Reflection: The Cathedral and the Bazaar

These are my personal reflections about the article The Cathedral and the Bazaar,written by Eric Raymond.

The premise of the article is that software development has two categories: a cathedral style and a bazaar style. According to Eric each choice has their own purposes and uses that make each unique and effective in their own way. However a majority of the article involves an anecdote about him initially discovering what is known as the bazaar style. This anecdote involves his development of the open source software fetch mail. Within the anecdote are pieces of programming wisdom provided by Eric to be used by any programmers reading the article.

As for my personal view, I found the premise to be interesting. I think the theme of the paper is accurate and Eric takes a fair shake on it. He mentions that most of the time the core of a program is cathedral style, while the innovation and tools added onto the program are done bazaar style. This blend of the styles is what makes the most sense to me. You want to have skilled programmers who understand the main concept to develop a strong foundation. Then the community can help build the rest.

I also found the anecdote quite entertaining and a good example of how bazaar style can be effective. I agree with a majority of his claims such as releasing early and treating the user as a co-developer. These kinds of concepts were newer to the field back in 1996 but have flourished today, and for good reason. As Eric points out, the most famous example of the bazaar technique was Linus’ work with the linux system. This system was only the beginning. Today programs such as filezilla and firefox are quite competitive in the market and show that bazaar techniques can lead to a more stable and better built programs.

There is one area where I have to disagree with Eric though. I think he does not address issues appropriately. He writes a great article about how awesome this style is and how great the bazaar is but does not anticipate audience response. Now he may not be going for a purely argumentative paper or persuasive paper, but at the least I would hope he would counter people who say the bazaar style is a poor way of doing things. Like most open source writers he does not appropriately address the issue of payment. The thing about a bazaar is that the people in a bazaar are making money, they do not come there out of the kindness of their heart and do everything for free. This is where is analogy seems to be off the mark.

However, I am not suggesting this is a mortal flaw with the argument for open source. Just as he says near the middle of the article. By making the program open source he had thousands of users looking at bugs and suggesting ways to fix them. I just feel like his analogy incorrectly depicts the relationship between core developers (cathedral builders) and the community (bazaar). A more appropriate way to describe this relationship is a house being built by an architect in a community. Then the community volunteers to help their neighbor make some great improvements to the house, motivated by either their like of the neighbor or just wanting to try out their skills on improving the house.

Either way, this article was entertaining, funny, and convincing. Definitely worth the read.