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Recommended Books on Free Software

Here are some books I recommend for any reader who wants to be acquainted to the free software movement and open source movement.  Of both of these movements I consider myself closer to the free software movement, so I recommend their books most.  However, it is also healthy to pay attention to what the open source movement has to say in terms of the practical value of free software (or open-source software).

Free Software; Free Society by Richard M. Stallman
Free Software, Free Society:  Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman:  This book is a compilation of essays written by Richard M. Stallman on the issues of the free software movement.  This book explains in detail what is free software, the history of the GNU Project, its relation to the Linux kernel, the GNU/Linux operative system, as well as with the open-source movement.  It also explains the problems of Copyright in the age of computer networks, the dangers of software patents, and the negative political consequences of adopting proprietary software.  Finally, it points to how sharing an cooperation in the global world should be the basis of a civilized society.  This book is a "must" for anyone who wants to be acquainted with the free software movement as well as the GNU Project.

Free as in Freedom by Sam WilliamsFree as in Freedom:  Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software:  I think this is a very important book to know the life of Richard M. Stallman and the reason why he is fighting right now for free software.  It ranges from early childhood, to his atheist position, to his constant struggles with many sectors of the open-source movement, the constant struggles to seek that the operative system usually called "Linux" be called "GNU/Linux", among many others.

However, I wish to point out many aspects of this book that I disagree, specially with respect to Linux.  It states that Linus Torvalds "stole" the Minix source code and used it to create the Linux kernel.  From this, he arrives to the conclusion that Torvalds is no different from the "pirates of silicon valley".  All of this is false.  Linux did not use the Minix souce code for anything.  In fact, Minix is what is called a microkernel, i.e. a kernel that is divided in different servers that constantly communicate with each other.  Torvalds rejected this model, because, though this model theoretically makes the kernel administer the operative system more easily, it has the defect that it complicates the communication among the servers of the kernel.  For him, the simplicity of the microkernel is a false simplicity, because it wants to simplify the operative system administration, while complicating the dynamic of the kernel itself.   Linux on the other hand is a monolithic kernel, i.e. the kernel itself is one entity, indivisible.  This mere fact is what has made Linux a success.  Another thing is that Torvalds wrote Linux from scratch, he didn't copy anything from the Minix kernel.  He used Minix as a reference to how to create an operative system, but that doesn't mean he copied from Minix.

I wish to add too that even Richard M. Stallman himself recognizes this fact, and attributes the enormous delay to create the GNU Hurd kernel to the fact that he chose a microkernel model.  Many times he has praised Linux in his conferences because of the monolithic design which made it a lot easier to develop a kernel all around the world.  He also has stated the huge propensity of bugs that a microkernel has, vis-a-vis a monolithic kernel.  The GNU Hurd delayed 10 years to develop (it was available for use in 2000), contrary to Linux which was already available in 1991.  This is the reason Stallman has stated many times that Linux is a better kernel.  I feel that Williams wishes to minimize unjustly the contribution of Linus Torvalds to the free software and open-source software worlds.

For the rest of the book, I have no more objections, except that it is well-written and lets you show the virtues, defects and personality of Richard M. Stallman.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. RaymondThe Cathedral and the Bazaar:  Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary:  This book is a collection of a series of essays, in which Raymond makes an anthropological analysis on open-source dynamics, as well as he exposes the open-source philosophy, which is very different from the free software movement's philosophy.  One of the essays is a revised edition of the "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" which was the essay that inspired Netscape to release the source code of the browser under the name of Mozilla.org.

My difference with this book is that there are political implications of free software, even if the open-source people wishes to deny it.  Even open-source groups have had the need to participate in political struggles, the most recent being opposing software patents in Europe.  Also the SCO Groups vs. IBM recent confirms the fact that all software should be free, since SCO Groups wishes not to reveal its source code, and placing all of us in a disadvantage in trying to know what supposed proprietary code is in the Linux kernel.  Free software is the only way to guarantee the honesty of corporations such as SCO Groups (and yes, I'm questioning the honesty of SCO Groups).  There are ethical implications of free software, but which are not taken into consideration in the open-source philosophy reflected in the book.  Also I disagree with the fact that the GNU/Linux operative system be called merely "Linux".  Linux is the kernel of the operative system, but the whole of the operative system is GNU/Linux.

The advantage, however, of the open-source movement has been to commercialize free software, specially after Netscape's move to release the source code of the browser.

Just for Fun, by Linus Torvalds and David DiamondJust for Fun:  The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary:  This book is dedicated more to the life of Linus Torvalds and the creation of the Linux kernel.  The problem with this book is that it is a bit disorganized, and the style of both authors in this book is not exactly great.  However, it has the virtue that it explains things in a simple way to non-programmers and non-computer experts.  It also has the virtue of the real motive behind the development of Linux, first for his personal reasons, and secondly, to see how far can computer technology go.  Torvalds is not committed to any political agendas, nor is he a hard core anti-Microsoft enthusiast.  In fact, he expresses his admiration for MS PowerPoint.  However, though he has a big ego, he lives his life normally dedicating himself to Linux as a hobby.  Also he has a high level of honesty and his commitment to open-souce is very clear.

The only thing that I'm sorry for is that Torvalds doesn't see the political implications of free software or open-source, but for the rest, I recommend the reading of this book if you want to know him, who he is, and what he wants to do.

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