Eric Raymond Hacker Essay

Eric Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in the book--why open source software development has been so successful, the culture of open source, under what conditions open source is likely to thrive and not to thrive, and the Hayekian nature of the open source process. The conversation closes with a discussion of net neutrality.

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0:36Intro. Open source movement. Hacker: different meaning from media use of the term, which is corrupt and wrong. Not someone who commits security crimes or breaks into machines. Since 1960s, hackers built programs and give away software, including building the internet and the world wide web. Term got hijacked because crackers, people who break security generally aren't very skilled, and appropriated the term. Going to use the word correctly in this podcast, isn't a better word for the members of this culture. Liberal has since come to mean the opposite of its 19th century meaning. What is open source software? Folk practice that evolved over period of decades, building software in a fundamentally different way. Outside the culture of hackers, secrecy in small teams. Within the culture, working collaboratively and subjecting software to peer review. Linux started to attract notice: unconscious folk practice made conscious. Effect of articulating it, having a theory of open source, meant could improve the process. What are some of the programs that use open source? Linux, Firefox, open-source browser. Linux, flagship project. Apache web server. What kind of market share? Apache running somewhere between 60-70% of the websites in the world, particularly running websites that have to be reliable, where performance is an issue. Logistics of open source--Wikipedia, anybody can play with it who wants to. Linux--Linus Torvalds, proprietor, manager, only big editor, originator, gatekeeper. People make suggestions to the code and he either gives them a checkmark or doesn't. Somewhat more complicated than that. Lieutenants. Typically one founder or small group of core developers; job is also to filter patches coming in from outside. Stability provided by core groups. If you make a change that is turned down, you are still free to use it; just can't distribute it as part of Linux, though could distribute it in competition with Linux. No legal bar to doing that; keeps leaders on their toes and from becoming autocrats. Huge controversy if forked. Why does that cause controversy? Inefficient, divides community's resources. Customary law, like common law property rights: people are in effect farming software for reputation gains. Glory. Worst thing, ultimate taboo, you can do is to file somebody's name off a project.
10:16How does a hacker get glory? Patch or add feature. Good hackers use their own names. How do I know who were the people involved in different parts. If new, often a credit file in source code. Notice who the steady people are, who does good work. If I make a small change, is that recognized? Might get credited in the commit log of the project but not in the credits. Usually they have a problem with the software they want to solve and it's more efficient for them to send it than to maintain their own branch.
12:19Incentives. Obvious advantage of Linux over other system. "With enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow"--Torvalds operating as if that were true. Twenty years of observation to go on. Culture already knew it. Implication is that all software is buggy; as systems become more complex, bugs spread. Nothing short of total process transparency actually works. Linux kernel is about 6-9 million lines of code. More than PL1 code, 1973, that could make change. Distributed peer review will also run out of steam one day. Old idea in social science: wisdom of crowds, market, Hayekian idea that prices contain knowledge that no individual participant in the market can possibly have. Scientific peer review process: if you have a fundamental new insight in science, it's not accepted till it's been subjected to review by your peers. Secrecy hid the code in the name of keeping the profit stream. Metaphor: cathedral and bazaar. Fred Brooks book, The Mythical Man-Month, mid-1970s, dominated thinking, fundamental problem of software is that it is complex, problem with complexity control, need to keep teams really small and objectives tightly defined and managing the process with tight control. Long release times, most of time obsessing about squeezing out the last bug. All opposite of Linux. Cathedral builders, central, hierarchy, aspiring toward perfection. Linux community violates all these rules in effort to get maximum feedback. Messy, horizontal process, opposition to the cathedral: bazaar. Cathedral and the agora--Greek term for public meeting place. Bazaar is flat, very wide, not narrow and tall, not a spire. Self-organization from the bottom up, Hayekian sort of idea.
