Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Can You Contribute to Open Source?

Open source software is a group effort and requires the participation of everyone in the community including you.  How can you give back to your favorite project if you are not a programmer? There are many ways you can help including participation in the online community, writing and translating, donations or just spreading the word.
Open source projects depend on you. They count on users to help test the packages on a large variety of hardware configurations and software combinations. They rely on your feedback to help the project grow and mature. They depend on your participation in forums and IRC channels to aid end users. They need your expertise to create useful documentation and translations. They depend on your donations to cover the costs of hardware and hosting.

Previously we took a close look at Apport, the bug reporting program included with Ubuntu. It works with Launchpad to coordinate bug tracking and fixes and makes it relatively simple to perform this most basic and vital task to contribute to the community.

Besides bug reports, there are many ways of giving back to the open source causes. Participation in the projects  online community is a good way to start. You don't have to be an expert to visit the projects' forums  or IRC channel and offer suggestions on topics you are familiar with. There is almost always someone newer than you that will appreciate your advice.

Documentation is an on-going chore for developers and assistance is always appreciated. Contact the project maintainer and offer to write readmes or help articles for specific tasks. Create how-tos and tutorials and post them on your blog or youtube. Contribute to the projects' wiki page. Look here for some tips on writing software documentation.

Translators are needed to make software and documentation available in other languages. Contact the project maintainer and offer to help translate the interface or help files. Check out 'Open Source Tools For Translators' to help you get started.
Donating money to worthy open source projects is always welcome. Most developers receive very little compensation for all their hard work. Most supply their own hardware and bandwidth. Many pay for hosting project websites where they interact with end users via forums or message boards. Even small donations help keep the project running.

Here are a few worthy causes to get you started. There are many more:

Finally, advocacy is a powerful tool and just being able to share information about Linux or your favorite software package when the opportunity arises is perhaps the most important contribution you can make. Talk to your friends,  family and coworkers. Post comments in forums and social media.

Burn a few live CDs of a newbie-friendly distro such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint.. Keep them in your car with your music CDs. The next time someone complains about how their computer won't boot or is running so slowly it is barely usable, just pull out one of the live CDs and show them how it works.

Explain that it wont change anything on their computer and comes with a complete collection of software for common tasks. Show them how it can give them a secure, perfectly usable system until they can get Windows fixed, or if they choose to keep Linux, you will help to install it on their machine.

Even if you can't write a line of code, open source depends on you. They need your bug reports, community involvement and donations. They depend on you to spread the word through personal contact and social media. Contributing your time and skills to these projects will benefit you as the user and the open source ecosystem as a whole.

This article was originally published on UbuntuManual.org

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