September 12, 2002

Commentary: Everyone can and should contribute to Open Source

Author: JT Smith

- By Frank Sfalanga -
One of the things I like the most about the GNU/Linux, Free Software and Open Source
method is the way little people like myself, with modest programming experience,
can make a difference.
Recently, I downloaded and installed the latest Mozilla (Web browser) build
and found a problem. I could have just waited and it would have been fixed, probably. Instead, I searched the Mozilla Web site to see if anyone else
was seeing the same issue. After it didn't turn up, I reported it myself.

Since then "my" problem has been upgraded to a "major" bug and is getting some attention. Good. Here's
the bug report
.

My first instinct whenever I encounter something that doesn't work properly,
especially in "free" software, is to just accept it. After all, it's free, right? Upon further examination I realize the truth -- people wouldn't
waste their time building crap. Building the most reliable software in the
world requires everyone's help, even mine.

When I have a problem with, say, an Ethernet driver... I will sometimes write
to the author of the driver. Generally he is grateful for the information.
I didn't waste his time because I did a little research first and I tried
to solve the problem without bothering him unnecessarily. I will test, he
will adjust. I will test again, etc. -- together we will fix the issue. I
feel I have given something back to him/her and the community; helping
build something good. The next person using that driver who is having a
reliable/trouble-free Ethernet experience will not know about my contribution, but I will.

There are a lot of areas besides writing code where people participate
wholeheartedly in the community. Some use Free Software and suggest improvements to
the layout or added functionality. Others use and document features or
collaborate in writing or updating the users manuals. Some people just report
bugs.

Here's something you will almost always see on the Web site of an Open Source/Free
Software project: A link to a page that explains how you can contribute.
Without providing a return path for feedback, Free Software can't work.

If you're using Free Software, why not become a part of the community? No matter who you are, you
have something we need.

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