Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Posted:8/25/1999; 12:17:47 PM
Topic:Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Msg #:9871 (In response to 9840)
Prev/Next:9870 / 9872

One difference between open source software and publishing content is that the open source software, like almost all other software is covered by a license. Typically the only license available for print is the copyright, which also applies to source. Copyleft and other licenses cover the use of software which the user agrees too upon download, or execution or whatever.

All commercial software comes with a license with it's own limitations, exclusions, provisions and what not. Typically the biggest purpose of the license is meant to indemnify the author of any responsibility for damage from the use of that software. I think this is a two edged sword. I certainly wouldn't want Linus Torvalds held accountable for some kernal failure on a linux controlled nuclear powerplant...but I sure would like to see some accountability in Redomond for all the wasted hours I've had to put in, just to deal with Windows reboots.

O'Reilly could possibly release their content under a license you must agree too one way or another. Such a license may require any other publisher to reimburse the author and O'Reilly for the contents initial production.

A second difference between open source software and open content is that open source software, and the community that surrounds it is based on giving. Eric Raymond's analysis of this seems pretty right on. The open source software community is a gift culture. The reason such a culture can exist is because lots of good programmers get paid for doing technical work and they can also produce software that can be shared with the community and thereby increase their cachet with the community and thereby increase their own income. (it's virtuous circle really).

Frontier has worked like a mini-gift culture for a long time. I always found Dave's early critiques against OSS a bit odd, especially when he was giving away Frontier! Lots of open source with Frontier and lots of calls and interest and investment in giving and sharing by everyone involved. Dave's value as a developer has gone up because of this certainly. XML-RPC is a perfect example of this.

Eric Raymond has a really good article on the economics of open sourcing software.

As a rule though, developers want open source. The instant messaging API/SDK issue being an example of where Dave wants source (or something close to it) and MS seems to want to acquire another proprietary market (from AOL).

Everyone wants books online, primarily so they can be searched, or so they can do something the author didn't do with her information. Not unlike wanting source to do something the original author didn't think of, or couldn't do.

There is a third difference between software and book publishing though. Book prices are much lower than software prices. I doubt there will ever be that much pressure to open source books because of the price. Besides, I don't think books in general meet Eric Raymond's typical economic requirements for going open source.


As a personal note, I have read both Java and c++ programming books at the local pool and aftwords I would go home and do the examples on computer. It was a good way to learn, letting me do laps and lay in the sun as I learned new concepts.

But this year when I dove into linux and setup my own home box and boxes at work, I did buy a linux book, and read parts from many others at B&N, just like another poster. But truthfully, I learned the most from reading faq's, manuals, and doing searches online. In fact, the man pages for most stuff are really helpful. Every one of my major issues was resolved this way, and 90% of my minor ones. It didn't help matters when the book refered to the man page!

For the most part though, I was already familiar with unix. I was typically asking questions of myself like "How do I do X?" My only complaint was I wish there were better search engines at RedHat. Though it has improved somewhat.

If I needed to learn about linux in general, I would buy a book. If I need to do some technical thing in particular, I turn to the web. If I need a reference book, I'll buy an O'Reilly nutshell book.

In other words: Reference and reading=book, information=web

Just to prove this distinction, I've been printing all 500 pages or so of the "IBM Building AS/400 Applications for Java Redbook" from the web because I want to read it in bed.

thanks for reading.


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