Review of The Cathedral and the Bazaar

The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Eric S. Raymond
O'Reilly and Associates

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

May 30, 2000

Recently, the phenomenon of Open Source software has moved beyond its community of network insiders to become familiar to a much wider audience. One of the champions of the Open Source cause is Eric Raymond, the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, one of the most influential essays on the topic and the name of the book published by O'Reilly and Associates. While not every old-school free software devotee has embraced Raymond as a spokesperson for their cause, Raymond has certainly done some deep thinking on the issues of Open Source.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar is a collection of four essays written by Raymond along with some ancillary work. After a forward by Red Hat founder and CEO Bob Young, Raymond introduces the book with a brief statement titled, "Why You Should Care", describing why Open Source is important, and then follows that up with his "Brief History of Hackerdom." As it's name suggests, it's brief and covers much of the same information that can be found in the New Hacker's Dictionary, which Raymond also assembled. Much more information on the topic of Hackers, their origin, and culture can be found in Steven Levy's book, Hackers, which Raymond cites.

The first essay is the title of the book. It's certainly Raymond's most famous essay, and it describes reasons why the author thinks that Linux has become so complete and robust a solution despite breaking all previous conceptions about how software development should be done. The second essay, which I think is the most interesting one in this book, is Homesteading the Noosphere. Trust me, the title makes some sense if you read the essay. It contains Raymond's ideas about why some Open Source projects succeed, why some fail, and why people end up working on the projects that they do.

The third essay is titled The Magic Caldron. It contains some musings on various business models for companies intending to make a profit using Open Source software. Necessarily, it's a bit preliminary, and, I think a bit speculative. It remains to be seen how these ideas shake themselves out, but these speculations are as worthwhile as any. The fourth essay is titled The Revenge of the Hackers. In it Raymond recounts the recent history of the Open Source movement, why the folks who directed it did what they did, and where it will go from here.

The book ends with some appendices discussing how the Open Source model might be applied to non-software pursuits, how one goes about entering into the Open Source culture, some notes on specifically why device vendors are insane for not Open Sourcing their driver software, and end-notes for the various essays.

Not all these essays are breakthrough, in my opinion, but some of them are, and they're worth reading by anyone in the software business. The book isn't as long as it might at first seem since all the essays are double spaced, which irritates me a little bit. About the book, the real question to ask is, "Why should I pay money for these essays at all?" All of them are available on line for free, in the Open Source spirit, and the author would be the first to encourage the public to read them in that manner. However, for us paper-loving dinosaurs twenty dollars isn't much to pay. The chief benefit to getting the essays on line, though, is that Raymond considers them to be works in progress, so there's likely to be more and updated information in their electronic form than are present in the paper versions.


The Cathedral and the Bazaar contains print versions of Open Source evangelist Eric Raymond's most popular essays. While some are better than others, they're generally worth reading by anyone involved in the software industry. The reader should note that they're all available online, so one should only buy the book if the marginal utility of having these essays in paper and bound together is worth the cover price.

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