Less to Raymond letter than meets the eye, or more?

Open source is about trust. It's not about who has the most money, but who has the most friends. Failure to grasp that fact is costing us the market. If that is the lesson of Raymond's letter, America's software dominance may fade fast.

ESREric Raymond (left) has switched his desktop from RedHat to Ubuntu.

Is that a headline? Sounds more like a celebrity endorsement to me.

And make no mistake, Eric Raymond is a celebrity. At least in the corner of the computing world called open source he is. People in this world recognize the initials ESR like politicians recognize JFK.

Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar is a sort of Wealth of Nations for software. It describes how Internet economics can help developers make money by working together, across corporate boundaries. His description of open source makes the proprietary model look positively mercantilist.

Smith's book was highly controversial and downright liberal in its time. England remained a colonial power for nearly two centuries after its publication. Smith's capitalism was embraced best beyond England's shores, most notably in America, which declared its independence the same year Smith's work was published.

American software companies have both ideological and commercial objections to Raymond's ideas. Thus we have a multiplicity of licenses, some far from simple, each designed to give its author some guarantee that customers won't just "take the stuff and run," the fear being that every customer might be a pirate in disguise.

Mark Shuttleworth (right), the South African entrepreneur behind Canonical, which manages Ubuntu, takes a far more straightforward approach to questions of utility and community. Raymond approves of the result, and says his switch from RedHat to Ubuntu took just a few hours.

On a practical level, of course, there is far less to this than meets the eye. RedHat is far more interested in the server market than the desktop market, where Ubuntu plays.

But on a philosophical level it represents a disturbing turn. Foreigners are taking our software market by making better use of our ideas than we are willing to.

Open source is about trust. It's not about who has the most money, but who has the most friends. Failure to grasp that fact is costing us the market. If that is the lesson of Raymond's letter, America's software dominance may fade fast.