Open source's history is long, technical, and complex, but to know where you're going, you sometimes have to know where others have been. These five resources describe the key people, events, and ideas that formed the foundation for a new era in computing.
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, by Steven Levy
In popular culture, hackers are often evil programmers that use their computing skills to break into systems and steal information, write viruses and other malware, and generally wreak technological havoc, but this wasn't always the case.
Originally published in 1984, Steven Levy's book traces the term, "hack," back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where it described something particularly innovative and clever. To be called a hacker was an honor. It was peer acknowledgment of technical mastery mixed with unique style.
While not specifically about open source (the term hadn't even been coined yet), Hackers describes open source's forefathers. The hackers that Levy writes about formed the philosophical underpinnings and collaborative culture that would one day characterize free and open source software.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond
First presented at the 1997 Linux Kongress in Würzburg, Germany, software engineer and open source proponent Eric S. Raymond's essay has come to define the open source development process and its benefits.
If freedom is open source software's abstract goal, then decentralization is its concrete one. In The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Raymond pits two software development methods against each other to draw distinctions and argue for the bottom-up development model used by open source projects like Linux.
Though potentially difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with software design, it would be impossible to understand fully what makes open source software unique without at least acknowledging its unusual development approach.
Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution by Chris DiBona (Editor), Sam Ockman (Editor), and Mark Stone (Editor)
To get the full story, you sometimes have to go straight to the source. Through essays from the free and open source software movement's architects, that's exactly what Open Sources does.
Open Sources is positioned at a unique time in computing history. When it was published, mainstream media often referred to the Web as a "wild west" filled with outlaws. Open source was a bold challenge to the old guard. So, who better to speak for it than the rebels themselves?
From Richard M. Stallman (the Free Software Foundation's founder) to Linus Torvalds (Linux's creator) Open Sources tells the story from the perspective of the people who were not only writing the code but who were also starting a movement.
Rebel Code: Linux And The Open Source Revolution by Glyn Moody
While there are countless free and open source projects, very few enjoy the same name recognition and reach as the Linux operating system.
By situating Linux in its historical context, Moody demonstrates that its creator, Linus Torvalds, while certainly influenced and informed by Steven Levy's hackers, also transcends them. By drawing from what came before him but making it his own, Torvalds solidifies his place as a true hacker in the best sense of the word.
If you weren't there for it at the time, you'll certainly feel like you were by the end of Rebel Code. With every major Linux development milestone plotted, considered, and explained, Moody's book describes with vivid detail how this operating system came into being.
Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond
The free and open source software movement and its adherents are often painted as stern ideologues by their detractors. Just for Fun turns that image on its head.
Writing an operating system and spearheading a social movement are serious thingsunless you don't know that's what you're doing. In Just for Fun, Linus Torvalds shares what was going through his head as he worked on what became Linux. Maybe surprisingly, it was a lot less planned and organized than what you might expect.
Just for Fun is as interesting for what it says about Linux as software as for what it says about Torvalds as a person. In the end, it gives the impression that open source truly is something that anybody can participate in.