In my last article I cited the Vector Linux developers as an excellent example of the way Open Source developers respond to the user community. All of us who benefit from Linux and/or the myriad of Open Source applications out there are part of that community.
At times I’ve given back to the developers I appreciate financially, generally by buying a copy of a Linux distribution I was using heavily. With the advent of widespread broadband connectivity shrink wrapped copies of Linux have mostly disappeared from store shelves but you can still buy online. Most Linux distributors try to give you some extra value for doing this, either in terms of additional packages, priority downloads, or some level of professional support. Recently, though, my main means of giving back has been in the form of trying to make things I use better.
In my review of Vector Linux 5.8 I mentioned that I’ve used the distro for over six years. Vector, like every other Linux distribution out there, doesn’t package every piece of software I want or need. Indeed, Vector’s Extra repository of applications still doesn’t compare to Fedora Extras or the Ubuntu Universe so there’s always a bit more to add after installing a new version. In the past I’d either hunt down a Slackware package if I knew the required dependencies or else I’d just compile from source.
Somewhere along the way I realized that if I can compile and install a piece of software I can build a package for it as well. In most cases it takes just a few minutes of additional work. So far I’ve built about 40 packages for Vector Linux 5.8 Standard and I’ve contributed maybe two thirds of them which I feel I’ve adequately tested. They range from the extra lightweight JWM window manager I like to use on my Libretto SS1010 to Dia which I use for creating flowcharts and diagrams. I’ve also contributed fonts, dictionaries, and applications for the three languages other than English which I use since Vector is somewhat lacking in the area of internationalization. All of this was stuff I needed to install on my system anyway.
Many of the packages I’ve built are now in the VL Extra repository while others are still in the testing repository. They are availabaone of the volunteer packager I’ve made Vector a better distro by making more software easy to find and install.
My contribution to Vector Linux is quite small even when compared to some of the other volunteer packagers. It’s minuscule compared to the core developers. The point is that the strength of the Open Source community is that lots of people give back and contribute what they can. Lots of little contributions make a huge impact.
Most everyone has a skill they can contribute to an Open Source project. Maybe you have artistic talent and your favorite application could use better graphics. If you’re from Iceland and something you use hasn’t been translated to Islenska you’re help is definitely needed. I think we’ve all seen software that desperately needs better documentation. You definitely don’t need programming skills to volunteer and make a truly valuable contribution.
While a few Open Source projects have large corporate backing many, if not most, do not. If you really appreciate one and use it regularly I’d like to urge you to think how you can give back in a meaningful way. I realize the v word is scary to people. Most of us have busy lives. All I did was take something I had to do anyway, add just a little time, and I had a way to give something back to Vector Linux. I’d bet lots of you can add a whole lot of value to some project out there that you’re using anyway without making a tremendous effort. Please give it some thought.