe in would not need conflict-resolution mechanisms because they would have no conflicts.

All these howlers take place in the first 10% of the paper. Most of the remaining 90%, despite Mr. Bezroukov's billing of it as "Critique of Vulgar Raymondism", doesn't address or refute my work at all. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr. Bezroukov has glued an artificial controversy with me onto the front of his paper in order to attract attention to work that would otherwise have little to recommend it. It is no credit to the referees of First Monday that they apparently fell for this trick.

I tried hard to draw something of value from this paper, as I have from many critiques in the past. But the parts of it that are not tendentious nonsense largely repeat observations that other people (including Jamie Zawinski, Alan Cox, Andrew Leonard, and myself) have made better and sooner. I am irresistibly moved to quote Edgar Allan Poe at Mr. Bezroukov. "Your work is both true and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are true are not original, and the parts that are original are not true."

About the Author

Eric S. Raymond has been writing open-source software for more than 15 years, and has authored or collaborated on many popular programs. He is often described as the Internet hacker culture's tribal historian and resident anthropologist, and edited The New Hacker's Dictionary (3rd edition; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).
E-mail: esr@thyrsus.com


Contents Index

Copyright © 1999, First Monday

A Response to Nikolai Bezroukov by Eric S. Raymond
First Monday, volume 4, number 11 (November 1999),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_11/raymond/index.html





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