I’m a big fan of open source. Not only in context of open source vs. proprietary discussion but also with it’s spirit. I truly believe that by sharing ideas, information and communicating with each other we can make this world a better place. I could make the rest of this post all about how good it is, give tons of examples for wonderful things that exist only thanks to open source…
However, sharing/talking doesn’t make things work. Someone has to turn those ideas into actual products and once they’re made, someone has to maintain and improve them. Who is this someone and why does he do it? for years I didn’t care. As long as the universe provide me with great free software, I thought, I should use them and so I enjoyed the alternatives to Microsoft products (when they dominated the earth) and I surely enjoyed the LAMP stack when I built my first web site and till this day I still do. In fact these days most of the software I use is open source whether it’s my desktop, development environment, graphic tools, office suite, this blog, or even Cydia.
What did I give back? not much. Well, I did some beta testing here and there, little bug reports, I recently wrote plugins for FRD (the best download manager for files hosted on public file-hosting services) and I even tried to promote “day against DRM” so I probably did more than the average end user (who doesn’t care at all) but still, not much and I always had a personal interest. Usually software or features I desired and sometimes ideologically.
Does it make me a bad person? selfish? On the contrary. Why would anyone contribute to something he has no interest in? The fact I made contribution (even the smallest) means I care, and I do. If I didn’t embrace open source and use it on a daily basis, I probably wouldn’t have done anything to help it and I think here lies it’s beauty: software is created and publicly released – for the sole purpose of others enjoyment. If it’s any good it gets common and widespread. Because it has many users, bugs are revealed and they’re either reported or fixed by the end users themselves. Then a fixed version is released and accessible to everyone.
And it’s OK not care, and it’s OK not to contribute. After all, that’s what made me choose it. That’s what made me who I am and I guess only after I’ve seen this wealth world of freeness it made me realize it’s real value which is far more than just a software that doesn’t cost money. Sadly (or not), corporates realized it too and embraced it as part of their business model. They either open-source their product and sell professional services or open-source a crippled version of their product and sell the full version. Both ways are legit but they raise new problems: rival companies with products that do the same would try to plump different communities, making those communities smaller and less effective and why would anyone voluntarily debug/beta test/fix corporate’s software could he get paid for??
So who are really those people who make open source work? they’re the good guys I guess, who make things better for a greater good, little by little. Whether we care or not, we all use their products (directly or indirectly) and for that we shall be thankful. I appreciate them all, and I hope people (myself included) would get more involved and spread the openness spirit!