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Thanks to Maya Tamiya at ChangeLog for performing this interview and providing it to us!

ESR interview (part I)

Eric S. Raymond came to Japan to speak at several places in Tokyo and Kyoto. We had a chance to have an interview with him at Kyoto Sangyo University on May 28, before his talk. We would like to thank Eric for kindly answering to our questions. We also would like to thank Tomoko Yoshida, Greg Peterson, Chihiro Higuchi, Ushio Kaihara and other members who managed to realize Eric's lecture and our interview in Kyoto, and Kenji Rikitake and Tatsuya Sasawawa for their advice.

ChangeLog: When will your next paper "The Magic Cauldron" come out?

ESR: In only a few weeks. As a matter of fact, I have what I think will be the final version on my computer. So it will come out in a few weeks.

ChangeLog: I heard that the paper discusses about how a company can benefit by making its software an open source software, without selling it directly.

ESR: It includes that, but it's not the only thing in it. But it includes those ideas.

One of the things that I identify in that paper is the eight business models. For six of which we have real world examples which permit you to make actual profits from open source software, so yes, I do talk about that, but that's not the only thing in the paper.

ChangeLog: When you released "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", the most influenced company was probably Netscape. Which company will be the most influenced one by "The Magic Cauldron"?

ESR: Well, I don't know it because it has not happened yet. (laugh)

ChangeLog: Do you have one in your mind? Should we buy that company's stocks now?

ESR: (laugh) One particular company I'm thinking about... Right now, the OSI is negotiating with IBM about some things. I can't talk about details, but I can tell that you may see some interesting announcements from IBM in the near future.

ChangeLog: Is IBM asking you for your advice?

ESR: Yes they are. We are having some discussions that I can't talk about yet. It's not specificly about that paper, it's about what kind of license IBM might use for certain products that they are thinking of releasing as open source. So I'm discussing the way to use for it.


ChangeLog: You were MC of the panel discussion at the LinuxWorld in March. Since you were busy being MC, is there anything you could not say at the discussion?

ESR: That was quite hard, I tell you. I thought it was going to be required a panel discussion. I didn't expect the conference organizers to turn it into six thousand person rock concert. (laugh)

When you got six thousand people hanging on their every word, it's hard to have a serious discussion. So, it was a difficult work.

ChangeLog: Did you have anything that you have decided to say before the panel discussion?

ESR: My goal was for the people on the panel who I think were among the most important leaders of the open source, to discuss the things that actually needed to happen in the open source movement during the next year. We did actually found out the goals and they are now working on them.

ChangeLog: You talked about what to do in the next nine months, or within this year. Now three months have passed and has your goal changed since?

ESR: One of the objectives we identified was trying to increase the use of open source software in education. We can see it from the demos (Kyoto Sangyo University's Information Education System, which is made up of 603 Linux/NT dual boot machines and has been in use since this April, details also described in LWN) we just saw, that's actually happening. So that's right on schedule, I think.


ChangeLog: You are interested in Japanese culture and martial arts...

ESR: Yes I am. I am a student of Aikido. Very very new student of Aikido, I just started studying it a month ago. But before that, I spent almost 9 years studying Karate. I have a Shodan.

ChangeLog: You learned Karate and then Aikido?

ESR: Yes, Karate first and then Aikido. I think that way works better than the other way around, because, Karate is relatively simple, and Aikido is more settling complete technique.

ChangeLog: Do you think learning Japanese culture and Aikido influenced you especially as a hacker and as a representative of the OSI?

ESR: I don't know how it has influenced me but I can tell you that the interest in martial arts is very common among the American hackers. I'm not exceptional on that respect.

It's no longer rare in the United States, but it's more common among the hackers than elsewhere.

In fact, that was already clear back in 1991, when I did the New Hacker's Dictionary, one of the things I described was it has been typical of hackers back in 1991 that they are often interested in martial arts, and I think that's become more true in 8 years since.

ChangeLog: Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, mentioned about "Aikido for programmers" when he came to Japan last November. He said Aikido has various "forms" and you fight against your enemies using the best set of forms, and that has something in common with programming. What do you think about this point?

ESR: Larry is a good friend of mine, by the way.

I think what's similar is that both, martial arts and programming, require a certain kind of discipline of the mind that most other skills do not require. So there's a similarity in which you have to do up here (pointing to his head). I think that appeals to many programmers.

ChangeLog: You have been doing Karate for 9 years, so you must be the strongest in the hacker community?

ESR: I don't think so. Probably not. (laugh)

ChangeLog: Which is stronger, Tove or you?

ESR: (laughing, clapping his hands) Oh, probably she is. Probably she is. I haven't been champion of my country six times as she has. So she's probably much better than I am.

ChangeLog: We know your Karate and arms (guns) are perfect, but what happens if you are hit by a bus?

ESR: Then I die. Karma. (laughs)

ChangeLog: I mean, it is one of Linus FAQ, which goes like "what happens to Linux if you are hit by a bus"? What happens in your case?

ESR: Oh yes, there's another way to answer the question.

Part of the reasons that I founded the Open Source Initiative was to try and take what I had learned and teach it to other people, so that if I was got hit by a truck, the work could carried on by the organization. The OSI exists, partly, so that I won't be indispensable.


