I'm FLOSSing everyday
December 6, 2006 8:03 PM   Subscribe

What's my role in the free/libre/open-source software movement?

So much has been asked and answered here regarding free/libre/open-source software. And, like many, I am a true believer in the movement, its ideals, and in many, many of its excellent products. But I feel like such a slug downloading all this fine software, using it to become more productive, but contributing next to nothing in return.

Is my voluntary contribution, the occasional word-of-mouth praise/recommendation, and/or my forum participation really the only thing required of me? Or is there something more that I, as a non-programmer, non-coder, but a capable end-user can do to enhance the FLOSS movement in general, and its hard-working programmers and some of my favorite programs in particular?
posted by RockyChrysler to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Write documentation. Almost every project is desperately in need of additional documentation.
posted by majick at 8:16 PM on December 6, 2006

Also, run the bleeding edge versions of things. Developers don't have time to test software on tons of different platform variations. If the bleeding edge version hiccups for you, and you report it, you can make things a hell of a lot easier for others down the line.

To summarize: Run the latest versions, report bugs.
posted by phrontist at 8:24 PM on December 6, 2006

Translation is also hugely important, if you've got the linguistic chops.
posted by phrontist at 8:25 PM on December 6, 2006

Reporting bugs is great, but anything you can do to help them fix the UI would be even better. Open-source projects almost never have anyone really looking at their interfaces, or mechanisms for collecting feedback on the user experience. Anything you could tell them about improving the experience of using their applications would help them.
posted by jjg at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2006

Best answer: Provide detailed, quality bug reports or feature requests. That means detailing the steps you took when something bad happens, or providing a clear "user story" for some feature you'd like to see.

Write. Write blog entries, write documentation, write your newspaper, write your family and tell them about open source and what you use and why paying $400 for MS office is insane. Tell people in person too.

Install Firefox on your mom/grandma's/spouse's computer, and explain why its better then IE.

Ask your boss or company IT team if they are using open source for their infrastructure - if not, why?

Get in a forum dedicated to the open source software you know best, and help out the new users with dumb questions. Compile a FAQ from those questions to save everyone time.

Pay your local linux guru to come and help you get Ubuntu installed on a pc, and show you how to use it. Or just download the live cd and give it a try yourself.

Kiss an open source programmer.
posted by rsanheim at 1:18 AM on December 7, 2006

You could also donate, of course. Not that I do it all that often, but I'm sure they'll also be very happy with your monetary contribution.
posted by Skyanth at 3:55 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: How You Can Help the GNU Project. I think documentation might be the most satisfying way though, since you will be able to look at a completed product and see your contribution, which will likely be in use for years.
posted by grouse at 5:55 AM on December 7, 2006

Write good bug reports. Here's how:

When you experience a problem of some kind, describe the difference between what you expected to happen and what did happen, and then provide us a small-as-possible way to reproduce it.

We bug fixers aren't good mind-readers so be as explicit as possible, keeping in mind that your audience isn't necessarily proficient in English and might not understand shorthand.

If the tool you're talking about has a test framework, then a patch to add a complete failing test is even better.

Gain some basic knowledge of GDB (for backtraces) and DIFF (for suggestions of modifications).

About proselytizing and snogging, I'm not as enthusiastic.

posted by cmiller at 7:23 AM on December 7, 2006

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