20:28Puzzle: On the surface, you would think closed source software would be elegant; open source would be weird, Rube Goldberg-ian. Stephenson. Opposite is the case. Why? Architects. All good software has to have an architect. Hear same argument about a market system--that "in a centrally planned system there's planning but in a market system there is no planning." But there's planning in a market system, just not central planning but by individuals. In closed source, can do review internally, second group of engineers. Problem is process is subverted because both groups are reporting to the same people, pressure to minimize problems, problems that the customer trips over. Discordian snafu principle: law of social dynamics. Elaborate joke posing as a religion or a religion posing as an elaborate joke. In any hierarchical authoritarian organization, inferiors will be more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors what they want to hear than telling the truth. Result is disconnect between the people at the bottom who can do but not decide and the people at the top. Deciders get perpetually worse information. Arnold Kling, geeks vs. the suits--people who understand the risks vs. those at the top at Fanny and Freddie. Conversely, in open source community, not all reporting to the same bosses. Tradeoff: role of profit motive. Most good corporations never have as their motto or mission statement that they want to make more money. Inspiring things about their product and consumers' lives. Open source advantage is that it is only focused on the consumer: software works better, hard to keep the connection in their brains. Open source is not a way to make money. Enabler for other activities that make money. Suppose you are a vendor and you want to sell a networking card. Traditional closed source group, ship binary driver with that card. People who buy that card take risk that you will go out of business and driver won't be maintained or that there are bugs they can't fix. Skimp on people working on bugs. Or: If you sell ethernet card with disk with source software included and pointer to website with community maintaining those drivers. Death of your company won't kill the software you are relying on. Value to you is increased; and can rationally expect fewer bugs because of transparency and simply having more people working on it.
27:59Lots of different things motivate people: money, glory, thrill, artistic satisfaction, craftsmanship. Walter Williams: if you want to get steak and potatoes to NYC from Nebraskan farmer who has to get up early and work hard, could choose to rely on good nature or on profit. Profit works extraordinarily well; good nature, maybe. Brother taking you to the airport vs. a taxi. Deadliest thing an engineer can say about a project is that it doesn't scale: that is, it works at small sizes but not large sizes. Nonlinearities make it stop working at large sizes. Love doesn't scale. Why do people see Linux or Wikipedia as a labor of love? Many people just do it for the fun or excitement. Why does it work so well? Very particular set of circumstances where love scales. Open source, not Wikipedia. Scales when you have: 1. capital goods are cheap; 2. limiting factor is human creativity and attention; 3. work is intrinsically rewarding; 4. an objective metric for success. Wikipedia is an interesting case, fulfills all of the conditions except 4, no objective metric for success. When writing software, program either runs or it crashes. For an encyclopedia entry, no objective measure of truth or of whether it's a good entry. Without that condition you get thrashing. Without condition number 1, capital goods too expensive, then no one can afford to do it for free. That's the situation the hacker culture used to be in. Computers used to be really expensive. Need all four conditions to have swarm attack. Other things like volunteer work work with varying degrees of success. Fifth factor: zero costs to communications, cheap ways to communicate. Before the internet. For general public, 1993-1994; hacker culture using it 15 years before but only some had access. ARPAnet.
36:10Great that people have this hobby and tinker, but it doesn't scale in another dimension: everybody can't have it as their hobby. Have to have a real job. How little software is actually sold. Little software done as piecework. Most software expertise is developed for businesses. Report generators for databases, COBOL problems for banks. False that typical programmer is working for Microsoft or Oracle. Position advertisements in local paper on online: how many are software for capital goods inside corporation vs. packaged product. Most is for inside corporation. One exception: computer games, which do have to be sold on the merchant market; short-lived and very few people employed producing them. What's a small number? Design side. Probably not more than 3000-4000 nationally. Not enough money in that industry, tight product margins. Once a project gets going, useful and going to attract the eyeballs. Could you imagine a world where all software is open source? In that world would the genesis of projects be the same? Gimp comes along because Photoshop is expensive. Gimp is popular because Photoshop is expensive; it didn't happen because Photoshop is expensive. Happened because a few people thought it would be cool to write a graphics program. Open source projects typically start because somebody has an itch. If they're good and if they're lucky, others look at it and say they could make it cooler with a patch. Range of motivations: some in game because it's fun and useful; others for ideological reasons, against corporate policy--that group not dominant. Sometimes explicitly to break a monopoly. Monopolies