Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare?

A commenter writes, in reference to my letter to the Microsoft

BTW, I think abrogating to yourself the status of MS’s worst
nightmare might be seen as presumptious, considering that FLOSS
depends on a big community, and a lot of what FLOSS is about precedes
your 97 work, but far be it from me to try to teach ESR strategy.

Um. You meant “arrogating”, I think. A few words about that…

Well, duh. Of course the open-source community predates
me and is much bigger than any one individual. I’ve done more than
most to point that out, I think, asserting our continuity clear back
to 1960 and the SPACEWAR hackers at MIT.

I’m Microsoft’s worst nightmare not so much because of myself as an
individual but because I’ve served as a public focus and embodiment of
the hacker community’s values. And (this is the nightmare part) I
sold them to Wall Street. I broke us out of the geek ghetto.

I try not to have a big ego about this. I’m well aware that if it
hadn’t been me in that role, somebody else would have done it. It was
time in the late 1990s. OK, to be honest I think without me
the open-source transition would have happened a few years later and
with less up-front awareness, but it was going to happen; long-term
trends in the underlying economics guaranteed that. I may have been
the first to understand and publicize those trends, but that never
gave me the illusion that I created them or that they wouldn’t have
operated without “ESR” pushing.

In fact, having been the key man at one or two pivotal historical
moments, I’m in an almost uniquely good position to plump for the
“times make the man” theory. Yes, I supplied some individual vision.
But I absolutely do not think of myself as indispensible and never
have. Because I’ve felt the tide of history sweeping me forward, and
I know that the hacker community created me.

This is something that is hard to talk about without sounding
mystical. I sometimes feel almost as though I’m a sort of sense organ
or mirror that the hacker community grew in order to see itself more
clearly. To the extent I ended up “leading” or became a culture hero
in that process, it was because the community desperately needed
someone to do it and pulled me into the role, shaping me to fit
in the process.

Cultures need culture heroes — and they’ll create ’em if they
don’t pop up spontaneously. Note: the process can be damn rough on
the candidate. And being the focus of so many peoples’ dreams and
aspirations is…well, it’s terrifying at times. I used to have a lot
of contempt for rock stars who couldn’t handle the pressure and fucked
up with drugs. Now I understand better. I’ve been through some
awful, heartbreaking, soul-destroying shit on this job.

But let’s look on the positive side. I guess the most important
point I want to make is that my success doesn’t belong to me alone but
to all hackers, every one of us. I never forget this, and I hope no
one else will either.


  1. Mr. Raymond, I’ve come to realize that ‘You have a big ego!’ is the only argument some people can muster.

    I’ve found the best reply to be. ‘Yup. Pretty damn well hung, too.’

  2. What is it within the open source community that denies people to publicly take credit by themselves for developments they obviously influenced positively? I see this a lot nowadays, when someone replies to a challenge and asserts his/her point of view on his/her contribution, one has a big ego. BS! The whole hacker ethic is based on peer recognition as thé fuel for the passion that drives us to do what we do, selflessly and for the benefit of all. Taking and reasserting credit if that is challenged publicly is only natural. It has nothing to do with ego, but with openness. Eric, don’t nuance and downplay your role in the open source movement, you’ve earned it fair and square.

  3. I agree that you generally recognize other people’s contributions, just as Linus does (famous claim on “I’m very good at taking credit for things other people do” (paraphrasing)) although you have defended in CatB a more ego-driven motivational theory of mind of the hacker than most hackers seem comfortable with. It is for this reasons that I said “might be seen as presumptious” as opposed to “would be presumptious”, and for this reasons I spoke of strategy and not of humility or a reality check. I don’t actually thing you’re miscalibrated, just that your way of talking about it might well give that impression to other people.

  4. I don’t get why having a big ego is a bad thing. Why is it that the instant anyone goes as far as to admit that they have accomplished things people immediately stand up and shout “OMG STFU U DIDN’T DO IT ALL STOP TAKING CREDIT”? If one man COULD do it all we wouldn’t need the human race at all.

    I say: well done Eric. You should be proud of what you have done. I doubt very many of the people who complain about your ego would have had the… well the EGO – the strong sense of self – to play the role you have played for so long.

    … you’re still a nut though :P

  5. “I guess the most important point I want to make is that my success doesn’t belong to me alone but to all hackers….”

    Yes, but what matters to the folks how say “You have too big an ego” is very simple (as are they themselves) – once you learn the rule you can predict their responses with 100% accuracy.

    If YOU take credit for something you did, that is a big ego.

    If THEY take credit for something (whether they did it or not), then that is just fair attribution.

  6. I like how you are censoring comments after asking for open discussion. You jackass.

    [Eric notes: I am following my usual policy, which is to delete comments that are both abusive and annonymous or from apparently spoofed email addresses.]

  7. Culture hero? Worst Nightmare? Nah, that’s not a big ego, that’s a departure from reality.


  8. Loved it Eric. Don’t let these people drag you down. The email was dead on..period.

  9. “A commenter writes, in reference to my letter to the Microsoft recruiter,”

    Gee, his comment didn’t even ask for clarification. If you check back fridays comments, I would like an answer to my plea for understanding.