ChangeLog: Do you share the idea with Richard Stallman that selling binary software is a problem for the community?

ESR: No.

I think there are some circumstances under which it makes economic sense for a software to be open, and there are some circumstances under which it makes economic sense for a software to be closed. I don't think those circumstances are very common, but sometimes it makes sense to be closed.

I have no interest in forcing anybody to be open when they think it's a good idea for them to be closed. If being open works better, then people will learn that, and then they will do it. It's my job to educate people but it's not my job to crusade.

ChangeLog: Do you think binary software vendors survive in the future?

ESR: Yes.

I think they will have a much smaller piece of industry than they do now. In the future, my guess is that perhaps 5 to 15 percent of software will be closed, and that all software of infrastructure level, such as OS, network stacks, sure those kinds of software will be open, but I think closed software still exist and that doesn't bother me.

ChangeLog: How would you define a "good software"?

ESR: My definition of "good software" is, first of all, it doesn't crash! (laugh) It has to not crash, it has to keep working, that's pretty basic.

It has to do the jobs that it's designed to do in a way that human beings can understand, because if it's not true that human beings can use, it's pretty useless.

So it has to do the designed job well in the way that human beings can understand, and beyond that to get specific, you have to ask me what kind of software, because different kinds of software have different kinds of desirable qualities.

In some software, speed is all that's important, and in some software, user interface is the most important thing. In some software, correctly executing the particular complex algorithms is the most important thing. So it's very hard to be general about that.

But I think we can say that the very basic criterion is (knocking at the desk) it has to not crash!! (laugh)

ChangeLog: Would you give us an example of existing binary only good software?

ESR: Wow. That's tough. humm (thinking...)

you know, I haven't used binary only software for so long. (laughs... attendant: "what is that?"...)

I don't know, I guess some ... Netscape Navigator 4 isn't too bad, I use that.

(One of the attendants said "It doesn't meet your first criterion very well, it crashes all the time!")

It's interesting, it never crashes... well, in my experience it's not too bad. That's the only piece of binary only software I use with frequency......

(suddenly one software seemed to flash through his mind) .....oh, OH! This is even a windows software. Wow!

The only program that I spend any time running on windows machine, is a game called "Civilization". That's a pretty good programs.

Do you have it here in Japan? It's a strategy game.... (He gave an almost complete description of "Civilization", and seemed to keep talking about it on and on... )


ChangeLog: ....may we go on to our next question? (We only had limited time for this interview, so I had to say this.)

ESR: Yes, of course. (laugh)

ChangeLog: About Ken Thompson's comment on Linux on IEEE Computer magazine. He mentioned that Linux was worse than NT, and moreover, that was about reliability. You have clarified what he meant later, but that part was not included. So would you clarify on this point, too?

ESR: I think that the key thing that he said that should be understood is that he specifically said that his experience was that Linux on non-PC hardware was not reliable. If you go back to the original interview, that's what he said, which makes me suspect that he was using some flaky marginal port on an Alpha or PowerPC.

And it's true that those ports are not as reliable as the PC Linux, because they haven't had much use. They have not as much time for bugs to be shaken out of them. The interesting thing is that the fact that he specified non-PC hardware suggests that he had seen Linux one on PC so he had knew actually that was reliable.

But I wasn't able to get him to get me more details about them. I asked him what machine he's seen and he failed on, and he didn't tell me. So I couldn't wrote it in the press about that.

But that's the interesting point, I think he may have seen some non-PC port of Linux that was pretty marginal. He did say that he thinks open sources is a good idea so I was very relieved about that. (laughs)

Ken saying "Linux is no good" is like having Eisai come back and say "Zen is no good, it's disturbing!"


This was actually Eric's Zen joke, which I and other Japanese attendants there didn't understand....

According to a Japanese dictionary :-), Eisai was an old Japanese Buddhist monk who first brought Zen to Japan from China. Therefore Eisai saying "(Japanese) Zen is no good" is ridiculous, because it was actually derived from him. :-)

Eric said one of the things that surprised him in Japan was that he found out nobody seemed to understand his Zen jokes in Japan... the fact is, only few Japanese practice Zen now!


Later I had chance to talk with him, after his talk at Kyoto Sangyo University. He was very friendly.

I asked him a little trifling question that asked if he had any plan to make grades of open source software, such as "Top 100 OSS". He said "No, I don't. It would get me far too many political words if I tried! (in high voice) 'Why didn't you list my PC software!?!?' 'My software deserves to be on that list!!! ahhhhhh!!'... No I don't think I'd do. I get enough troubles doing what I'm doing."

He was all around a very nice person. Actually, much nicer than my expectation. I told him so, then he said "So you expected me to be obnoxious? Is that it? WHAT DID I DO??? PLEASE!! (laugh)"

He also told me a little about flaming. "Once I meet face to face they do not tend to flame at me. It's the ones I haven't met that sometimes get obstreperous. ", "People tend to flame me in public then send me nice letters in private. I kind of wish it was the other way around... :-)"

Last (but not least!), he said LWN was doing a very good job, and he likes "LWN daily", too!

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