Afterword: Beyond Software?
$Date: 2002/08/02 09:02:14 $
This is version 3.0
Eric S. Raymond
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify
this document under the terms of the Open Publication License,
16 August 1999
This version was used in the first printed edition.
The essays in this book were a beginning, but they are not an end.
There are many questions not yet resolved about open-source software.
And there are many questions about other kinds of creative work
and intellectual property that the open-source phenomenon raises,
but does not really suggest a good answer for.
I am often asked if I believe the open-source model can be usefully
applied to other kinds of goods than software. Most usually the
question is asked about music, or the content of some kinds of books,
or designs for computer and electronic hardware. Almost as frequently
I am asked whether I think the open-source model has political
I am not short of opinions about music, books, hardware, or
politics. Some of those opinions do indeed touch on the ideas about
peer review, decentralization, and openness explored in this book;
the interested reader is welcome to visit my home site and make his or
her own deductions. However, I have deliberately avoided such
speculation in connection with my work as a theorist and ambassador of
The principle is simple: one battle at a
time. My tribe is waging a struggle to raise the quality
and reliability expectations of software consumers and overturn the
standard operating procedures of the software industry. We face
entrenched opposition with a lot of money and mind-share and monopoly
power. It's not an easy fight, but the logic and economics are clear;
we can win and we will win. If, that is, we stay
focused on that goal.
Staying focused on the goal involves not wandering down a lot of
beguiling byways. This is a point I often feel needs emphasizing when I
address other hackers, because in the past our representatives have
shown a strong tendency to ideologize when they would have been more
effective sticking to relatively narrow, pragmatic arguments.
Yes, the success of open source does call into some question the
utility of command-and-control systems, of secrecy, of centralization,
and of certain kinds of intellectual property. It would be almost
disingenuous not to admit that it suggests (or at least harmonizes
well with) a broadly libertarian view of the proper relationship
between individuals and institutions.
These things having been said, however, it seems to me for the
present more appropriate to try to avoid over-applying these ideas. A
case in point; music and most books are not like software, because
they don't generally need to be debugged or maintained. Without that
requirement, the utility of peer review is much lower, and the
rational incentives for some equivalent of open-sourcing therefore
nearly vanish. I do not want to weaken the winning argument for
open-sourcing software by tying it to a potential loser.
I expect the open-source movement to have essentially won its
point about software within three to five years (that is, by
2003–2005). Once that is accomplished, and the results have been
manifest for a while, they will become part of the background culture
of non-programmers. At that point it will become
more appropriate to try to leverage open-source insights in wider
In the meantime, even if we hackers are not making an
ideological noise about it, we will still be changing the