Some of you may find it odd to see your own experiences and memories presented as social history. But according to a meticulously reported (but somewhat dry) new book Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution, Open Source has changed the world and isn't done yet. If you want to read a top-to-bottom account of how it happened, author Glyn Moody offers a good one. (Read more)
The author has a point: Open Source did turn out to be a revolution whose impact and implications went beyond the wildest dreams of its idealistic, obsessive creators and are ballooning beyond the software community and the Net.
Rebel code helped end the Microsoft era, is challenging the proprietary notions of commerce, intellectual property and censorship that have dominated business and information for a long time.
Rebel Code, by British author Glyn Moody is one of the first serious histories of this movement. It's an important story, and also a useful primer for anybody interested in how this increasingly complicated phenomenon came about.
Moody begins the book at the peak of Microsoft's rule, with the primal beginnings of Linux at the hands of Linus Torvalds, then a college student in Finland. He takes us through the development of the new system, all the way up to the newly-emerging business implications of GNU/Linux.
Today, he writes, the "open source revolution has moved on from the pioneers. Today, mainstream companies -- IBM, HP, COmpaq and SGI -- have all taken up open source in various ways. They depend critically neither on Unix, as Sun does, nor on open source, as Red Hat and other distributions do. Instead, they use both as elements of a broader strategy: selling hardware and services."
The central issue now, isn't whether Open Source companies can flourish and blossom into billion-dollar concerns, but whether free software can continue to grow and progress as it has for the last 15 years. He suggests the answer is yes.
Moody, a London-based writer who has used and written about Linux since its creation, has written for Wired, Computer Weekly and The London Financial Times. He knows his stuff. The book is crammed with OS arcania and minutiae: microkernels versus monolithic kernels and probability, and even the story of Eric Raymond's search for a new name that would be less ambiguous than "free software." (Moody credits Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, with coming up with the term "open source.")
This is probably the most definitive social chronicle of the creation of Linux and the evolution of the free software movement. It also explains why Open Source has become so important in terms of economics and business models.
Rebel Code is an investigative book with a distinctly-behind-the-scenes feel to it. It moves from tense programming breakthroughs to the cliques, feuds, business influences, ancillary discoveries and sometimes nasty politics that have marked the OS universe. All of the major players are interviewed here: Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Larry Wall, Brian Behlendorf, Michael Tiemann, and Eric Raymond among many others.
Moody belives that Torvalds is unique in part because he was able to serve as a focal point for complicated programming advances, a methodology that has allowed the delegation of software programming and architectural decisions to ever expanding circles of contributors and experts. Thanks to this style -- Moody calls it "power wielded in subservience to the user base" -- software can be written and distributed much more widely.
The author also believes that Stallman will be the leader of the Free Software movement for as long as he wishes to be, but, he says, "a worthy successor who has the rare mix of qualities necessary may already be emerging in the person of Miguel de Icaza."
It turns out that Rebel Code is the perfect name for the social upheaval that Torvalds touched off.
This is a good book to mark the end of the Microsoft Era, and good preparation for the beginning of another, hopefully more open one. If Rebel Code has a flaw, it is that it's dry reading. Moody has crammed so much reporting and information into this book, and moves so relentlessly from one event, programming advance, breakthrough and benchmark to another, the real implications and human drama of what's happening sometimes sometimes slips by. If you don't know the significance of code and programming breakthroughs, they can slide by. But those of you who've lived it will enjoy seeing your own experience morphed into a historical perspective by a skilled journalist.
The book has an authentic-in-the-trenches feel to it. And no matter how technical, the Open Source revolution is exciting far beyond the techie fold. Hollywood has even made a lousy movie about it -- "Antitrust." Reading Rebel Code, you're left with the feeling that this story is just beginning.
You can purchase this book at ThinkGeek.