Monday, February 02, 1998 at 8:19:55 AM Pacific

Comments on Cathedrals and Bazaars

I just re-read The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond. Here are some comments entered just after I read it again.

I've been getting mail from people saying there's a lot in common there with what we do here.

It may be similar. Think about Larry Wall's role in the Perl community and Linus Torvalds's role in the Linux world. Listen to how Raymond talks about them. Is it that much different than the role Bill Gates plays in the Windows world?

But the worlds are different too. Have they built a base of commercial-quality apps around the Linux operating system or other GPL software? That's a serious question. If not, can they?

I wonder if people mind paying $100 for software that they want support for? Can the bazaar method really support a community of millions of users? We can't possibly know if it can or can't.

However, maybe I'm obsolete or old-fashioned, but I haven't found a way to work with great programmers without paying them a lot of money. I don't think the system Raymond outlines would work for Frontier because it's built by a team of professionals, who are passionate about what they do, but also have mortgages, wives, kids, take vacations, go out to eat, (or even just eat).

Life costs money. If you're serious about doing a piece of software, money has to flow. Or the promise of money flowing soon has to be there for the people providing the money (this is called investing).

The lessons Mr. Raymond has learned are available in the commercial world. He's a great writer, and thinks clearly. His rules are worth studying by everyone who hopes to make software, either as an individual effort or as part of a commercial team.

It's a Unix deal

I didn't see any screen shots of Mr. Raymond's software. I've found that Unix people tend to trivialize the very skilled hard work of managing screen pixels and building understandable user interfaces. Part of my ability to evaluate his work is limited by not being able to see it.

Even though they could learn a lot from us, Unix people talk from a higher place, as if their choice of OS made them superior to us. This is a dangerous way to view competitors. Learn the lesson from sports and business. Always get close to people who compete. Listen to them carefully, understand what their weaknesses are, for sure, but also understand their strengths.

I admit I haven't had a good experience with the Unix crowd. In April 1997 I said "I think it's ironic, being a Mac developer, that I'm going to meet up with my potential Unix brothers and sisters on Bill Gates's operating system."

I repeat the offer to work together, but so far the people who speak for Unix preach at us, don't listen, and threaten. Hmmm. I wonder how much they know about what we do?


I'll keep listening and watching and learning.

Is Linux a victory over the Microsoft machine or yet another false start at launching an OS to compete with Windows?

If Kleiner-Perkins starts a Linux Fund, you'll know! If there's money, there may be software. If not, I don't believe there will. Great programmers cost a lot of money. That's pretty hard to work around. I don't think the Linux people really get that yet.

To potential investors, in my opinion Linux would be a good bet, but not with the GPL assumption. It will do well if money is available, both from investors and eventually from customers.


Raymond refers to his users as customers, but I don't agree with this characterization.

Money and customerhood are irrevocably linked. It's a priviledge to pay money for a product, because that guarantees that you will be treated as a customer.

The people who use free software are not customers, since they didn't pay any money to use the software.

People who use free software are peers of the people who developed it. They must take responsibility for their own success with the software. This is a very different model.

The bazaar model

I don't believe in the bazaar model that Raymond talks about.

I prefer the Windows world, where people want to pay money for software, and where users don't expect to have an emotional relationship with the people who develop the software.

On the other hand, there are things I don't like about the Windows world, mostly the constant concern about how you're going to co-exist with Microsoft. So I'm interested in seeing if there are ways around that.

There's also a religious undertone to the bazaar idea. Listen to how Raymond talks about Linus. Some of my users treat me that way, and it always makes me uncomfortable. I'd prefer to meet them as peers, not as a god. This whole bazaar thing reeks of religion and parental projection. This makes me queasy!

I'd much rather think of the people who use my software as accomplished professionals who use my product the same way I use Michael Dell's computers, or Steve Dorner's email program or Chuck Shotton's web server. People I admire because they make useful products, but the relationship stops there.

Software makers can only teach you about software, to assume a bigger role, is to be religious about it, and I don't enjoy that. We don't make using Frontier a religion. Other people see that, that's their affair. I view the people who use my software as skilled people I can learn from, I don't want them to see me as a teacher or a guru.

Dell doesn't ask for my spirit or my soul, just for my money. I'm comfortable with that.

Anyway I'm rambling. I expect to edit this some more as time goes by.

Thanks for listening!

Dave Winer

PS: See comments from readers on the mail site.

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