Spreading the FOSS Word

maddog's Doghouse

Article from Issue 205/2017

Even if you aren't a programmer, you can help spread the word about Free and Open Source Software and Hardware.

"How can I help Free Software?" is a question I hear a lot. Many people do not know how to program, and they feel helpless when they want to help Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

There are many ways to help the Free Culture movement, which includes FOSS, Open Hardware, and Free and Open Data.

The first way is simply to use FOSS. Think about the things you do or want to do, and search the Internet for software that might help you with that work. Search engines are your friend, and just a couple of searches for "thing-that-you-want-to-do" combined with "your-favorite-Free-Software-Operating-System" might find exactly what you need. Yes, you may need to download a few projects to see which one is really the best for your needs, but at least you do not have to pay money for that privilege. You might also have to try several closed-source proprietary software products to find the one you want, and with closed source, "kicking the tires" will cost you both time and money.

After you find the FOSS you like (looking first in your distribution's software repository is a good idea) and after you use that FOSS a little while, you can tell other people about it. This will both help the authors find more users (if no one uses the software, developing it is useless) and build a base of others who may help answer questions about the FOSS in the future. In the old days, we called this movement "birds of a feather" (from the expression "birds of a feather flock together"), and it is about people helping other people to use software in a better way.

There are also levels of "telling other people." Telling your family and friends is a start, but telling your school board or your small business association is another. These are the "birds" that have needs for software and will multiply the number of people using the software and "flocking" by a hundred fold or more. Find out if your school or university has a computer club, and volunteer to give a talk about Free and Open Source Software and Hardware (FOSSH). Yes, that includes topics like the Raspberry Pi or other GNU/Linux-based single-board computers.

Please do not forget talking and writing to your government officials, stressing open access to data that can be used by projects like OpenStreetMap and OpenGIS.

Another way you can help FOSS is by being diligent in reporting software bugs. You might think that developers hate hearing about bugs, but they really want well-written bug reports. Please do not just say that "the software broke." Tell them what version of the software you are using (often in the Help menu), what version of operating system you are on, what architecture you are using (ARM, AMD, etc.), and a detailed description of what happened with the software. Also, before you submit your bug report, scan the existing bug reports to see if the bug was previously reported (it may already be fixed!) and if you can add any information to an already existing bug report.

While I am talking about "bugs," reviewing documentation and giving suggestions on parts of documentation that are confusing or out of date is useful to the project. If you are fluent in different human languages, helping with translations is always appreciated.

Some people have creativity in photography, illustrations, and music. Creating Creative Commons-licensed media for use is also appreciated by FOSSH projects and is fun to use in your own posters and work.

Putting on a FOSSH event or having FOSSH as part of a larger event is another good way to spread the love. You can start small and build it up over time. Even attending an already existing event shows support for the FOSSH community.

Contributing funds to a project is also a way to help. While the software is often free of charge, development systems, Internet fees, and travel to events all cost projects money. Think about what you would have to pay for the software you use, and even a fraction of that money donated to a FOSSH project would help move it forward.

Finally, there is Subutai, a peer-to-peer cloud computing platform. Just by installing Subutai and using it, you generate goodwill that can then be given to projects to help them buy resources such as disk storage, computing power, and other necessary resources. Creating use cases, which Subutai calls blueprints, not only generates goodwill but makes it easier for you to do your work and help others do their work by reusing and improving on your blueprints.

Each contribution you make to Software Freedom and Open Source makes your life and the lives of countless others better.

The Author

Jon "maddog" Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux International®.

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