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Response to Paolo M. Pumilia

Date: Sun, 07 Nov 1999 11:42:36 -0500
From: Nikolai Bezroukov
To: [email protected]
Subject: Response to Paolo M. Pumilia

Dear Mr. Pumilia,

I appreciate your attention to my paper and pointing out its shortcomings I am painfully aware of. I just would like to stress that the paper was devoted to the exploration of the limitations of the open source development model. I never intended to write a point-by-point critique of the ESR's essays (although I do have a WEB page with webliography, and research materials). The main point was that ESR describes Open Source as a revolutionary phenomenon, whereas for me it is just another form of a scientific community. Similarly for me the Linux model is not a new and revolutionary development model, but just a logical continuation of the famous GNU project of the Free Software Foundation (FSF)-- the project with strong connections to MIT. I am convinced that this connection was crucial to the success of GNU project like the connection to the University of Helsinki immensely helped the Linux project in its early, most difficult stages.

I agree that the first several paragraphs contain polemic statements and as such are different from the rest of the paper. I apologize for any inconveniences that these statements have caused. I hope, however, that at least some readers enjoy it as a natural reaction to ESR's (IMHO harmful for the Open Source community as a whole) numerous and vicious personal attacks on Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation -- see his infamous letter to RMS -- Shut Up And Show Them The Code that is mentioned in the introduction to my paper. It is really outrageous and the lack of civility justifies the word "vulgar". In this response to the RMS Slashdot posting, ESR tried to present RMS as a dangerous fanatic and FSF as an organization that outlived its usefulness. The truth is that GPL-based products enjoy substantial commercial success and GPL proved to be a viable license for commercial software developers and distributors. The success of the Red Hat IPO is an implicit confirmation of this fact. The critical role of FSF tools (especially GCC) and GPL license for the success of Linux should not be underestimated.

Some polemic that is present in my paper should not overshadow the main idea -- We do not understand anything until we know the limits of applicability. The OSS movement requires careful study of its limitations and without understanding these the participants can find themselves in trouble, which can be at least partially avoided. As a guiding principle, volunteer developers should better consider themselves to be a part of academic research and act accordingly to stay sane in the high-pressure and high-stress level world of Internet-based open source software development. Sometimes in its extremes this development environment can bear some alarming similarities to the atmosphere of a demanding cult. That's the main message that I tried to convey. I hope that for young developers the paper will help to avoid some traps and illusions inherent in the OSS model. I especially warned against Marxist religious overtones and Lysenkoism.

Any OSS participant should be aware of these religious overtones when "Open Source" implicitly means "sacred", which can negatively influence the investigation and adoption of other important technologies like BeOS, information appliances as well as the use of OSS software in the Windows environment. It's well known that Marxism with its utopian vision of communism as a future of mankind has been classified as religious atheism; Lunacharski (the first Minister of Education in Soviet Russia) and several other prominent Bolsheviks even wanted to convert Marxism into religion. Many Christian groups have combined their Christianity with Marxism (sometimes referred to as the "Christian Left." Moreover the World Council of Churches has been described as "an instrument of Soviet policy" [see David A. Noebel's book Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth. (1994)]. I feel that ESR is trying to get people to buy into Open Source software by romanticizing the entire process and stirring up a backlash against "M$". Unfortunately, ESR became a hostage of this OSS evangelism, which sometimes distorts reality in order to present OSS in a favorable light. The gap between discussion of the OSS development process in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and a religious outlook may not be as great as it seems.  If you view the Open Source Manifesto as a sacred text that must not be doubted or questioned, then it is just like the way Marxists treat Karl Marx's famous Communist Manifesto.

As for Lysenkoism I would like to stress that Lysenkoism is not only about political correctness. It also has a lot of common with so called high demand groups. A group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behavior. High demand groups can be commercial (corporations), political and technological. Be aware, especially if you are a bright, intelligent and idealistic person. The most likely person to be caught up is the one who says "It will never happen to me. I am too intelligent for that sort of thing." The idea of sacrificing yourself to save humanity is very seductive to certain types of individuals. Probably instead of saving the world it is often wiser to learn to live in it. The latter is also more difficult. That's why universities are the most fertile environments for high demand groups.

I would like to reiterate that ERS's views on the economic superiority of open source are close to vulgar Marxism with it's economic determinism. Contrary to your impression "vulgar Marxism " is a legitimate scientific term. As Professor Robert M. Young stated in his work "Marxism and the history of science" [see R.C. Olby, G.N. Cantor, J.R.R. Christie and M.J.S. Hodge (editors), Companion to the History of Modern Science. (1996), pp. 77-86.]:

"The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. There are variations in how literally this is taken and various Marxist-inspired and Marxist-related positions define the interrelations among science and other historical forces more or less loosely. There is a continuum of positions. The most orthodox provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure. This is referred to as economism or vulgar Marxism."

Another important aspect of the paper is the demonstration that the bazaar metaphor is internally contradictive. Linux actually can be classified as belonging to the cathedral model, not to the bazaar model according to ESR's own criteria. At the same time several authors pointed out that Microsoft can actually be classified as an almost perfect example of the bazaar model. I hope to return to this point later in my forthcoming response to ESR's letter published in this issue.

In conclusion I would like to reiterate that the paper was devoted to the problems that OSS has and I hope it will serve as a useful starting point for further research. Of course, both in argumentation and stylistically, my paper could be much better -- English is not my native language. I apologize for factual errors, grammar errors and misspellings. Please note that I corrected some of the errors in the final proof that was posted at the FM site a day or two later.

Nikolai Bezroukov



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