not liked because engineers are suspicious of systems with a single point of failure. Also monopolies focus on secrecy and control, stopping me from getting my work done. Secrecy is a barrier, it's the enemy of quality. Three types of organizations: unmanaged, crowd-sourced; Microsoft; Apple. Different monetary, glory returns; and different secrecy. Outside impression: Apple seems to be good at attracting good people. Burn them out very fast. MS stereotype stodgier; it burns them out, too. Successful projects results. What internal mechanisms? Mystique associated with Apple. One thing Apple does extremely well: industrial design, making things pretty. People who are attracted to that like the idea of working where it's a significant focus. Screaming successes of open source are products consumed by hackers. Firefox is the exception.
46:54Another factor: objective metric of what is good. Harder to apply in a user-interface environment than anyplace else. Open-source culture realizing this and appointing UI (user interface) dictators within each project, and they get their way. Committee just doesn't work. Flood-individual vision. Not everybody has an aesthetic sense. Could argue negative correlation between hacking and aesthetic sense. Wrong. Stereotype. Programming only looks like a mechanical, logic-saturated activity at its lowest levels. Have to be able to do logic, know a lot of mechanics. As you get better at programming, that stuff becomes quasi-automatic, learn entire programs in days. Play the saxophone, can learn the clarinet. Like music. Mastery of technique and discipline. Once you reach a certain level, good taste and aesthetic sense. Good engineering, stability, robustness over time. At highest levels, aesthetics is all-important. Left-brain, right-brain: hackers tend to be left-brained. Suggesting right-brained aspect. Early days when first Apple computers came out, relatively attractive screens compared to IBM. Different fonts, nice screen, certain part of the user community disdained that and wanted familiar green/black. Ultimate command line guys. Didn't think it was an appropriate use of computers at the time because there were better things to do with the limited computing power of the day. Nowadays, lots of resources, much cheaper. Programming time is a more limited resource, but not that much more difficult any more to make things pretty. Disdain for the pretty interface has pretty much subsided.
53:09Public policy. Pandora's boxes: property rights and net neutrality. Net neutrality: link on subject. Issue is that telephone companies want to double-dip. Want to charge residential and business subscribers for access to contact sites, places like Google; also want to charge content suppliers for supplying fast access, say Google, you are using a large percentage of network traffic so we want to charge you for using up resources. Friction-free communication. Carriers want to be able to put up arbitrary friction barriers. Per-bit metering, real cost in networks isn't in cables or bandwidths but in intersection points: routers and people to maintain them; doesn't scale with usage. If you try to meter bandwidth, you quickly find that your metering mechanisms are more expensive than increase in margins from the metering. Flat rate peering, flat rate internet connections. Claim: allowing differential pricing will get better investment in this in the capital structure. Sung that song before, give us this market rigging and it will happen. Never happened. Why should government have any role? We don't tell car companies what to charge. Between 1880 and 1920, Peter Abow (sp.?) first honcho at AT&T which became Bell, made double-bargain with U.S. Government: You give us control over the last mile and we'll give you universal service. Bell System appropriated the last mile, creature of government regulatory fiat, want to have it both ways. Ideal solution: take as much radio spectrum and fiber as possible out of regulation and let market operate. Mesh networking might emerge. Buy mesh nodes like pencils. Internet architecture already took a long step toward this with packets. Last mile is being end-run by wireless technology. Google G1 with browser, undercuts last mile any time near a cell tower, no need for telephone company's wiring. Coalition for more regulation: government should enact mandates on what telephone companies can and cannot do. Telephone companies love that, reaffirms the system that locks them into their power. Net neutrality activists, all about the politics.
1:01:47Nostalgic about early 1990s when the net came into non-hackers' consciousness. Good place to do research. Changed our lives in unimaginable ways. In 1994 couldn't have imagined the way it changed. Speculate on next 15 years. What will creative, imaginative hackers create? More and more mechanisms for enabling markets to function friction-free. E-bay; need lots of different e-bays. Some things you can't sell on e-bay. Prediction markets. Robin Hanson. Some ability to harness crowd-sourcing and swarm effects for addressing problems more general than how you make a piece of software work. Appropriately compensating people. [Taping Jan. 8, 2009]. Month away from passing a large stimulus bill. Members of Congress's compensation. Challenge is implementation. Hackers as a group at forefront to undercut monopolies.

