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After the Software Wars Paperback – 20 Feb 2009
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I would have given it 5 stars if it were not for the occasional political opinions which are included towards the end of the book. For my money they add little or nothing to the book itself and, whilst I might agree with some of those opinions and disagree with others they are irrelevant to the main theme of the book. On the other hand, they take up only a small amount of the book.
Overall, an excellent and very thought-provoking read!
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In any case, I've been using FOSS for many years now. So I've understood the benefits and superiority with FOSS for a long time (for example, open source, by virtue of being open, rarely or never contains malware; the same cannot be said about proprietary software), and Curtis was preaching to the choir when I read this book. What Curtis did well was to show how corrupt the software industry is (e.g., Bill Gates attempting to own all patents) and how this corruption is slowing down progress for the sake of profit.
Curtis' prediction of open source software as the development model for artificial intelligence and colonisation of space may seem far-fetched and could give you an impression of an exaggerated--perhaps religiously fanatical--belief in the power of open source, but Curtis argues his case very well: open source is the future. No one's going to be using proprietary software in the future.
Before I read this book, I was very much thinking along the same lines as Keith Curtis on open source. To me, open source is the most scientific development model, because the scientific method is very much the same as open source, in that it's free, open and testable by anyone who wishes to improve upon a theory. So it was very nice to read a book that enforces my own point of view on the matter from a more experienced software developer (I'm not a software developer).
Perhaps the most interesting, freethinking and persuasive part of the book is when Curtis compares proprietary software with alchemy, and free software with the scientific revolution that took humanity out of the dark ages. Curtis makes an excellent point here, that should give anyone who's reading this book a serious contemplation on the indisputable potential of open source.
I would've given the book five stars, for its excellent collection of important thought-provoking quotes, history of software, recommendation of LISP and advocating the open source method in a cogent way. But what makes me give it only four stars is the end of the book where Curtis goes off on advocacy of "right-wing" politics/economy, which seems to me Curtis really doesn't understand how it contradicts his own advocacy of copyleft; but then again, Curtis is a software developer, not a politician or economist. And the software aspects of this book is where it really shines.
I bought the Kindle Edition in order to support the author, but the Android version of the Kindle reader didn't display this book perfectly (list and indent weren't displayed properly), so I found myself switching back and forth between the gratis PDF copy from time to time.
Other than that, this book is a very important reading. I will eventually write a more thorough review of the book.
"After the Software Wars" combined the perfect amount of interesting examples, real-life stories(and "dirt"), personal experiences, compelling scenarios, future predictions, technical computer jargon, and carefully researched information to be a great read for people ranging from merely being "interested" in technology to proven technology professionals alike.
What was remarkable to me about this book, is that while I disagreed with some of the arguments the author made, I was still won over by the overall intent of the book - which is the assertion that Freedom, Openness, and Shared Achievement of computer software is the best possible way to solve some of the most massive and exceedingly demanding problems that humankind are faced with today.
I recommend "After the Software Wars" to anyone who is interested in computerized technology and I look forward to seeing more publications from this Author.
During his time at Microsoft Curtis saw Windows struggle with the expensive limitations of the closed industrial model while its free rival - Linux - consistently improved relative to Windows to the point where he is now quite happy to use only Linux. (I have used it as my main operating system for over a year and agree it compares favorable to Windows in most ways). The book is also timely because it asks us to take seriously a clearly less expensive and arguably better approach to software development at a time when economic stress makes it particularly relevant to do so.
While the Linux phenomena tells us that the assumptions of the industrial age don't work for software, it doesn't necessarily tell us where the open model is most important or essential to progress. Linux may or may not go on to 'world domination' as Curtis puts it - Microsoft is making a serious comeback just now with Windows 7 and remains dominant with over 90% of the world's desktops despite shooting itself in the foot with Vista. Still, After the Software Wars makes it much easier to appreciate the enormous difficulties Microsoft faces trying to maintain a secure and smoothly functioning operating system using the proprietary model.
In the second half of After the Software Wars Curtis turns his attention to programming languages, and demonstrates where the proprietary model may well be holding us back in a more fundamental and critical way. He makes the case that the dominant C and C++ programming languages are obsolete and worse - disastrously inefficient. Neither are proprietary which may partly explain why they continue to dominate software development despite their origins in the technology of the 70s. For example, Curtis explains how they suffer from serious limitations such as failure to clean up memory after use (programmers call it garbage collection) which in turn is a major source of bugs requiring endless further work. However, in terms of the free versus propriety dilemma I think his most telling example is his account of how Sun and Microsoft fought to control Java and ruined its chances of becoming a more efficient replacement for the older languages. The implication is clear - developing an up to date, open source, programming language may be more urgent and necessary than even the adoption of Linux.
Speaking for myself as an observer of the interaction of society and technology in the McLuhan tradition I see the simple existence of free software as requiring a change in how we divide what is held in common from what is proprietary. Just as movable type contained a core idea of the industrial revolution - interchangeable parts - I think that free software will eventually compel a new understanding of what divides common from private property.