The first part is a bunch of opinions, mostly an exercise for the reader to unleash his literary chops and aim those at attacking Tim O'Reilly. But other than showing a mastery of the pomousness, it stays there: as an opinion piece.
Later on, the author presents his case, and it is here that we find that both his knowledge and research on the topic are razor thin, allowing us to properly assess the first part of the article for what it truly is: a hatchet job written by a pompous man, who seems to seems to be creating a brand of his own by being a critic that "pulls no punches" and goes "straight to the jugular" (according to one Amazon review).
Perhaps this article is a companion to his new book that was recently released.
On to the substance!
While exploring the ascent of Tim O'Reilly's influence, the author portray's Tim's work by assembling anecdotes that he has collected over the internet. Had he interviewed people involved in the very events he describe, he would know that his story -while being easy to read by the judicious use of commas, colons and mixing subjects and verb in the correct orders- produces a profile of those days with the intelectual power of Fox News commentators. We are inches away from a Bill O'Reilly show down here.
First: O'Reilly was an important player on the adoption of Unix because he produces high-quality books on the various subjects that were needed early on. From the Unix programming languages, to the tools that powered servers, to the configuration of every obscure feature on these systems.
An entire generation that had no internet access, or Google resorted to O'Reilly's books to set up and operate the infrastructure that everyone takes for granted today.
So O'Reilly was a well known name long before "The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog" and his high-tech company that he sold came laters after his books were an international brand. People visiting the US would carry with them lists of O'Reilly books that they needed to bring back to their countries.
Then we move on to the rebranding of open source.
The author, who was 14 at the time of the branding for open source, talks with authority, drawing from messages from the very echo chamber that he claims to criticize.
By 1998 there was no name to describe free software or open source as we know it today. There was software that you could get for free, some of it with source, some without, some with strings attached, some with malware, some without, some was demoware, some of it was pay-what-you-want and every combination in between.
It is in this world where everything goes where the word "free" carries no meaning. Those that have been trying to promote the nascent Linux and the existing tools like Perl struggle with a way of differentiating when it comes to the very promotion of this software.
I know, because Unlike Evgeny, I was there.
Evgeny tries to rewrite history. There were no "two groups" before the name open source came to life. There were hundreds of disparate efforts, with different licenses, different development models. Some aligned with the ideology of the FSF, some not, and some completely unaware of the FSF existence or goals.
In fact, two years before the "open source" branding that Evgeny seems to focus so much on, Usenix gave the second Lifetime Achievements Award to the "Software Tools Project" whose work predates the work of Richard Stallman and the FSF. They were behind this in 1976, but they were not the only ones, there were other important communities that sprung to life wherever computers were available.
But Evgeny needs a good guy and a bad guy, so he frames the discussion in the narrowest possible terms, with Richard being the guy with the substance, while painting Tim as the marketer.
Evgeny then describes an orchestrated coup. This is just plain ridiculous. It did not exist, it did not happen.
It might be entertaining to read, but it is a fabrication.
There was no power to wrestle from anyone. There was no central planning.
The entire idea is ludicrous.
The FSF while an important force in 1998 was not the only player. The FSF in fact had failed at their most ambitious goal, to create a full operating system. They had done by a combination of having a technical vision that was too hard to implement with the manpower they had and by alienating those that wanted to help, causing defections to other platforms. By 1998 three major BSD-based operating systems were in use, a dozen Linux variations were in use.
There was no central control, just hundreds of independent efforts. And Linux was the poster child of decentralized development.
And like the world of today, the world back then had people that got along and people that did not get along.
The name was merely created by people that cared about promoting the software and were struggling to get traction due to the confusing nature of the dozens of different names in use at the time to refer to different kinds of software.
When the term came into use, it gained immediate adoption because it helped everyone that was actively campaining for the adoption of this new model.