Full Title:

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, by Pekka Himanen. Sections written by Linus Torvalds (Prologue)and Manual Castells (Epilogue). The site for the book, http://www.hackerethic.org, is up and running.

Hardcover ISBN: 0-375-50566-0 -- File under Technology/Current Affairs. Translated to English by Pekka Himanen and Anselm Hollo. Published by Random House.

The actual basis of comparison is from Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905). For those not familiar with Mr. Weber's work, let me briefly help. The Protestant Work Ethic is a common term for the reasons people traditionally work: money, primarily, and duty, a close second. A gross simplification, but I think it works.

The hacker, however, would dispose of these two reasons for work in favor of passion for the work. The distinction between job and work comes into play, as does the notion of cooperation, where the oft-quoted "Information Wants To Be Free" comes in. More on that in a bit.

A quick bite to give you that seems to sum up a good chunk of the book is:

A "hacker" is a person who has gone past using his computer for survival ("I bring home the bread by programming") to the next two stages. he (or, in theory but all too seldom in practice, she) uses the computer for his social ties--e-mail and the Net are great ways to have a community. But to the hacker a computer is also entertainment. Not the games, not the pretty pictures on the Net. The computer itself is entertainment.

Pekka tries to explain why Bill Gates seems reviled by The Community; the theory is that Gates' company, Microsoft, long ago replaced passion for profit, becoming part a traditional, Protestant ethic of maximizing cash, making money making a higher goal than the work itself. Gates' own words seem to echo this old Protestant ethic, "If you don't like to work hard and be intense and do your best, this is not the place to work." This contrasts with a seemingly more organic way of doing things that Pekka calles Hackerism. Because the old ethic is so much easier to measure than the Hacker Ethic, the old was is looked up to more by those whose job it is to measure such things.

For another good chunk, Himanen discusses the monolith of open source, Linux, using the ability to look at the source code produced by millions as proof of this free market economy in a deeper sense than the on Ross Perot and Republicans tend to use. The difference between free as in beer and free as in speech.

Personal opinion: All and all, this is a pretty readable philosophical text, sure to start interesting conversations and ideas in your own brain. The translation is a little rough. I would recommend some of Lawrence Lessig's books as companions to this, along with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, of course.