    Did I really just use “Gee” in a sentence without the obligatory willikers?

  10. Frankly, I think you’re all way off base. How many times does Eric have to basically say that he was just the right guy, at the right place, at the right time…and the that without him it all would have happened anyway? How is that egotistical? And when he says “he” is Micro$oft’s worst nightmare, I think he means it in the context that he is a figurehead/postergeek for the open source community and therefor he is stating that the COMMUNITY is their worst nightmare.

    I used to attend science fiction cons some years back and spent some time hanging out with Eric (yes Eric, I bought a first edition, signed copy of “The New Hackers Dictionary” so you’d stop asking me!) and I just don’t picture Eric as egotistical. Confident, forward, tireless (especially during long, drunken filks) – yes. Egotistical -no.

    (BTW Eric, I’m e-mailing you concerning a Class III machinegun shoot coming up in two weeks…hopefully it won’t end up in your spam folder.)

  11. I don’t really care if ESR thinks he’s “MS’s worst nightmare”. I wouldn’t even care if he claimed he’s the greatest hacker that ever was!

    What I care about is everyone doing his/her best in preserving, manifesting and contributing to freedom in software. ESR’s work speeks volumes towards that way (who can deny that?) and it really doesn’t matter to me if he’s an egocentric, arrogant bastard. Which, by the way, we cannot conclude that he is because of his ‘nightmare’ statement. And even if he is an egomaniac, then I wish that all *such* egomaniacs would gather around the Free Software movement.

    It is history who is going to judge ESR’s contribution, not ESR himself, so shut up and code… ;-)

    (and if you can’t code, just teach your children and/or friends how to use free software)

  12. Eric, your reply to the hapless microsoft vendor was stupid. not only do you look stupid, but anyone who doesnt know anything about OSS is going to interpret your hyperbole to think youre some kind of leader within the “organization”.

    you’re just another arrogant pompous ass. you should just go ahead and work at microsoft. OSS doesnt depend on you. you havent done anything but shoot your mouth off for quite a while now.

  13. Eric, you really need to either change the way you speak or stop caring about people who say you have too big an ego. Things like the answer you gave to that headhunter will always make people say you’re an egocentric bastard, as I’m sure you realize. You can keep talking like that and ignore that kind of criticism, that’s ok of course. You change the way you talk, that’s ok too. But if you keep talking like that and then complain about the logical and perfectly forseeable consequences (i.e. people calling you presumptuous) in blog entries like this one… acting a bit like a grammar/spelling nazi, too… well, everyone’s gonna laugh at you until 3900 AD. Just wanted to make sure you’re aware of all this. Are you?
    I, too, think you express yourself badly rather than actually think you’re the biggest guy in FOSS.

  14. Whether Eric whoever (cause I’ve never heard of him) is Microsofts worst nightmare or his response to a form letter was rude, it doesn’t seem to matter. MS continues to dominate in the business world. What the open source guys like Eric have never understood is that while it is all well and good to have open and shared software, the business world doesn’t give a shit. All they want is tools to make money. And they buy them from vendors. That’s why you don’t see Sony or Shell Oil at garage sales or even Walmart stocking up on office supplies. This will never change.

  15. The argument made by some is that Eric’s contributions are neither as great as he implies, nor has he contributed much lately. Yet if someone like the hapless Microsoft recruiter doesn’t know him, he’s quick to put himself in the company of the likes of Torvalds and Stallman, people who are making big contributions today.

    This may be true. But he is, nonetheless, one of the top bills in the OSS world. As I think of big names in the OSS community, the names that roll off the tongue are Torvalds, Stallman, Perens…..and Raymond. Who else is comparably well-known?

    Of course, other names that leap to mind after the ones above may illustrate the point that being well-known isn’t all that: Guido van Rossum, Matz, Wall, Venema…all of whom are not as well-known to non-hackers, and all of whom have probably contributed much more in terms of important code and leadership than Raymond.

    Yet in the end, ESR’s claims can’t be simply dismissed. I feel his most important contribution is in the area of leadership in the OSS community, i.e. effective expression of the views of the hacker community. This can be as important, or even more important, than one who produces large bodies of critical code. It is the sales job in an organization, a job whose value no wise person will gainsay. And think about it: have you ever known a great salesperson who was not arrogant?

    ESR probably is unduly arrogant, and his critics’ comments have at least a few grains of truth. But even so, he is probably among the top one percent of people in the OSS world who could most reasonably be so; and none of his public critics can say the same.

  16. Eric,

    With respect to your significant contribution to the FOSS culture and community, I’m afraid I have to agree with the comments of other posters. Whilst this incident reflects poorly on the general knowledge and research capabilities of Microsoft HR staff, you should have declined the offer a little more graciously. On my reading, the reply given was derisive and pompous — uncalled for since this was obviously a genuine (however unforgivable) mistake on the part of Mr Walters.

    Perhaps a humorous ‘referral’ would have been more appropriate — eg, providing Torvolds’ and Stallman’s details. (Wouldn’t that have been a scene — the three of you fronting up for work at Microsoft!) As it stands, however, comments like ‘couldn’t get a clue if it were [sic] pounded into you with baseball bats’ seem excessively rude.

