Rebel Code by Glyn Moody, published by Allen Lane (ISBN 0713995203)

This book is about one of the most important issues facing anyone involved in IT or new media. It should be required reading for techies because it puts the fundamental power shifts taking place in the software marketplace into historical context.

The Open Source movement has so frightened Bill Gates that last week he announced a limited opening up of the source code to Microsoft products.

Moody tells the story of the growth and development of GNU/Linux, software developed by a loosely knit collection of developers into a robust and flexible challenger to Windows.

But this book should also be read by those who are thinking about the implications of the new e-conomy. In a chapter entitled 'Tomorrow's Hothouse', Moody talks about the Open Source principle.

Peer-to-peer networks such as the famous Napster but also even more elusive systems such as Gnutella and Freenet have not only kept lawyers busy, but have started to remake the power relationships online. No longer is it the big media companies or even communication channels that are defining the ways in which the networks are used or the ways the content flows – it is the users. And in builidng up their networks they are creating robust and flexible systems that cannot be closed down but continue to evolve.

Similarly, the big journalism institutions have seen the growth of what Moody calls “open journalism”, through sites such as Slashdot. Again, the network effect of a group of people working together on content creates the sort of powerful movement that gets the big players worried.

With much talk of “open source law” enabled by IT networks, it is this power shift that needs to be thought through.

What Moody provides with an admirably un-techie account of the first Open Source revolution is a pattern that is being repeated. When put in the context of the real-world politics of software, the lessons for those awaiting their revolutions are clear.