The Success of Open Source, by Steven Weber

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This is an important book for folks in the software industry — it’s the first comprehensive, academic account of what’s happened in open source software over the last decade and half (and actually back to the AT&T Unix days). Steven Weber is a political scientist at Cal, and generally takes that type of analysis on the phenomenon (occassionally views it through economics, too).

The book has an introductory section, which should be accessible to everyone, then a relatively meaty history of open source — my favorite part of the book, because it ties a lot of things together (for example, why the BSD license looks the way it does) that was happening just at the beginning of my Silicon Valley consciousness. Most of the middle fo the book talks about how it works (pretty remedial for someone who’s in the industry), leading up to micro & macro foundations about why it works. I found that part of the book clearly the most academic and tough to get through, but probably the most useful in the long term. I don’t really feel like Weber quite captures the emotional reasons for why people engage, but it isn’t bad. One thing that he misses entirely is the differentiation between server/headless components like operating systems & libraries versus applications like Firefox — and I think we’re finding already that the differences are significant.

The book was a little longer than I think it needs to be — just gets more esoteric towards the end — but I think it’s organized in a way that you can pick & choose what you want to read and it’ll be very worth your time.

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