Book Review: Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution


By Chris Douce

Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution

Glyn Moody's book presents an enthusiastic history of the Linux operating system and how it gradually arose to attempt to challenge the dominance of Microsoft. Moody describes the Open Source 'movement', where software development takes place by many for the common good of providing software that is useful, reliable and free, alongside many of the fascinating key players.

Having been an infrequent user of Emacs for a number of years, the name Stallman was anonymous amongst my gradually incrementing collection of photocopied instruction manuals. While trying to find a way to copy and paste text, I stumbled upon the GNU public license nestling between the cover and the table of contents. At the time, I considered the license to be a curiosity miles away from the other more familiar licenses that state 'this software may not do anything that it supposed to do', and 'you must not reverse engineer under any circumstances'. Moody paints a describes how the GNU licensing model has been central to open-source development.

Rebel Code provoked me to consider whether I should propose the opening-up of source code to my employer. Paradoxically, there was much discussion as to how open source software could assist an organisations competitive advantage. I concluded that in cases where the organisations are large and the competition is fierce, the opening-up of source code could potentially give an advantage, providing that communities of fluent and able developers are available. I have yet to be convinced of the case where the domain is very specialised, where there are only a limited number of users and software is developed for a very small number of providers. I will have to read the book again to appreciate all the arguments fully!

One of the fascinating issues that Moody touches upon is how the choice of early hardware technologies, often motivated out of pure curiosity, and sometimes due to a lack of available finances, can substantially influence and possibly direct our future careers. While it must be true that we are defined by our culture, it may be also true that we may also be defined by our early choice of computing devices or microprocessor.

Rebel Code is considered to be an important addition to the genre of writing that will undoubtedly become termed 'pop-computing' which will encompass books like Fire in the Valley and a Brief History of the Future.

Chris Douce works in a small company that uses a mixture of open source and proprietary software to design educational systems for colleges.

Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution
by Glyn Moody   January 2001   ISBN: 0738203335

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