    Etiquette notwithstanding, I wonder if this is the same HR team connected with the ‘traitorous’ defection of Dr Lee. And will Mr Balmer now threaten to kill Mr Raymond?



  17. These people are amazing. First your “nothing” and don’t matter then your “ruining” the FOSS single handedly… can’t they make up their minds? ERS thanks for every second you’ve put into “this open source thing”. As I’m sure your aware, you’ve already done far more then these, ignorant, blow hards will ever do to help make the world a better place. Oh and thanks for being a 2nd Admendment loving geek, can’t figure out why there arn’t more of us!

  18. “And (this is the nightmare part) I sold them to Wall Street. I broke us out of the geek ghetto.”

    I guess I (and the rest of the world) missed that.

  19. Well, not arrogant is what I suppose.
    Just Microsoft is between the devil and the deep blue sea.
    They offered the job, and you decide not to accept, that’s it.

    Maybe you played the devil with the software giant very well,
    and after years, they cannot help giving the devil his due.

  20. Some people are good in talking and PR, others don’t like to talk to much, they just do the things. Both types of people are showing the EGO, but in a different way.

  21. No, the email was not dead on. This is the person who is a pillar in the OS community. I agree that MS is his nemesis, but have some class when representing your organization.

    If you truly believe that the *hackers* you deem as your constituents are what made you, then represent them better. Your response was greatly detrimental to everyone you claim to represent.

  22. It seems like many of the negative comments are emanating from those who are, quite frankly, envious of your open source celebrity status. Come on people, GET A LIFE! If you want to make an impact, focus your energies in furthering the open source movement. Start your own innovative open source project or go fly a kite. Get it? Good.

  23. Maybe you are just jaleous …. If Eric wants to think he’s MS worse nightmare, very good for him, i’d like to be too …. It’s unfortunate that my agenda doesn’t leave me enough time for that. At least Eric did it for me …Thanks Eric (do not worry too much about your ego …)

  24. Thank you, Eric.

    This is a war, we, the righteous M$ against you, the pinko-commies of the FOSS. I really appreciate your provocation, as it will inspire our legions of M$ evangelists all around the world.

    And I tell you something, I’ll fucking bury you, I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. You fucking pussy.

    *flying chair*

  25. I need to hear your voice Eric, just to compare it to the Comic Book Store Guy. Can you please post a recording?

    Of course he has a big ego, but it’s not as big as mine because I’m heaps better than him and all of you put together to form some sort of huge nerd voltron, or nerdtron, or volterd or whatever you would call it if you were all joined together.

  26. “being the focus of so many peoples’ dreams and aspirations”…. GAG ME WITH A SPOON.

  27. oh…ps… if guns made people safe; the USA would be the safest place in the world. Um….

  28. Well Eric maybe you should read your own writing from years ago!

    “Interestingly enough, you will quickly find that if you are completely and self-deprecatingly truthful about how much you owe other people, the world at large will treat you as though you did every bit of the invention yourself and are just being becomingly modest about your innate genius. We can all see how well this worked for Linus! ”

    It looks like you have forgotten your own words, I was reveiwing your web presence since I had never heard of you before, and a PC Mag News link about OSI Hallowen documents lead me here. I was impressed until I read the MS letter. You know a lot of people are use both OS and MS and would not change a thing. I like my Bantu and MEPIS Linux boxes but I make my money on MS. And yes I know I am wasting my time with this post …

  29. Oh come on, behind every geek is a large ego. It comes with the root permissions.

    Hey, ESR, can you get a sex change? There aren’t enough female FOSS-types…

  30. Apparently, some people are confused at the size of the ego of Mr Raymond. I don’t understand the confusion, he is a coder right? I have noticed that generally any decent coder has an ego about the size of Montana. Why? Simple we create at the existential level. Engineers see a beautiful bridge wow, it’s tangible. Coder writes a gorgeous hack, wow it’s electrical. It doesn’t exist, but it does. Any layman can walk by and see how the engineer’s bridge works, but the coder’s masterpiece is shrouded in mystery. It’s like the world walks across our bridges all day, but their invisible to them (which is fine with us). So to say that his ego is too big is not right. I’m sure he feels that his ego is just the right size. That’s how I feel about mine.

  31. Hello Dude:

    You have good comments, but Microsoft will not die in your live time for you to urinate in their grave, they have way too much money and for some “good products” for me only the xBox.

  32. Eric, do not stop being who you are. I found your answer to the Microsoft recruiter great :)
    Naturally, he was well educated. But naturally, he should and could have foreseen your answer. Hopefully he did not, so we all can laugh at it!
    And you may have a big ego as people say, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, is it?
    Being honest with yourself, that is how I call it. You are great, and you know it, so there is no point in pretending you are not.

  33. Eric, your ego is correctly sized with your capability of analysis and action. You are deemed worthy of the title of Honorary French.

    (From a real french, which means this is a literal praise.)

    ESR says: Heh. Have you noticed my last name? French ancestry…

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