Date: November 1999
From: Christopher Hart
To: Frankly Speaking
I'd have to agree with Doug Thompson about O'Reilly "legitimizing" Zope,
because that is exactly the effect that O'Reilly books have. Sure the
people who have been using Zope and its predecessors, and the Python
community, are excited about it, but an O'Reilly book usually introduces a
technology to a wider audience and does provide legitimacy to technically
savvy managers. Where do you think Perl would be without the
IMHO if a technology topic is useful enough that you fine folks publish a
book on it, it is probably a safe bet that the technology is worthwhile.
Hart Edwards Corporation, Inc.
Legitimacy may have lost whatever charm it once had.
You may remember the story in The Soul of a New Machine (Tracy
Kidder; Atlantic Monthly Press; 1981. ISBN# 0-316-49170-5) about Edson
DeCastro, then the CEO of Data General. DG, DEC, Prime, and HP had all been
selling nimble minicomputers for some time, growing by leaps and bounds,
stealing sales from ponderous IBM mainframes. IBM, bowing to this
pressure, finally released a minicomputer of its own. Business writers then
said that IBM's entry "legitimized" the minicomputer.
When he saw this story, DeCastro had a full-page newspaper ad composed. It
said only: "They Say IBM's Entry Into the Minicomputer Market Will
Legitimize the Industry. The Bastards Say, Welcome."*
DeCastro had two points: 1) the minicomputer companies were doing fine and
didn't need IBM's approval; and 2) being legitimate wasn't necessarily a goal.
The story of computer technology development, in large part, is the story
of the victory of the bastards over the legitimate heirs. Consider Unix vs.
proprietary OSes; TCP/IP vs. OSI; the Internet vs. (the original) MSN;
Linux vs. commercial Unix; Perl vs. C. Legitimacy is not the right metaphor
here, because it stresses the value of origins. A better metaphor is
adoption. If a technology is useful and powerful, the cognoscenti will
adopt it. As it becomes widely adopted, more and more people are aware of
it and consider it for their own use.
It is an understanding of this phenomenon that has led a number of
technology providers, including Digital Creations, creator of Zope, to
release their technology in an open-source form. They don't want their
technology to be blessed by anyone, including O'Reilly; they want it to be
adopted by lots of people.
O'Reilly doesn't legitimize. If we did, lots of technology creators who
enjoy their status as bastards would shun us. We try to find the
technologies that are interesting and powerful, that solve the problems
people really have. Then we take pleasure in publishing an interesting book
on that subject.
I'd like to put another issue to rest: the Camel book did not legitimize
Perl. It may have accelerated Perl's adoption by making information about
Perl more readily available. But the truth is that Perl would have
succeeded without an O'Reilly book (as would Python and Zope), and that
we're very pleased to have been smart enough to recognize Perl's potential
before other publishers did. We had similar good fortune with Python, not
to mention sendmail, X, MySQL and mSQL, and DocBook, to name but a few.
We're pleased with our success, but don't call us legitimate, either. If
readers ever stop picking up our books to find out about important
technologies, we'll just be has-been overtaken by a more audacious pretender.
*Data General did not run the ad; DeCastro had it framed and
displayed in his office, however.
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