Interview with Eric S. Raymond

Interview with Eric S. Raymond

Eric S. Raymond is author of one of the definitive books of the open source world “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. In this interview Mr. Raymond talks about a number of the projects he is involved in.

Tux people: Eric S. Raymond

Every field of knowledge has writing that defines the field. In the open source field one of the key essays is “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” by Eric Steven Raymond, or ESR as he is often known. In the essay Eric S. Raymond compares and contrasts the cathedral as a highly structured, highly organized approach of creating software against the faster adapting less structured bazaar like approach used in open source.

A book containing “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” [1] as well as some of Eric Raymond’s other essays have been published by O’Reilly Media with the ISBN: 0596001088. In addition, Eric Raymond has put a version of the “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” on his personal website.

Other books Mr. Raymond has been involved in include “The New Hacker’s Dictionary”[2], “The Art of Unix Programming”[3] among others [4].

Newer ESR projects include developing software to allow Linux boxes to talk to Global Positioning Satellite system receivers.

Eric S. Raymond wearing a Tux and showing one of his other interests, firearms.Eric S. Raymond wearing a Tux and showing one of his other interests, firearms.

CM: What inspired you to write “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”?

ESR: That paper had many sources, ranging from my college cultural-anthropology courses to evolutionary biology to Austrian economics. But the inspiration was simply my astonishment when I first booted up Linux in late 1993. It was too good for the conventional theory of software engineering to explain.

CM: You have advocated the label “Open Source” over “Free Software” why?

ESR: Because the term “free software” frightens and confuses people who wear suits. Those people have money and decision-making power that we need, so not confusing and frightening them is smart.

CM: Could you briefly tell us about your role in helping to convince Netscape to release the source code for their web browser (which now forms the basis for Mozilla)?

ESR: I didn’t know about my role at the time the decision was being made. The CEO of the company, Jim Barksdale, cited my paper as an inspiration at the press conference announcing it.

CM: How did you become a member of the Freespire Linux “Community Leadership Board”?

ESR: Kevin Carmony asked me to join after learning some of my concerns about Linux not getting desktop traction because the multimedia support is so poor.

CM: What else would you like readers of Free Software Magazine to know about you?

ESR: They can visit the programming project I’m putting most of my time into at

CM: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.


[1] Raymond, Eric S. “The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary”, O’Reilly and Associates:2001

[2] Raymond, Eric S. “The New Hacker’s Dictionary” MIT Press:1993

[3] Raymond, Eric S. “The Art of UNIX Programming” Addison-Wesley Professional:2003

[4] Debra Cameron, James Elliott, Marc Loy, Eric S. Raymond, Bill Rosenblatt “Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition” O’Reilly:2004



Paul Gaskin's picture

CM: You have advocated the label “Open Source” over “Free Software” why?

ESR: Because the term “free software” frightens and confuses people who wear suits. Those people have money and decision-making power that we need, so not confusing and frightening them is smart.


I think that's not a very compelling reason to re-brand the free software movement. I consider ESR's unilateral choice to re-brand the free software movement and to de-emphasize freedom a bad choice.

People who wear suits and are frightened by the phrase "free software" can kiss my ass. I really don't give a flying rat's ass about what they think if the words "free software" frighten and confuse them.

Also, I think "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is greatly overrated. The General Public License explicitly protects the fundamental freedoms which the collaborative development model (which Raymond calls the bazaar) are based on.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar was my first description of a GPL-licensed project (Linux kernel project) and I credit ESR's misinformation for giving me a false impression of what was happening and why. Later I corrected my understanding through my own experience. Now I'm a contributing member of the FSF.

Terry Hancock's picture

Quite a bit of software now in the commons was "suit" financed: Mozilla,, Blender, BRL-CAD, Zope, and even Unix were developed under "conventional" proprietary methods (by commercial or government interests) and only later released as free software. They all needed some kind of business rationale to do that release, not just a set of ideals (you can spend your own money on your ideals, but when you're spending other people's money, you've got to prove you were acting in their interest in a very tangible way).

If speaking "suit" helps get us those kinds of results, I'm for it.

People will learn the jargon in time anyway, and the ideology is much more obvious to people once they are using free software.

Paul Gaskin's picture

The choice software companies face is to free their software, or watch the community make it available for free. It's better for them if they sell support, consulting and customization rather than software licenses.

You know what gets their attention? Losing money to an upstart which uses free software. That's when they let hairy people into the board rooms to tell them how to make it stop.

I intend to make money without every saying "open source" and without ever forgetting to include GNU in the name of GNU's derivative operating systems, such as GNU/Linux or GNU/Solaris.

Terry Hancock's picture

ESR's writings, particularly "The Magic Cauldron" have provided me with a lot of inspiration. It's important to take a rational, objective look at how these systems work so that we can learn how far they can be extended.

It was his arguments in TMC that convinced me that there was nothing really stopping the idea from being extended into hardware design. There are some problems to solve, but free software points the way to a better way to do a lot of creative activities.

Author information

Colin McGregor's picture


Colin McGregor ( works for a Toronto-area charity, does consulting on the side and has served as President of the Toronto Free-Net. He also is secretary for and occasional guest speaker at the Greater Toronto Area Linux User Group meetings.