If you are interested in Linux and FLOSS, in knowing their history and how they came to be in the first place; here's a list of books and documentaries for you; in a suggested order. The list is far from being exhaustive, but it's a great start that everyone into this should take into account as basic general knowledge.
If you prefer watching something first, before committing to this lengthy book primer, then feel free to watch Revolution OS, and come back here afterwards to get into details.
It all starts with Hackers, in the old meaning of the term and of the hacker culture; not the distorted media term that has become common usage and has settled in everyone's mind. The first book on the list is entitled just that: Hackers - heroes of the computer revolution, by Steven Levy. A fascinating and easy read; almost romantic.
Hackers last chapter is about Richard Stallman. Hence, the natural sequel to Steven Levy's book is Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. Even if that wasn't the case, this book is the very first one you should read about FLOSS.
Free as in Freedom is an authorized and co-authored Richard Stallman biography and history of Free Software. If you happen not to know who Richard Stallman is, this book should be your priority read. Richard Stallman is the Founding Father of everything that has spawned from the GPL and the FSF. You don't have to necessarily agree with his views to acknowledge that without him there would not be anything we talk about here, at all. Nothing that is Copyleft wouldn't exist today. No Linux, no Free Software, no Open Source, no Wikipedia, no Raspberry Pi, no Arduino; possibly not even several programming languages nor the Internet as we know it (which has grown exponentially, thanks to its open nature); no Creative Commons; and so on.
On the other side of the ring, we have Linus Torvalds. I'm sure that most of you know about him or have heard of him, as opposed to the less famous Richard Stallman. You may know Linus, at the very least, as the father of Linux and Git; two technologies that have revolutionized modern IT.
Linus and Linux importance are apparent to most people and under the sun for everyone to see; understanding how it came to be, is very interesting. His autobiography is another must. It's also very light to read: "Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary".
Revolution OS is a must watch 2001 documentary film that stars some of the leading exponents and significant representatives of this whole world; prominent hackers and entrepreneurs including:
- Richard Stallman
- Linus Torvalds
- Bruce Perens
- Eric S. Raymond
- Michael Tiemann
- Larry Augustin
- Frank Hecker
- Brian Behlendorf
In this documentary film, the story of GNU, Linux, Free Software and Open Source, is told by the people who either created them or have had a massive influence on their course and companies alike; to kickstart what today is a very well established reality.
The Code is another documentary film, similar to Revolution OS and published the same year, featuring some of the most influential people of the free software movement, and tells the story of Linux. If you have to watch one, watch Revolution OS. Here are the featured advocates:
- Linus Torvalds
- Richard Stallman
- Alan Cox
- Eric S. Raymond
- Robert "Bob" Young
- Jon "maddog" Hall
- Theodore Y. "Ted" Ts'o
- David S. Miller
- Miguel de Icaza
- Ari Lemmke
- Eric Allman
- Andrew Leonard
- Larry Augustin
- Martti Tienari
- Sun Yu-Fang
- Liang Changtai
- Jay Salzenberg
You may have heard of the terms "Free Software" and "Open Source"; but what are they? What do they mean? What are the differences between them? Why do both exist in the first place?
If you have been a model student, and have read the books so far advised or have, at the very least, watched Revolution OS, you know that Richard Stallman dedicates his life entirely to (and the FSF efforts go toward) the former. On the other hand, Linus Torvalds has a more pragmatic and cynical view and tend to lean toward the latter.
On the other hand, The Open Source Movement is more loose and relaxed and pursues a more business-oriented approach. In fact, the term Open Source itself was born pretty early in the history of Free Software, to better appeal businesspeople who were starting to hear about this new wonder, still in its infancy.
Here are some examples of some of the movements, based on the same principles, that they spawned over the years:
Taking the world by storm
FLOSS is so pervasive nowadays, to the extent that is ridonkulous to believe, that is hard to imagine all of the struggles it went through before the affirmation that led to incredible positive ramifications. However, in the past, before fostering innovation from the digital to the physical world, and slowly but steadily taking over the world, one sector at the time; FLOSS was ridiculed, fought over by big companies, derided, dismissed. A typical quote (often mistakenly attributed to Gandhi), sums it up nicely and it's now true more than ever:
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”
So, how did it all start to become real? How did it move forward by leaps and jumps, and gained businesses and companies trust to become so fundamentally rooted in every technology we know today?
An example of the ramifications that that single event had on Linux and FLOSS history is that companies like IBM started investing money and resources into them; developing the first big business model around them and aggressively market them.
In the meantime, the Internet was growing at a fast pace, thanks to Apache HTTPd; the first world-class practical example of what FLOSS was worth; and Linux killer-app; allowing both to grow immensely.
