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Free For All: How Linux And The Free Software Movement Undercut The High-tech Titans

by Peter Wayner

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Can you get rich selling free software? It's a question that's got Wall Street excited, computer makers curious, and Bill Gates nervous. Peter Wayner's Free for All explores the history of open-source programming, its emerging threat to Microsoft, and its struggle to retain its ideals in the face of big money.

Like Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Free for All outlines the arguments for leaving software source code open and free for anyone to tinker with. But Wayner's account delves deeper into the politics of the movement, reading like a high-tech soap opera. Brash and colorful characters populate the pages: Richard Stallman, the quasi-communist coder who has done as much to inspire open source as he has to alienate big business; Linus Torvalds, the self-effacing grad student whose talent for organizing the work of others resulted in the bombproof operating system Linux; and libertarian techno-philosopher Eric Raymond, whose passion for free source code is matched only by his passion for the freedom to own guns. Each has a different vision of what it means to collaborate on software development, and their clashes over the "rules" of a largely unregulated process have created fault lines that run deep.

But what may ultimately prove more challenging than these differences, says Wayner, is the open-source movement's own success. As big names like IBM and Dell court the largely volunteer community, and companies like Red Hat produce stock-option millionaires, uncomfortable questions arise. "Getting people to join together for the group is easy to do when no one is getting rich," says Wayner. "What happens when more money starts pouring into some folks' pockets? Will people defect? Will they stop contributing?" Wayner leaves the question open, and only time will provide the answer. In the meantime, Free for All offers as thorough and engaging an account of the open-source movement--and the pitfalls in its path--as readers are likely to find anywhere. --Demian McLean

From Publishers Weekly
Necessity remains the mother of invention-or so it seems judging by this intriguing history of the free software movement. A self-confessed nerd who covers technology for the New York Times, Wayner starts by describing how computer programmers who wanted to tinker with proprietary source code were frustrated by the "no trespass" signs posted on operating systems like UNIX, Apple, DOS and Windows. They ultimately formed a grassroots movement that retaliated by building independent systems. Once they achieved their goal, they were determined to keep the source code open to all, following the tradition of academic research labs. As soon as these hackers developed a simple operating system, a worldwide network of interested programmers contributed free time and ideas to make it run smoothly on all manner of machines. One of the major results of this experiment in intellectual freedom is Linux (named after its originator, Linus Torvalds), an operating system that many claim is more stable, more adaptable and more accessible (and infinitely less expensive) than the current commercial leaders. That may explain why it's used in more than 50% of the Web servers on the Internet. Wayner writes in hushed tones of the exclusive group (almost all men) who worked on Linux out of the simple desire to play in the guts of the machine. But if anybody thinks that these are a bunch of harmonious code-lovers, Wayner's tales of nasty flame wars between the founding fathers and of turf battles petty enough for Dynasty reveal that even nerds are not above a little mud wrestling. Illus. not seen by PW. Agents, Daniel Greenberg, James Levine Agency. Author tour; 15-city NPR radio tour. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
In the 1980s, a handful of dedicated programmers began sharing the source code to software they developed. Over the years, this movement to share programming code led to the establishment of the "open source initiative," which assured that few restrictions were placed on the redistribution of source code used for developing free software. Wayner, a journalist for the New York Times and Salon magazine and author of Digital Cash: Commerce on the Net, traces the history of this free software movement from its early days to the present. He focuses on the incredible story of Linus Torvalds, creator of the popular Linux operating system. Wayner acknowledges that the free software movement has many weaknesses yet to be overcome, but he believes that it will flourish. He predicts that the devotion of Torvalds and others like him to the free software movement will win out in the end over corporations like Microsoft, changing the way we use computers on the job and at home. Recommended for an informed audience.DJoe Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ Lib., Chicago
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
This is one book about the Internet and software design that does not involve initial public stock offerings and overnight millionaires. Wayner was a technology writer for the New York Times and is the author of several computer programming books. He traces the history of the free software movement founded in 1984 by former MIT programmer Richard Stallman, who is seen as an evangelist who believes that software and its documentation should be able to be copied freely and redistributed. In 1991 Linus Torvalds, then a 21-year-old University of Helsinki student and disciple of Stallman, invented Linux, a computer operating system that never crashes, can be rewritten to accommodate various uses, and is available free. Wayner shows how Microsoft has responded to the free software movement and predicts that open source software will eventually beat out proprietary software. Wayner himself is an open source proponent, and at one point he waxes philosophical about wealth and freedom, capturing the essence of the free software movement. David Rouse
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Book Description
Linux:Poised for World Domination?

A revolution is sweeping the software world -- one that threatens to pull even the mighty Microsoft Corporation from its throne. Bill Gates and his company's rule over the software industry through their tight control of Microsoft Windows is facing their biggest challenge ever -- a new competitor that can't be bought, coopted, or manipulated with any of the traditional tools of corporate power. Its name:


Free for All is the story of a group of dedicated software hackers from around the world who, in their spare time, created an "open" operating system that rivals and in many ways surpasses Microsoft's.

Peter Wayner, a writer whose coverage of technology appears frequently in the New York Times and Salon magazine, tells a fascinating tale of how a simple idea creating and giving away an "open" operating system that people can change and customize -- sparked a grass-roots movement among programmers and revolutionized the software business.Free for All goes behind the scenes, telling us about the creators and users of Linux. Along the way you will meet the leaders of this revolution, including Richard Stallman, who founded the free software movement , Linus Torvalds, the coding genius and Stallman disciple, who became the master and coordinator of the evolving system (and named it after himself), and many others who aided and nurtured the growing free software movement. You'll learn how and why they gave their code away for free, threatening the Redmond, Washington, giant's hegemony and spawning a whole new industry of Linux-related companies and software.

You will also learn where the Linux movement is going and how it is likely to affect the high-tech industry and, ultimately, the computers you use at home and on the job. As fresh and exciting as today's headlines and tomorrow's IPOs, the story of Linux is just beginning. Here is Act I.

Book Info
(HarperBusiness) A story of a group of software hackers from around the world who created an open operating system that rivals Microsoft's. Goes behind the scenes telling us about the creators and users of Linux. Discusses where the Linux movement is going and how it is likely to affect the the high-tech industry. DLC: Linux.



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