"Eric Raymond" redirects here. For other uses, see Eric Raymond (disambiguation).

Eric Steven Raymond (born December 4, 1957), often referred to as ESR, is an American software developer, author of the widely cited[2] 1997 essay and 1999 book The Cathedral and the Bazaar and other works, and open-source software advocate. He wrote a guidebook for the Roguelike game NetHack.[3] In the 1990s, he edited and updated the Jargon File, currently in print as The New Hacker's Dictionary.[4]

Early life[edit]

Raymond was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1957 and lived in Venezuela as a child. His family moved to Pennsylvania in 1971.[5] He has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth; his weakened physical condition motivated him to go into computing.[6]


Raymond began his programming career writing proprietary software, between 1980 and 1985.[1] In 1990, noting that the Jargon File had not been maintained since about 1983, he adopted it; he currently has a third edition in print. Paul Dourish maintains an archived original version of the Jargon File, because, he says, Raymond's updates "essentially destroyed what held it together."[7]

In 1996 Raymond took over development of the open-source email software "popclient", renaming it to Fetchmail.[8] Soon after this experience, in 1997, he wrote the essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", detailing his thoughts on open-source software development and why it should be done as openly as possible (i.e., the "bazaar" approach). The essay was based in part on his experience in developing Fetchmail. He first presented his thesis at the annual Linux Kongress on May 27, 1997. He later expanded the essay into a book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, in 1999. The internal white paper by Frank Hecker that led to the release of the Mozilla (then Netscape) source code in 1998 cited The Cathedral and the Bazaar as "independent validation" of ideas proposed by Eric Hahn and Jamie Zawinski.[9] Hahn would later describe the 1999 book as "clearly influential".[10]:190

From the late 1990s onward, due in part to the popularity of his essay, Raymond became a prominent voice in the open source movement. He co-founded the Open Source Initiative in 1998, taking on the self-appointed role of ambassador of open source to the press, business and public. He remains active in OSI, and stepped down as president of the initiative in February 2005.[11] In 1998 Raymond received and published a Microsoft document expressing worry about the quality of rival open-source software.[12] Eric named this document, together with others subsequently leaked, "the Halloween Documents".

In 2000–2002 he wrote a number of HOWTOs still included in the Linux Documentation Project[citation needed]. His personal archive also lists a number of non-technical and very early non-Linux FAQs[citation needed]. At this time he also created CML2, a source code configuration system; while originally intended for the Linux operating system, it was rejected by kernel developers.[13] Raymond attributed this rejection to "kernel list politics".[14]Linus Torvalds on the other hand said in a 2007 mailing list post that as a matter of policy, the development team preferred more incremental changes. His 2003 book The Art of Unix Programming discusses user tools for programming and other tasks.

Raymond is currently the administrator of the project page for the GPS data tool gpsd.[15] Also, some versions of NetHack include his guide.[3] He has also contributed code and content to the free software video game The Battle for Wesnoth.[16]

Views on open source[edit]

Raymond coined an aphorism he dubbed "Linus' Law", inspired by Linus Torvalds: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".[17] It first appeared in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar.[18]:30

Raymond has refused to speculate on whether the "bazaar" development model could be applied to works such as books and music, not wanting to "weaken the winning argument for open-sourcing software by tying it to a potential loser".[19]

Raymond has had a number of public disputes with other figures in the free software movement. As head of the Open Source Initiative, he argued that advocates should focus on the potential for better products. The "very seductive" moral and ethical rhetoric of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation fails, he said, "not because his principles are wrong, but because that kind of language ... simply does not persuade anybody".[20]

In a 2008 essay he "defended the right of programmers to issue work under proprietary licenses because I think that if a programmer wants to write a program and sell it, it's neither my business nor anyone else's but his customer's what the terms of sale are".[21] In the same essay he also said that the "logic of the system" puts developers into "dysfunctional roles", with bad code the result.

Political beliefs and activism[edit]

Raymond is a member of the Libertarian Party. He is a gun rights advocate.[22] He has endorsed the open source firearms organization Defense Distributed, calling them "friends of freedom" and writing "I approve of any development that makes it more difficult for governments and criminals to monopolize the use of force. As 3D printers become less expensive and more ubiquitous, this could be a major step in the right direction."[23][24]

In 2015 Raymond accused the Ada Initiative and other women in tech groups of attempting to entrap male open source leaders and accuse them of rape, saying "Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a 'women in tech' advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp."[25][26]

Raymond is also known for claiming that “Gays experimented with unfettered promiscuity in the 1970s and got AIDS as a consequence” and that “Police who react to a random black male behaving suspiciously who might be in the critical age range as though he is an near-imminent lethal threat, are being rational, not racist.” Progressive campaign The Great Slate was successful in raising funds for candidates in part by asking for contributions from tech workers in return for not posting similar quotes by Raymond. Matasano Security employee and Great Slate fundraiser Thomas Ptacek said, “I’ve been torturing Twitter with lurid Eric S. Raymond quotes for years. Every time I do, 20 people beg me to stop.” It is estimated that as of March 2018 over $30,000 has been raised in this way.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Raymond describes himself as neo-pagan.[6]


