The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Bart Massey 2010/10/05
Thanks to Dave Vu for notes on previous in-class discussion

Reading: The Cathedral and the Bazaar

What is this paper about?

In fact, I think Linus's cleverest and most consequential hack was not the construction of the Linux kernel itself, but rather his invention of the Linux development model. When I expressed this opinion in his presence once, he smiled and quietly repeated something he has often said: `I'm basically a very lazy person who likes to get credit for things other people actually do.' Lazy like a fox. Or, as Robert Heinlein famously wrote of one of his characters, too lazy to fail.

Why did Raymond write it?

Leadership in OSS

I made one serious attempt around 1992 to get a lot of the Ohio code formally merged into the official Emacs Lisp library. I ran into political trouble and was largely unsuccessful.

What about Raymond's argument?

Things to think about

Size and Success

One interesting measure of fetchmail's success is the sheer size of the project beta list, fetchmail-friends. At the time of latest revision of this paper (November 2000) it has 287 members and is adding two or three a week.

How does improvement in communication (i.e., the Internet / Web) affect scaling? c.f. the discussion of Brooks' Law.

Security

Another lesson is about security by obscurity. Some fetchmail users asked me to change the software to store passwords encrypted in the rc file, so snoopers wouldn't be able to casually see them.

I didn't do it, because this doesn't actually add protection. Anyone who's acquired permissions to read your rc file will be able to run fetchmail as you anyway—and if it's your password they're after, they'd be able to rip the necessary decoder out of the fetchmail code itself to get it.

All .fetchmailrc password encryption would have done is give a false sense of security to people who don't think very hard.

Legal

One thing many people think the traditional mode buys you is somebody to hold legally liable and potentially recover compensation from if the project goes wrong. But this is an illusion...

Some more stuff