|Linux: Cooperative Software Development and Internet|
Proceedings of the First Dutch International Symposium on Linux - December 1994 at Amsterdam, Pages 56-59, State University of Gronigen, 1995|
Sabine Helmers, Kai Seidler , 1/95
|1 Intro: Internet Culture|
|Internet is more than just the network's technology, it is also the people who are shaping and using the network. The Net consists of human and machine communication and links a global computer community. Net insiders themselves as well as external ethnographers are aware of the existence of a specific culture within the realm of the Internet (Steele et al.; Hauben and Hauben; Hardy 1993; Helmers 1994). In spite of recent dramatic changes in the Net population, the traditions of the First Nation in Cyberspace, who established and designed the Net since its early beginnings, are largely still valid and influencing the Internet life of today. Among the values and characteristics of their cultural heritage are: a favour for free flow of information and information sharing, cooperativeness, liberality, self- regulation, and technical expertise. On the grounds of this culture and supported by a large, fast, communicative network, cooperative projects are a widespread phenomenon in the networld. They encompass various kinds of joint work: texts (e.g. the now legendary Hacker's Dictionary), standards (RFC) and software development - like in the case of Linux.|
|2 Cooperative Linux Development|
Linux is an offspring of Internet's cultural tradition: It is
Unix. And it is free and comes with all the sources. The Linux
kernel copyright has been placed under GNU general public licence
(policy described by Stallman) by Linus Torvalds. In summer 1991
he gave a first Linux version to the Net. With version 0.12 of
january 1992 cooperative development started. The speed of
development has accelerated and the number of Linux users has
today increased up to an estimated amount of several hundreds of
thousands. In an interview, Linus Torvalds describes the
advantages of a
"... "free" development that results from a lot of unconnected persons having access to sources and doing lots of modifications. ... Linux development has never had any real well- defined goals. Problems have been solved as they come up, and features have been added when somebody has been interested enough to write the code (and I've felt the result was "worthy")." (Meta Magazine. See also Walsh 1994).
Development speed in free software projects on Internet can be faster than in commercial developments because developers are working on something that is interesting to them, they don't have to programme according to any marketing requirements for commercial distribution, and the numbers of people testing programmes are usually much larger than in business development projects. Internet's big free software projects are of high quality. "Programming has an irresistable fascination for some people, usually the people who are best at it", writes Richard Stallman.
|3 Linux and Internet|
Studying Linux and other projects like FreeBSD or GNU which are,
besides all the actual differences, quite similar in their
"spirit", reveals a picture of how software design looks like whendevelopers create something for themselves, which fits their
needs, purposes and tastes. These projects show subjects or tasks
that are considered important or interesting enough to spend some
time and energy on. And in turn it shows subjects that are not
considered important or interesting and are consequently neglected
by the Net public.
"While Linux has a very reasonable development environment and a lot of programmers that would potentially be able to write a good word processor or spreadsheet or whatever, there are some problems which make me me doubtful that it will happen soon. ... A program like a word proceessor has no "glamour": it may be the program that most users would want to and most programmers would agree that it's not a simple thing to write, but I also think they find it a bit boring." (Linus Torvalds, Meta Magazine)
Linux is Unix and Unix is Internet - at least Unix and Internet are close relatives. So, if one wishes to gain an understanding of the huge Internet, then a close look at Unices should reveal some insights of the principles and characteristics that are true for the whole Internet. Cooperative software development is part of the Unix traditions ("Devil Book", Leffler et al. 1989; Hauben).
An interesting question is what motivates people to contribute to a free software project. Individual and social motivations may be found:
Within the last 1-2 years, large numbers of Internet users who
are regarded as "Others" are entering the common playground. More
and more non-technical people are now on Internet and there is a
growing impact of commercialism. These "Others" are not believed
to be potential supporters for projects of cooperative software
development like Linux. Today, no-one is able to predict how the
future of Internet will look like. And what will happen to the
Internet's traditions which still radiate a positive climate for
cooperative software projects as well as the resources and
facilities that have supported such efforts until today. E.g. the
charging structures and price policies for net traffic and net
access are currently debated by governmental and business
organizations in several countries. Existing self-regulatory
practices are discussed. The "Clipper Chip War" is a hot topic.
Business users complain about the state of security and
It is highly likely that the Internet's design will be much reshaped in the near future in order to adapt it to the needs of the rapid changing net population. That doesn't mean necessarily that the moment "The Real World" has finally taken over the Net, all of the traditions of "The good old days" - as some Netizens sigh - will disappear like dinosaurs or can only kept alive in reservations or museums. Cooperative software development as practiced in Internet will continue and may well serve as a general model which can be applied to contexts different from "The good old days" of the Net.
Hardy, Henry Edward, 1993, The History of the net. Master's
Thesis, School of Communications, Grand Valley State University,
Hauben, Ronda and Michael Hauben, The netizens and the Wonderful World of the net.
Hauben, Ronda, The Role of Unix in the Development of the net and in the Automation of Telephone Support Operations. (In Hauben and Hauben: The netizens...)
Helmers, Sabine, 1994, Internet im Auge der Ethnographin. WZB discussion paper FS II 1994-102. Berlin.
Leffler, Samuel J. et al, 1989, The Design and Implementation of the 4.3BSD UNIX Operating System. Reading, Addison-Wesley.
Meta Magazine, The Choice of a GNU Generation, Interview with Linus Torvalds.
Stallman, Richard, The GNU Manifesto.
Steele, Guy L. et al. (Eds.), The Hacker's Dictionary.
Walsh, Matt, 1994, The Design and Philosophy of Linux. Chapter 2.6 of Linux Installation and Getting Started. Version 2.0.
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