  • Hamerly, Jim, Paquin, Tom and Walton, Susan; Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla, in Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, O'Reilly, 1999. 280pp, ISBN 1-56592-582-3
  • Wayner, Peter; Free for All: How LINUX and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High-Tech Titans, HarperCollins, 2000, 340pp, ISBN 0-06-662050-3
  • Suarez-Potts, Louis; Interview: Frank Hecker, Community Articles, May 1, 2001,, OpenOffice website
  • Moody, Glyn; Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, Basic Books 2002, 342pp, ISBN 978-0-7382-0333-1

By Eric Raymond[edit]


  • The New Hacker's Dictionary (editor) (MIT Press ISBN 0-262-68092-0) — printed version of the Jargon File with Raymond listed as the editor.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar (O'Reilly; hardcover ISBN 1-56592-724-9, October 1999) — includes "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", "Homesteading the Noosphere", "The Magic Cauldron" and "Revenge of the Hackers"
  • The Art of Unix Programming (Addison-Wesley, October 2003; ISBN 0-13-142901-9)
  • Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition Cameron, Debra; Elliott, James; Loy, Marc; Raymond, Eric; Rosenblatt, Bill (O'Reilly Media, December 2004; ISBN 978-0-596-00648-8)

Writings posted or archived on his website[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abRaymond, Eric S. (January 29, 2003). "Resume of Eric Steven Raymond". Retrieved November 23, 2009. 
  2. ^"Citations for "The Cathedral And The Bazaar"". ACM Digital Library. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  3. ^ abRaymond, Eric S. (December 8, 2003). "A Guide to the Mazes of Menace (Guidebook of Nethack)". Retrieved December 15, 2008. 
  4. ^Raymond, Eric S. (October 11, 1996). The New Hacker's Dictionary. ISBN 0-262-68092-0. 
  5. ^"Man Against the FUD". Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved July 7, 2008. 
  6. ^ abLeonard, Andrew (April 1998). "Let my software go!". San Francisco: Salon Media Group. Retrieved November 23, 2009. 
  7. ^"The Original Hacker's Dictionary". Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  8. ^"Fetchmail". 
  9. ^Suarez-Potts, Louis (2001). "Interview: Frank Hecker". Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  10. ^Moody, Glyn (2002-07-25). Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution. Basic Books. ISBN 0-7382-0670-9. 
  11. ^Raymond, Eric S. (January 31, 2005). "Open Source Initiative (OSI) Announces expanded programs, counsel, AND board". Retrieved January 14, 2010. 
  12. ^Harmon, Amy (November 3, 1998). "Internal Memo Shows Microsoft Executives' Concern Over Free Software". The New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  13. ^"CML2, ESR, & The LKML". KernelTrap. February 17, 2002. Archived from the original on August 7, 2007. 
  14. ^McMillan, Rob. "Interview: Eric Raymond goes back to basics". IBM developerWorks. 
  15. ^"GPSD – Summary". Retrieved October 30, 2011. 
  16. ^"People at Gna!: Eric S. Raymond Profile". Archived from the original on March 1, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2017. 
  17. ^Greenstein, Shane (January 2012). "The Range of Linus' Law". IEEE Micro (Volume 32, Issue 1). IEEE Computer Society. 
  18. ^Raymond, Eric S. (1999). The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. O'Reilly Media. ISBN 1-56592-724-9. 
  19. ^Raymond, Eric S. (2000). "Afterword: Beyond Software?". Retrieved July 24, 2007. 
  20. ^Raymond, Eric S. (July 28, 1999). "Shut Up And Show Them The Code". Linux Today. Retrieved July 5, 2017. 
  21. ^Raymond, Eric S. (October 1, 2008). "Why I Hate Proprietary Software". Retrieved November 5, 2011. 
  22. ^Richard Stallman, Free Software, and Copyleft 2011
  23. ^Raymond, Eric (August 23, 2012). "Defense Distributed". Armed and Dangerous. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  24. ^Kopfstein, Janus (April 12, 2013). "Guns want to be free: what happens when 3D printing and crypto-anarchy collide?". The Verge. 
  25. ^"Linus Torvalds targeted by honeytraps, claims Eric S. Raymond". Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  26. ^"Is This Crazy Anti-Feminist Rumor the Platonic Ideal of the Men's-Rights Internet?". Select All. Retrieved 2017-11-25. 
  27. ^Jeong, Sarah (2018-03-08). "Meet the campaign connecting affluent techies with progressive candidates around the country". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-03-08. 

External links[edit]

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