WHEN A BAZAAR IS NO LONGER A BAZAAR

Retrospective Notes

First-time readers of this rant should be aware that it was written well before either the Halloween Documents or AOL/Sun acquisition of Netscape. For all I know, at this writing, some other relevant event is erupting. Sun's quasi-open-source licensing of Java might even be considered germane.

In any case: I disclaim any powers of prophecy that might be inferred from some skewed reading of what follows. That's a little like reading the Book of Revelations as predicting Monica Lewinsky (the Whore of Babble-On, forsooth!) and this Y2K fiasco (yea, verily, thy Systems will Tremble and their Bowels will Loosen before the Wrath of the Two-Thousand-Year-Old Lamb.)

I also want people to know: I like what's happening with Open Source, and I'm glad that it has such an articulate and intelligent spokesman in Eric Raymond. My expressions of doubt--both serious and tongue-in-cheek--shouldn't be taken as disrespect for the process or the person.

I wrote this for fun. So please read it that way.

I also disclaim any influence on events. No, I don't know if Mr. Villaincantelope-or-whatever-his-name-is found some kind of backhanded inspiration in this piece. It's quite enough that Eric Raymond mentioned Fred Brooks' attribution of Bazaar-like practices to Microsoft; I entirely trust Microsoft employees to take even the most mud-besmeared ball and run with it, good little team-players that they are. I just doubt that they could even find a ball under all the mud you'll see here.

With all that clarified....let's MUDWRESTLE!

Michael Turner


The Browser Wars Continued: Children's Crusade vs. Shi'ite Jihad?

Eric Raymond is going to be a Netceleb. Marc Andreesen virtually guarantees this. The developer consensus within Netscape will propel the author of "The Cathedral and The Bazaar" almost to household-name level of public visibility. Netscape will publish its browser source, Agoric processes will save the day, Microsoft's tidal advance will be stemmed.

Or will it?

I have mused on Eric Raymond's choice of "Cathedral" and "Bazaar" as juxtaposed metaphors for the two different styles. Historically, the one is Christian, the other Islamic.

Much could be made of this.

Allow me.

Religious Architecture and Social Archetypes

In Christian countries, the Cathedral was the source of ecclesiastical power, and to some extent it remains so. As a political power, however, its role has gone from nearly central to nearly non-existent. Nobody is building Cathedrals anymore, so that pork-barrel is long empty. And nothing has taken its place.

In Islamic countries, the bazaar - which is seldom, if ever, co-located with any related job-producing construction projects - remains the center of ecclesiastical power. In self-styled Islamic Republics, the bazaar is therefore the center of power, period.

Perhaps the theocratic overtones in the choice of the term Cathedral was Eric Raymond's allusion to what many see as the doctrinaire and sanctimonious rumblings from RMS the Pope, versus the more freewheeling and (in strict GNU terms) easily-corrupted style of Linux development. And perhaps in choosing the term "bazaar" Raymond meant only to suggest something more social and economic and mundane; something that was, architecturally, at least, more low-to-the-ground. He refers to Eric Drexler's notions of Agoric systems, saying that he thought of entitling the essay "The Cathedral and the Agora." So maybe none of this has anything to do with the taint of theocracy.

But maybe everyone should (re)read God and Golem, a book written Norbert Wiener, the coiner of the term "cybernetics." In all things computer-related, ecclesiarchs are not far off.

If you want evidence that the bazaar style is easily corrupted and/or prone to its own problems of self-destructive, dogma-inspired holy wars, you need look no further than Microsoft itself.

Yes, Microsoft.

The Gospel According to Fred

Eric Raymond apparently has glanced as far afield as Redmond in seeking precedents, though apparently with only a shudder and a giggle so far. "For Further Reading" leads off with this:

I quoted several bits from Frederick P. Brooks's classic The Mythical Man-Month because, in many respects, his insights have yet to be improved upon.... The new edition is wrapped up by an invaluable 20-years-later retrospective in which Brooks forthrightly admits to the few judgements in the original text which have not stood the test of time. I first read the retrospective after this paper was substantially complete, and was surprised to discover that Brooks attributes bazaar-like practices to Microsoft!

A careful reading of Brooks's 25-year retrospective turns up another, crueler, irony. One of the few points where Brooks concedes a probable error of judgment is in his original insistence that all the information about OS/360 development be made available to everyone on the project.

Information should be free. At IBM. In the mid-60s.

Well. How clueful.

But now he says he was wrong?

That Stained-Glass Window is a Module - MY Module

At some point during this famously-late project, Brooks' policy of providing all information to every programmer meant filling wide shelves in every office with the official Project Notebook, and providing updates to it constantly. This, Brooks now feels, was a disaster.

He should, he says now, have gone along with what was, at the time, a novel software engineering concept: modularization through "Information Hiding". Presumably this would have been implemented by restricting the flow of information within the development organization itself.

It surprises me that Brooks wouldn't now consider, after the fact, that promoting an ethic (or at least, an aesthetic) of modularization in an open organization would be superior to enforcing (perhaps by prohibition) laws of modularization in a closed one.

One suspects that Brooks's Cathedral dreams never died. References to medieval architecture and Christian spirituality abound in his book. To have made OS/360 a true Cathedral - why, he'd be an IBM Cardinal today! A Saint, even! (Or CEO emeritus, anyway.) It seems he now feels that, besides tolerating poor architecture, he erred in leaving out a crucial Cathedral-building management technique: tolerance of internal trade secrets.