Free Software vs Open Source
I have used the term FLOSS to describe both movements at the same time, and Free Software and Open Source distinctively, for a reason: they have diverged profoundly over the years that is necessary to understand their differences fully. Both have qualities and flaws and pursue laudable goals. At this point, if you have read the recommended books, and you are now passionate about it all; you are in complete control to investigate further and make up your mind about it. Nonetheless, here are two essential reads on the matter:
You should know about Bryan Lunduke's talks "Linux Sucks": a series of clever "rants", full of interesting perspectives, about why and how Linux sucks on so many different levels. The latest one, at the time of this writing the one held at LFNW 2018, is another fun-to-watch must: Linux Sucks. Forever.
In his latest, Lunduke has a different approach from the old videos in the series, where real problems being stoppers of "the year of the Linux Desktop", were the main focus. This last talk, instead, is a parallelism with the past and present of Linux. In some respect, Linux times became bright; depending on how you look at it. But it's this very success, that is the one thing to take away from this talk. Linux corporate success is (going to be) the main reason of its own failure.
Admittedly, most people are more familiar with Creative Commons than FLOSS or Linux. Most have, at least, heard of them once or twice. If you have followed the reading list and got to this point, you should have a deeper understanding of what Copyleft is, by now.
There's a lot of confusion around Creative Commons: its licenses and what they cover and allow. The common misconceptions around Creative Commons (and Open Source in general), is that they mean "gratis". To understand them fully you should know who Lawrence Lessig is and why he has created Creative Commons in the early 00s: what issues about Copyright was he tackling and try to ease for creators and users alike?
Read the man himself, writing all about it: CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on How it All Began. At the end of the article, you'll find more useful links to articles and resources about Creative Commons.
For completeness of information sake, here's a brief list of what Creative Commons is:
- Creative Commons were created by Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001.
- Creative Commons is NOT mutually exclusive of copyright.
- Creative Commons is a set of licenses, for creative works, reciprocal to Copyright.
- Creative Commons is Copyleft, and they build upon and expand what Richard Stallman started in the early 80s with the GPL.
- Creative Commons allows copyright holders to license their work in a direct, clear and concise way to a third party, with a set of simple rules to define what's legally feasible with said creative works; a contract that needs no signing, if you will.
- Feel free to read Lawrence Lessig books.
Undeniably, what hacker means has changed over the decades, thanks to the media and their distorted perception that played a significant role into transforming it in only meaning computer criminals. If you have read Steven Levy's book, you know that the epilogue about Richard Stallman is entitled "The Last of The True Hackers". 'Nuff said.
However, if you are enthralled by hacking and security as I am, here is a second reading list about computer criminals, (to read after you've read at least Hackers by Steven Levy!). The following books are based on some of the most famous hackers true stories of exploits and biographical books. A glimpse into modern hackers lives if you will. I can guarantee you three things about reading these books:
If you like superheroes stories for their incredible narrative, you will be enthralled and sucked in by these books about real-life hackers.
You'll be surprised, astounded and gobsmacked to learn what is even remotely possible for crackers to do with the right motivation.
It will be an eye-opening experience: these stories seem too impossible to be true, for how articulated they are and how unlikely and improbable they seem. At times you will be thinking "this is fiction, I don't buy it".
Should you be thinking about Hollywood crap movies, don't. We are talking about the real deal here.
Like every other topic in this post, these books and documentaries are nowhere near exhaustive but make a great primer.
- The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security
- The Art Of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind The Exploits Of Hackers, Intruders, And Deceivers
The only biography/story you should read or watch about Kevin Mitnick:
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker
- Freedom Downtime
Do NOT read or watch Takedown. It's a dishonest book about Mitnick and his capture; and same goes for the derived movie.
- Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking
- Unmasking the Social Engineer: The Human Element of Security
Old but Gold
While this primer focus is on hackers and FLOSS, we couldn't talk about these topics without the mandatory mentions of the computer industry. Here are some valuable historical references, in the form of documentary. Some of these resources were pulled from the Internet. See if you can find any media to read or watch to quench your thirst.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HomebrewComputerClub 1
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheSecretHistoryofHacking 1
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumphofthe_Nerds 1
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerds_2.0.1 1
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NerdTV 2
Here's a bonus: an author I love, and I strongly suggest you read Cory Doctorow. He is a Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author and his books are about the topics we have covered in this primer, besides being great stories to read. The most pertinent here, a book that you'll love, is "Little Brother". From Wikipedia:
a novel about four teenagers in San Francisco who, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and BART system, defend themselves against the Department of Homeland Security's attacks on the Bill of Rights.
His books are, besides hard copies you can buy, also available in Creative Commons; download them in PDF from his website: https://craphound.com