Russell Pavlicek, Linux and Open Source evangelist, has written an impassioned little book that purports to explain to the non-geek world in particular why they should care about the Open Source movement and the success of OS systems like Linux and FreeBSD. Know what? He delivers.
There's a continuing avalache of technical/OS and other books and manuals, but very few that remind us why we should care about this stuff and, better yet, give us the tools, arguments and data to convince others.
"Embracing Insanity," by Russell C. Pavlicek (Linux Evangelist for Compaq's Professional Services organization, and 20-year computer industry veteran) is funny, smart and warm-hearted, something one could hardly expect from a book on the origins, meaning and history of the open source movement. Even though it's written by an OS veteran, it seems to be written mostly for the non-technical who need to come to terms with a movement that is both evolutionary and revolutionary.
Many of the people reading this will know some or all of the material in '"Embracing Insanity: Open Source Software Development."
This is a book to give your parents if they are wondering what you're doing up in your room all night, your teachers if they haven no clue as to why software has political, social and cultural implications, and perhaps as important, your boss, as he or she wonders why they need to understand open source and free software if they really want to do business in the 21st century.
It's not great literature, and doesn't purport to be. It is written with great heart, clarity and authority. "Embracing Insanity" is a history, a primer and a social biography. It explains what to do regarding OS, and what not to do, the sometimes bizarre nature and traditions of the OS culture.This is not a book that will confuse or scare off non-techies with language that isn't explained, or technical information taken for granted. Quite the contrary. It brings OS to life in a way that is completely accessible, explaining it's significance as a business and social model for many kinds of institutions, and its profoundly non-technological promise.
Pavlicek traces the growth of the OS and the free software movement, but he catches the weird (insane, perhaps) history and spirit of this particularly geek-driven phenomena. He sees OS as the liberation of the geek culture, for which he obviously has great feeling and empathy. One of his very neat ideas is that OS software development is "Essential Disruptive Technology," one of a hand of particular technologies that come out of nowhere to alter the direction of technical progress, change the rules, and catch all of the regular players off guard.
"...it is not so much that Open Source ventures onto technical ground that has never been explored before. But it does bring the rules and expectations from one area of technology (large computer systems) into another area (PC systems). And, most importantly, it does so in a way that defies the norms of the computer industry..." OS, he writes, is a new way of thinking about technology and computing, especially desktop computing.
"Embracing Insanity" is an proselytizing book (with a foreword by our own Robin "roblimo" Miller, Editor-In-Chief for the Open Source Development Network (formerly Andover.net). It's clear that Pavlickek has been trying to explain to people for years why anybody should care about OS, so he's written this book to make sure the argument continues and widens. "Embracing Insanity" is the view of a true believer about a movement that is widely misunderstood, and whose commercial and social significance is still lost on much of the non-geek world.
Pavlicek claims that OS explodes the myth of the anti-social geek. In a world where dread stereotypes of geeks pop up on the evening news nightly, nothing, he says, could be farther from the truth. Geeks are quite social, they just have a different set of priorities. The OS community, he says, uses a number of ways to sociall connect with each other, from basic Net tools like email and IRC, mailing lists and weblogs to the rapidly-proliferating OS news and discussion sites (like Linux Today). In the Linux community, bands of people come together all the time to talk about OS software and, in some cases, the free software movement.
Pavlicek covers some well-known OS history, but he also breaks some original ground, including when he talks about the moral values of OS beyond technology and software. One of the key values of OS and its community, he argues, is truth. "In a world where people are constantly exchanging ideas, evaluating concepts, and suggesting enhancements, it is vitally important that everyone speak the truth as he sees it. If someone fails to speak the truth, the process of creating software will be greatly impaired." The impact of anything less in the OS environment is devastating to the process of creating software. "If someone in charge of a piece of code willingly lies about how the code functions to other developers seeking to use that code, that person has caused great harm. Someone who lies to a development team could cost that team hundreds of even thousands of wasted hours of development. In that case, the liar has caused numerous individuals to waste precious hours of time chasing down a dead-end road."
There aren't too many media, social or political movements so dependent on truth or vulnerable to posturing, inaccuracies, hype and blatant falsehoods. Pavlicek explains why out this sometimes ill-tempered meticulousness is deeply rooted in geek culture, where mistakes have consequences, and where patience for fools and dissemblers is short. That could hardly be said of politics or media.
"Embracing Insanity" is an argument for OS, but Pavlicek bluntly spells out the business realities -- pro and con -- that underlie open source development. Is it good or bad for the bottom line, good or bad for the consumer, practical or not for everybody else? In addition to writing a primer of OS terms and names, he also dispels some myth and confusion. Lots of people don't know that Open Source isn't freeware, or that OS software isn't the same thing as public-domain software.
There aren't a lot of books coming out of the Open Source movement that you can hand to anyone with an interest in the future of technology -- that would cover a lot of people -- that so confidently captures the spirit, history and potential of one of the most interesting social and technological ideas in the world. OS may have started as a programming movement, but it has mushroomed well beyond that. Pavlicek grasps this big idea, even as many of his more technically-minded colleagues still resist it.
Geeks have had a hard time explaining the significance of OS to the world beyond. Now they don't have to. "Embracing Insanity" delivers on its promise to explain why society should care about this communal movement that seemed to come out of nowhere in response to the looming Microsoftization of the planet. It's almost a cliche in publishing to say a book is long overdue, but that's the perfect description here.
"Embracing Insanity" is the right gift for the people who have no idea what you're doing with your life, but may, for lots of important reasons, need or want to know.
Purchase this book at ThinkGeek.