Medieval craft guilds were notoriously secretive about their processes, and Cathedrals provided not only pork barrels during lean times, but perhaps an early version of the R&D Tax Credit. But what damn good is that subsidy if your research failures become widely known while your successes aren't safe from pilfering by other guilds?

Poor Fred. Devout IBM Christian to the end.

He missed a trick. To be Pope in a Cathedral-as-pork-barrel economy, you have to be wily, political, amoral. You have to be the broker-of-secrets, which means you have to have secrets worth having.

You don't have to be actually evil, but it sure helps!

Death to the Infidels! (Uh, You're on Our Side, Right?)

Now we have FTP sites via the Internet and patchfiles distributed on newsgroups, rather than the OS/360 Project Notebook maintained by armies of documentation clerks. But apart from that, I'm hard put to see a major difference in social organization.

Yes, this freedom-of-information on the OS/360 project was IBM-internal, but so what? There were literally thousands of people working on OS/360 at one point, quite a sizeable community. Maybe larger than the number of people who have ever contributed a line of code to GNU/Linux. Why would such a community look outside itself? After all, even outside, except for a few niches, IBM was the world of computing. Information wants to be free, I suppose, but programmers want to be paid. OS/360 programmers had everything they could have wanted. Nice salaries. A prestigious host organization. A large community of similarly-spirited co-workers. Access to all the information they needed to do their jobs (and much more.) Not to mention that there were - by virtue of Brook's early, and now openly regretted, decision to triage "conceptual integrity" in the interests of getting everybody busy - lots of opportunities for creative (if not terribly original) work.

What a revelation. Fred Brooks, Bazaar Model developer. Way back in the mid-60s. But now, more amazingly, a lapsed Bazaar Model developer (if only by conflating information-hiding in software with information-hiding in organizations.) Who'd've thunk it?

I find it very persuasive that Microsoft is, internally, a bazaar- model development organization, a la OS/360. Knowing what we now know about how the Bazaar Model works, it helps explain Microsoft's enduring success. Not to mention all the feeping creaturism.

Comparative Religion: Refining the Taxonomy

To reiterate: In Islamic Republics, the center of powerful ideas is the community of religious scholars and ecclesiarchs, which locates itself in the center of economic power in those countries, and sets the terms of trade within those countries to a great extent. In the extreme cases (Iran), the insularity and self-righteousness runs to truly fanatical extremes.

Too bad the Mullahs aren't in Janet Reno's jurisdiction, huh?

It might, from this point onward, become necessary to make some finer distinctions in our use of the term "Bazaar Model". Prior to what may be a prematurely-characterized Netscape Enlightenment, we can clearly distinguish these two:

1. Fundamentalist Shi'ite Bazaar Model

Microsoft is the paragon now, but it seems to have independently re-evolved Project OS/360 characteristics.

In my brief, ill-fated, stint at Taligent, the same mentality - and the same OS/360 diseases - seemed prevalent. Parallels abound - new processor architecture, incoherent OS architecture (too many architects), too many projects, little outsourcing, and...IBM was involved! (Hey, maybe Taligent was all just an IBM plot to weaken Apple! Who else would know better than IBM that it could never work? But...nah. Never attribute to malice what can be perfectly well explained by stupidity.)

I suspect the same problems will recur in any corporate-captive programming community that reaches a certain size with a common focus. SGI? Sybase? Both have repeated the history of OS/360 in recent years. Oracle's NC thrust appears to have been a similarly hubristic move.

Ayatollahs? Hoo boy, do they ever have Ayatollahs. "We want 100% of the market." How will it all work out?

Easy. Just remember: "God is great."

2. Baptist Church-Social Bazaar Model

Linux, notably, but also the BSD sects. There is religiousity in the air, but - within decent Protestant limits - a tolerance for diversity.

Commercial vendors of a size modest enough to be admitted to the community (Red Hat, Debian, etc.), are well-regarded, by and large. Main Street is OK - anything bigger is suspect.

Most people still need day jobs, though. How will it all work out?

Easy. Just remember: "God will provide."

But there's a stir in the churchyard. Somebody's arriving.

With Netscape throwing its hat into the ring (or is the free software community throwing its hat into theirs?) ...well, as Eric Raymond says, "this is the Big Time."

Or is it?

Pizza! Pepsi! Stock Options! Hallelujah!

What does it mean, exactly, for the vendor of a popular piece of commercial software to show up at the Baptist Church Social, and declare itself ready for immersion in the waters of the Holy Spirit - provided it's good for business? Especially a vendor that has been "Embracing and Extending" HTML as feverishly (and stupidly) as those Shi'ite Fundamentalists in Redmond?

Yep, you guessed it. You get

3. The Marc Andreesen Reformed Church of the Almighty Dollar Church-Social Bazaar Model

All bazaar booths are allocated by Netscape.

All bazaar merchandise must be tagged "brought to you by Netscape." Special branding irons are used in the case of cotton candy.

Modest-sized vendors who don't sign license agreements with weasel-wording will be strapped into the "dunk bozo" seat, and the top-intellectual property law firms of the Valley will take turns pitching the baseballs to see who can tank them.

Most people still need day jobs, though. How will it all work out?

Easy. Just remember:

"God is cool."

Now let us pray.