In the Web's early days, site builders would hastily plaster the phrase "Under Construction" on their home pages as their projects fell further and further behind schedule. The label became first a cliche, then a badge of cluelessness, and finally a source of amusement.
Nonetheless, we must report, in all seriousness, that the site you are reading is very much under construction. What we're doing is taking a book about the history, ideas and personalities behind the free-software/open-source movement -- a book that Andrew Leonard is in the process of writing -- and posting it, in pieces, here, as it's written. We're publishing the book as a work in progress and inviting readers -- Linux veterans and newbies alike -- to post their comments, criticisms and reactions. Leonard will in turn respond, and incorporate changes in the text as seems right.
Our hope is that this format will subject the book to the same kind of online peer review that the open-source movement applies to its software code. Everybody benefits: We get to improve the editorial product we're creating, and visitors to the site get what we hope will be a unique informational resource -- a take on this story that you won't find anywhere else.
Leonard, a senior technology writer with Salon and the author of "Bots: The Origin of New Species" (Wired, 1997), has been covering the free-software movement since 1997, and we think he's got a special talent for writing about this subject in a way that wins the respect of experts while remaining accessible to a wider readership. In addition to mixing it up with his readers and critics, Leonard will also keep a journal regularly updated online, detailing the state of his current research, enabling readers to jump in and suggest possible lines of inquiry.
We'd like to see the Free Software Project grow over time into a Web site that serves as a permanent reference for users seeking information about this phenomenon. In addition to the full text of Leonard's book chapters -- with new installments likely to be posted about once a month -- we will offer a growing library of resources for anyone interested in learning more about free and open-source software, including a complete set of links to Salon's extensive coverage of the field and regularly updated links to important news and information on other sites across the Web.
Mostly, we hope to use this project as an experiment in online journalism that gives us an opportunity to ask the kinds of questions that get lost in today's environment of bite-sized information and context-free news bursts. What does the rise of Linux mean for the global information economy, for Microsoft and the other proprietary software corporations and for the general public? How is the saga of free software also the story of how the Internet came to be? Where is it going, and where did it come from?
We picked this site's title in homage to the free-software community's naming convention for long-term software development enterprises: the Apache Project, the GNU Project and so on. Though coding a program and writing a book are distinctly different processes, we're interested in seeing how well the open-source methodology translates from one to the other. We hope you'll enjoy the result, and join us in the discussions.
-- Scott Rosenberg