I am a commercial software developer/manager who has often wondered about the broader motivations and implications of the Open Source movement, which is permeating many large patches of my industry. I found this book incredibly helpful in giving me the background I needed to understand the various Open Source products and articles I encounter day to day. Although my background is technical, this book generally is not. Although some technical information is unavoidable, Weber does a great job of maintaining his position as a professional political scientist and an informed layman on software technology. It may seem strange for a political scientist to approach this subject, but it turns out to be very beneficial because of the skill he has in analyzing organizations, their cultural, governmental, economic and societal impact. This isn't really a political science book; it is deeply about Open Source. But, Weber did manage to get me a little more interested in political science too.
Weber is a terrific writer. This is one of the best-organized, concisely written and cleanly reasoned books I have ever read. That said, this is not light reading; you will need to put your thinking cap on and think big thoughts with the author pretty frequently. This is exactly what I was looking for. There's plenty of shallow analysis out there concerning Open Source. What Weber provides is the cross-discipline perspective of a professional scholar who has studied Open Source carefully. I believe this book will prove useful to future historians when they want to understand the roots of Open Source, which, as Weber presents, could be very profound to our global economy and culture over decades to come.
The first chapter cleanly outlines the goals and big questions of the book. It also provides a primer on some of the main themes and terms such as the nature of property, what "free" means, current progress/status of Open Source etc. This brief chapter helps those who are very new to Open Source and sketches the trajectory of the rest of the book; just what you expect from a professional scholar.
Chapters Two through Four are about 30% of the book and chronicle the historic roots of Open Source (primarily the Unix community) through the past few decades of computing. The history comes right up to the present to show how what started as fits and spurts for decades, has now become the wildly successful realization of an unlikely vision; a phenomena in modern technological accomplishments. These chapters help the reader grasp the true vision of Open Source.
Chapter Five gathers hard data from surveys and empirical data from the online transcripts of Open Source projects to dissect the individual motivations of Open Source developers. There is very little guesswork here. Some of the myths about why the developers do what they do are dismantled and replaced with more intelligent information about their intricate motivations. Although I am not an Open Source developer, I have been a software professional for twenty years and worked with hundreds of other developers. Weber's sketch of the Open Source developer is very believable and resonates with many individual developers I have known.
Chapter Six studies the way the Open Source community, especially developers, organize themselves in various communities such as Linux, Apache and others. There are some good insights here for commercial teams to learn from.
Chapter Seven unfolds many legal implications around property rights, business models and specific case studies such as Red Hat, Debian and many others. This is great information and a unique contribution that is hard to find summarized as it is here.
Chapter Eight explores the long term potential for profound impact Open Source may have globally, politically and economically. There is also interesting analysis concerning how hierarchical organizations interface with networked (web) organizations. Finally, some suggestions for other fields of study that may copy the Open Source model are explored.
I do not think you will find a more helpful analysis for the non-technical aspects of Open Source. If I could give this book seven stars, I would.