Raymond is the originator of the “fetchmail” project for development of an open-source utility developed from a Post Office Protocol (POP) client with capabilities similar to those of “sendmail.” His experience in that project led him to write an essay with the same title as this book. In the essay, he contrasted the “cathedral” (commercial) model of software development with the “bazaar” (open) model of the Linux world. The essay was initially published on the Internet, and later assembled with other essays by Raymond into the first edition of this book, published in 1999 .
In this revised edition, Raymond has extended his earlier essays and revisited some of the predictions made therein. He begins with a chapter entitled “A Brief History of Hackerdom,” in which he attempts to explain his concept of a “hacker” as a modern-day descendant of the “real” programmers like Seymour Cray. I have always thought that a hacker was a semi-trained amateur programmer intent on wreaking havoc, and I found Raymond’s version a little difficult to accept. However, his overall history of Unix system development as presented in this chapter is both interesting and concise.
The general theme of the title essay, included as chapter 2, does not seem to have changed much from the original version. There is a set of somewhat grandiose “lesson” statements, such as “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.” Thank you, but some of my best software was developed (in a “cathedral” environment) because my manager told me to do it; there was no personal itch!
To make sense of the third chapter, “Homesteading the Noosphere” (what is a “noosphere”?), you have to endure a treatise on the Lockean theory of property in relation to the traditions of the !Kung San bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Eventually, you learn that the “hacker milieu” can be viewed as a “gift culture,” wherein a hacker is able to gain status through his or her contributions.
In chapter 4, “The Magic Cauldron,” the author cites an observation attributed to Arthur C. Clarke that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He examines a number of business models for commercial enterprises (like Red Hat) that offer open-source software.
The final chapter, “Revenge of the Hackers,” chronicles the emergence in 1998 of open-source software as a force to be reckoned with. Raymond’s account of his own involvement as an “accidental revolutionary” makes for interesting reading.
There are some appendices and some notes at the end of the book, among which you can find the meaning of “noosphere.” There is also a section entitled “How to Become a Hacker,” which contains suggestions like “learn how to program” and “get one of the open-source Unixes and learn to use and run it."
This is not an easy book to read. There are no pictures, screenshots, or diagrams, and I found only one graph. But if you get fired up about controversial assertions, go for it.