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on 26 June 2003
I enjoyed this book and learnt quite a few things from it, despite being fairly familiar with most of the story already. In the large part it's well written and easy to read. However I second the reviewer above who complains about the lack of references. Even though Moody does say in the preface that much of his material comes from interviews, there is plenty that clearly does not and should have been referenced. This omission stops it from being truly useful as a history.
Also, another minor criticism, which applies to most books of this genre (journalistic accounts of computer history), is the book's relentless focus on the individuals involved, with little or no assessment of technical or other factors. Thus each episode involves yet another student hacker performing heroic coding feats, one blends into the next and the thing gets a little tedious. Perhaps Moody felt himself or his readers unequipped to deal with the technical issues, but the inclusion of just a little more technical depth would have added texture, and made some chapters a lot more engaging.
Nevertheless I think this is a good book, one of the best of its type, and deserves four stars.
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on 23 February 2001
As someone who has been tracking the progress of Linux since 1992, and has been using it continuously since 1994, I have been looking for some years now - at least since 1998, when Linux hit the mainstream news - who is going be the first to come up with a history of Linux; something among similar lines as Gleick did for chaos theory. Now we have the winner: Glyn Moody, a British IT journalist.
Not always organized in a chronological order, Rebel Code follows the progress of Linux and several other open-source projects (XFree86, Sendmail, Perl, Apache, Samba...) from the grandfather of Linux, Unix, in late sixties; then we follow the stories of Andrew Tannenbaum's Minix system and Richard Stallman's project GNU through the eighties, until we finally arrive to the beginnings of Linux in 1991. From then on, we follow it rise and blossom, with its added functionalities, with the first contributors to the kernel starting to appear, and then the first Linux distributions.
If the first half of the book deals mostly with technical topics, the second half - following the decision of Netscape Corporation to open the source code of their Web browser - is mostly concerned with the socio-economical issues of the open source model, the differences between it and the idea of free software; the huge initial success of the IPOs of open-source companies (Moody is much less vocal about the fact that they lost most of their values a year later), possible alternative uses of Linux (handheld and internet appliances) and musings on the possible future of the free/open source movement.
Speaking of the latter, I miss a more thorough and independent analysis on whether the author sees the free/open source development model as a sustainable strategy or just a part of the dotcom craze. In that aspect, Rebel Code doesn't bring much one would not already know from the writing of Larry McVoy and Eric Raymond. I may not be alone here. Anybody who has already been tracking the progess of Linux - and I believe the majority of readership ought to be sought in this audience - will probably find some 80% of the book already familiar. The rest present the interviews the author conducted with some principal contributors throughout the 2000, and contained many new and interesting facts to me. The whole is packaged in a fairly pleasant and readable form.
There is something about Moody that makes me uneasy, though. I cannot quite decide whether it is his intellectual criticism, or is he simply looking for some cheap drama. His best known writing on Linux before this book was his 1997 HotWired article titled "The Greatest OS That (N)ever Was" where he depicts his worrisome views about the future of Linux in dramatic tones ("...But Linux also sits at a critical juncture..."). In Rebel Code, he seems to be especially proud of his description of the schism that was threatening in Linux development in 1998, which "... nobody outside the Linux world noticed."
Finally, there is no apologize for the complete omission of references. Linux is a child of Internet, its development was carried out in the open, and so it is perhaps the best documented OS ever. This book had a wonderful chance to become the authoritative list of resources concerning the Linux history, and flunked it. On the positive side, Rebel Code does have a decent index.
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I picked this book up after I couldn't find an o'reilly python book at the bookshop. I'd heard it mentioned on /. (slashdot) and thought I'd give it a go. From the very first page I couldn't put it down. A well written history book of the underground movement and it's key people. I'm sure that sociologists would have just as much fun reading it as hackers. A fantastic read!
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on 7 February 2001
Glyn Moody's book is an admirably complete history of Linux and the open source movement. It also manages to keep the pace going well, despite having to deal with a comparitively dry subject matter. The trouble is, because the movement is so disparate, the book has to jump from point to point and person to person rapidly. By trying to cover the people, the products and the philosophy behind open source, Rebel Code stretches itself a bit too thinly.
In addition, it doesn't explain itself thoroughly enough for a mainstream book. Someone with even a sketchy knowledge of computing will have no problems with the terminology, but those who don't even know that Windows is an operating system (or for that matter what an operating system is) may be left out in the cold. Then again, those who don't know what a web server is probably will not be drawn to the book (and are highly unlikely to read this critique on-line). There is also an underlying implication that Linux is some way server-sided. This could inadvertently undermine today's open source movement - the next move for Linux must be to break into the small office/home desktop as successfully as it has into the web server world, as soon as more people discover there is 'no-cost' life beyond the Windows desktop.
Finally, despite praising the Open Source movement, Rebel Code doesn't fall into the trap of simply becoming a 'Microsoft is evil' rant. Instead it remains balanced which means anyone interested in the state of the computer world (now and for the next few years, at least) could find something of interest here.
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on 6 June 2001
Rebel Code is an excellent introduction to the world and history of open source software developent. Read in conjunction with Linus Torvalds new book "Just For Fun" and you will have an excellent couple of nights reading material.
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on 29 April 2002
I found this book as interesting for it's sense of being written at the hight of the dot-com boom, when it seemed Linux would truly change everything as I did it's intended content. There is a lot in here about the history and philosophy the Free Software foundation (FSF) which really put the whole 'Linux' thing into perspective i.e. 'Linux' is just the kernel, the thing that really makes 'Linux' exciting is the GNU philosophy (read the book to find out more).
Although I enjoyed the book, the journalism is pretty one-sided and almost totally un-critical of the open-source philosophy. For instance, it does not touch on the fact that, for all the clever-clever hackers out in GNU land - most of the critical software is simply a re-hash of software devised by 'traditional monolithic corporations'
UNIX, NFS, TCP/IP anyone? Still it's a good read, but take what it says with a pinch of salt.
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on 9 May 2016
This book is the StarWars of computing history. I'm amazed at how much detail the book goes into. This book should have cult status. Especially enjoyed reading the email transcripts in chapter 10. If you're in the business, we've all been there. It's nice to know those at the top of the innovation tree are also dealing with the same as the rest of us! A fantastic account of Linux history and would recommend this book to anyone with the slightest bit of interest in computing.
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on 22 March 2016
Brilliant book, this reading material should be part of a syllabus at college / universities around the globe.
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on 19 May 2001
An excellent and fascinating book that describes the Linux (and open source) revolution from the beginning. An excellent guide to those that don't properly "get" open source.
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on 27 February 2001
As somebody who didn't know much about the evolution of Linux or the Open Source movement before reading this book, I found it to be very interesting and informative. Great value for just over a tenner.
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