Monday, 26 April 2010

Open Source, what can I do?

Too often I hear the words uttered, "I'm not into programming, I can't help out with open source software projects." Nothing could be further from the truth: the open source community needs you.

I am not a programmer either, I have only completed a few, very basic, Python tasks from various tutorials from Linux Format magazine and various websites. However I still try and contribute whenever I can.

In it's most simple form, contributing to the open source community is simply trying out a piece of software and leaving a comment about it. The developers need feedback at as early a stage as possible if their product is going to be a success. Remember it is for the 'average' end user that they are constructing this for, they need to know if something is too difficult or simple to use. Feedback is probably one of the most important stages and it is an area that we can all get involved in.

How can I get involved in this? Well there are loads of ways that people find software from word of mouth to a magazine review to simply stumbling across a website from a Google search. Podcasts such as Linux Outlaws are an excellent resource as they often mention projects at an early stage. A community such as is another great way to get involved. Simply sign up to the site, join a few Linux groups and then ask, the community really are helpful.

After finding the software, we need to leave feedback if we are hoping to do anything constructive. is great for this, although you are limited to 140 characters. A lot of programs are on sites such as where you can find the application directly and send a message to the developer. The application might even have it's own site, but most still use bug reporting sites such as Launchpad.

If all this seems a bit much then the most straight forward way is to visit the forums such as where you can leave posts, make comments or ask questions. One of the key areas of strength for Linux is the community aspect, help to keep this going.

Not a computer user, prefer the mobile? Again not a problem. If your phone is running the Android operating system then you can find a lot of applications in the marketplace. Many of these are still in beta stage so they are needing people to test them. One of the best examples of using the open source community came with a recent Mustard update (Mustard is a micro blogging client for Android. An update came to the phone at 9pm on the Sunday night, however I noticed that it was crashing. I mentioned this at 11pm and at 7am the next morning I gave a bit more detail about when the crashes were happening. Again please note I am not a programmer, merely an end user. I received a message by 9am saying that the bug was found and fixed. An update was sent to the phone at 7pm on Monday night. Within 24 hours a bug was found, reported, fixed and updated: now that's good going.

Some of us can program, others have the gift of design, for others it may be graphical talent that they posses. At the end of the day the 'average' user is the target audience for any application. My point is that we all can contribute, no matter how trivial we think our help is, it may be worth a lot. Try and get involved with packages before they are released as 'stable' versions, as this is when testers are most valuable. So called 'average' users can be the most valuable members of the team.