How to pay for Free Software - Journal of Omnifarious
Nov. 7th, 2006
12:15 am - How to pay for Free Software
I really should be trying to sleep, but this idea popped into my head, and I had to write it down.
I support a number of friends with the few things in Linux that still need expert technical assistance to make work. For the most part these are about the same as what most Windows people need expert technical assistance to make work, except that Linux users generally don't need to have someone come by and clean all the malware off their systems.
Even though it would greatly annoy Richard Stallman, whenever I use the term Open Source, I also mean Free Software. I believe both that Open Source is more efficient, and that Free Software is more morally correct. I in fact harbor a secret belief that all truly moral things have a very similar quality of actually being what's best and most efficient for everybody in the long run.
A column by Doc Searls in Linux Journal prompted me to think about Open Source users and their position in the world a little more carefully.
The world of commerce would like people to be dumb consumers. It makes things easy to model and it gives you a good excuse to tell yourself when you do something that really upsets them. They're just dumb consumers relying on the largess of your business in order to get what they want. They should be happy with whatever scraps you throw them because, after all, it's your business and you get to do what you want. Of course, there's that nasty little bit with competitors, but if you can manage that sufficiently, the world is golden and you can treat consumers as badly as you want.
The Open Source world isn't like this much. But instead it provides an avenue for consumers to feed back into the system and change it for their own benefit. I don't think a lot of Open Source users quite realize this, or have a clue of how to use this power. I think many of them think that the only people who can provide any useful contribution back are people who program.
But this isn't really true. In an example of a similar endeavor, Wikipedia can be usefully contributed to by almost anybody. Even if it's some tiny little fact others missed, or a correction, or even just a spelling fix. Everybody can give something useful back to Wikipedia and make it better for themselves and everybody else.
The same is true of Open Source. Even if it's getting into a forum and asking a question, or filing a bug report, your contribution helps you, and everybody else. It's adding another ingredient to the giant pot of stone soup.
So, the next time some feature or problem frustrates you, file a bug report on it, or find someone involved with the project to ask. :-) Or go read this article: 5 ways to contribute to open source without coding since that author has many better ideas than I have.
Not much of a conclusion for all that verbiage I guess, but there it is. :-)