Open Source methods and values: introduction

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Note: The next few lessons are going to talk about methods for building software; we’ll get to how these ideas show up in WordPress community organizing later in the course.

In the following lessons, we’ll discuss some principles of open source software described in Eric Raymond’s book  The Cathedral and The Bazaar. Here’s a link to a free version: http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/

In his book, Raymond talks about the rise and growth of the open source software movement, focusing closely on the Linux project. Linux was one of the first efforts that proved that this shift in approach to software development could not only work, but work better than closed-source methods that usually result in proprietary software. He contrasts these different approaches to software development by describing them as the cathedral, and the bazaar.

In the “cathedral approach,” software is built by a group of developers, working in isolation, focused on a central plan. They code, find bugs, fix as much as they can, as part of a closed or private team. Then, after a year or so, they eventually ship the product. Much like building a cathedral where everything is carefully crafted and installed before the doors open, this closed-source method of development depends strongly on the skill and determination of a small group of developers.

The open source method — which Raymond calls “the bazaar” — turns this idea on its head. Instead of asking a few developers to work in a silo on private code, open source development freely publishes the software’s imperfect source code and accepts contributions (bug reports, bug fixes, feature requests) from anyone who’s interested and capable.

Based on conventional wisdom, open source development shouldn’t work.  This method results in a sometimes-chaotic “bazaar” with diverse agendas and approaches, many voices that don’t necessarily agree — and according to Brooks’ Law, adding developers to a project usually results in slower development, not faster progress.

But open source does work (as WordPress proves)! Why? What’s the secret sauce?

You are welcome to read the book, but if you’d rather just read the following lessons, that’s fine too.

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