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Man Against the FUD 

How Eric Raymond became the ambassador for the open-source movement -- and why he hasn't quit

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Because Raymond works for a culture, not a company, nobody's paying him. He never asks the companies he consults for money. I ask him how he pays the rent. "I keep my wife happy. She's a successful attorney who decided that I'm of more use to the world running around making trouble than I would be chained to a desk." Recently, Raymond has been grumbling in public about his role as a "public advocate for the hacker tribe," however. In late March, he issued an emotional statement in which he invited potential candidates to apply for his torch, warning them that "the tribe you've sweated blood to serve [will] turn on you. They will." And in April, Raymond traded ugly jabs on a developer's e-mail list with fellow Open Source Initiative co-founder Bruce Perens over a disagreement regarding an open-source version of a new Macintosh operating system.

And yet Raymond carries on. In science-fiction-fan-speak there's a phenomenon called "egoboo." Egoboo makes the wheels of open source spin. It means a boost in reputation. Hackers operate in a gift economy in which giant-size egos compete with one another for attention and reputation on the Net. If you do something cool, like reduce the length of a subroutine by 50 percent, you score major egoboo. Raymond has appointed himself the open-source evangelist in part to help make a world where software doesn't suck, but also to garner egoboo.

And, of course, there are other reasons.

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IN LATE OCTOBER '98, RAYMOND GOT HIS hands on two confidential Microsoft memoranda outlining a strategy against Linux and open source. The first memo quoted extensively from "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." Raymond posted the memos, annotated heavily, on his site and, with his flair for drama, called them "The Halloween Documents."

Microsoft's spin-doctors went into panic mode. They tried to dismiss the memos as "an engineer's individual assessment of the market at one point in time" and a way "to stimulate internal discussion on the open-source model." The press, however, ripped into the memo with glee, and thanks to Raymond's running commentary within the documents, reporters had no trouble unearthing the ugly ideas the memos espoused, such as "OSS [Open Source Software] is long-term credible -- FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt] tactics can not be used to combat it" and "OSS projects have been able to gain a foothold in many server applications because of the wide utility of highly commoditized, simple protocols. By extending these protocols and developing new protocols, we can deny OSS projects entry into the market."

The memos also heaped praise on the open-source method: "The ability of the OSS process to harness the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet is simply amazing. More importantly, OSS evangelization scales with the size of the Internet much faster than our own evangelization efforts appear to scale."

What sweet poetry! Microsoft is running scared! Take that, you scoffing chairman.

Tim O'Reilly worries that Raymond's grudge against "The Borg From Redmond" is counterproductive to the cause. Occasionally, he reminds Raymond that there are plenty of smart people with good intentions working at Microsoft, and that calling the company's software "elaborately sugar-coated crap that runs like a pig on Quaaludes, crashes at the drop of an electron and has set the computing world back by at least a decade," isn't going to help win them over to the cause.

But Raymond doesn't care. And pressed, even O'Reilly allows that open source (which is "like gravity") will eventually take over 95 percent of the market no matter how nasty Raymond gets about the chairman who made fun of him 15 years ago.

Will the Borg itself ever go open-source?

Raymond pauses a beat. "Will they con people into thinking they use it? Yes. But really? No." Then: "It would be wonderful if I was wrong."

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