I love the open source community

As many of you know, I’m a true Debian fanatic. Some even say I’m a Debian nut head, borderline evangelist. And mark my words, to call me an evangelist is something truly unique, seeing how my feelings are towards true evangelists. But it has to be said, that I without a shadow of a doubt love and cherish the open source community. Many of us have heard the term open source, both in the media and in our travels across the world wide web. But what is open source, and even more importantly the open source community?

To quote what is said on Wikipedia;

Open source is a set of principles and practices that its advocates claim promote access to the design and production of goods and knowledge, overwhelmingly understood as the list of same – the Open Source Definition – created by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond and maintained by the Open Source Initiative.

What this in terms mean is that everything is open and accessible to anyone that wants to review the code of a said project, and anyone can contribute with suggestions, fixes, patches, documentation or other valuable input. If you feel that something is missing, or that a feature isn’t implemented the way you feel it should be, you can make your own changes to the code and submit these changes to the developers. They can either incorporate these changes if found valuable to other users in future versions, or make them optional parts of the software.

What does this mean for the end user? Well, with this type of an open architecture the software is highly exposed to programming errors. People constantly try to find weaknesses in the programs, and whereas with proprietary software found in programs such as Microsoft Windows where the source code are well kept secrets, other developers can go in to see what actually causes this error. If they know how to fix it, they fix it and pass on their findings to main developers to make sure that these weaknesses are taken out from the program just like a gardener takes out weed from his or her garden. It vastly improves the security and usability of the said program.

I use open source software on a daily basis, and almost anything I do on a computer I do with free open source software. There is no sane reason to waste hundreds, even thousand of valuable dollars on something that is essential free and just as good. Who says that you need Microsoft Office to write office documents? Who says that you have to use Adobe Acrobat to create and publish PDF-documents? Who says that you need to use Adobe Dreamweaver to create dazzling web pages, and god forbid that you have to use Adobe Photoshop to do image editing. There are a multiple of alternatives in the open source sphere, and the great thing is that many of these alternatives doesn’t only run in Windows, they run in Linux too!

I do the little of editing of HTML and CSS I do in a normal text editor, in other words back to basics, so no need for a graphical editor there for me. But rest assured, there are graphical editors out there for those that want that. As for image editing, there’s a little gem called The Gimp. This little gem looks and feels very much like Adobe Photoshop, but weighs in with a much smaller installation size and basically all the features normal users require to do image editing. Being a long time Microsoft Office user, a certified professional at that, I actually stepped away from normal day to day use of Microsoft Office ages ago. I went over to yet another open source alternative, Open Office. It does just the same job as Microsoft Office, but is completely free and works with most Microsoft Office formats.

Let me not forget to mention applications we use every day, internet browsers and e-mail clients. Many people go around with the common misconception that there is only one alternative for either purpose, being Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! I’ve encouraged both family members, friends, co-workers and even my enemies to make a switch to something better. Personally I use Firefox as my choice of browser, and Thunderbird as my main choice for e-mail. Both these programs come from the Mozilla foundation, which is an organization based on the glorious principles of the open source community. As with most open source programs, they can also be extended with the use of extensions or so called plug-ins. They are in short, standalone programs that can be added to the main program for extended features, transforming the program you’re using into a virtual Swiss army knife.

This blog and the machine it runs on, also runs on open source programs. The blog is run on the excellent blogging platform WordPress, which too also allows for third party plug-ins. Which brings me over to the main reason I love about running open source software. From time to time, I find shortcomings and/or bugs in plug-ins I use. I have a basic programming background, having touched different programming languages and scripting languages across different computer platforms. But the thing is, there’s a huge array of programming languages, and even a wider array of API’s out there, making some things hard to fix yourself. So what happens when you stumble across such issues yourself, and you can’t fix it?

Well, that’s no big issue is it? You just trace down the e-mail address of the author(s), and send them a bug report or feature request. At best, you can get a response back within hours, even with the fix to the problem attached. You can rest assured that serious developers take such e-mails seriously, and will do their best to accommodate your bug report or feature request. I had some problems with a couple of the plug-ins I run on this blog which I was unable to fix myself, or was able to fix myself that I wanted the author(s) to be aware of. I sent them an e-mail, and it didn’t take long before I got a response back. All the problems were fixed, and was later included in a later version of the plug-ins in question. So not only did I help myself by taking the time to track down the problem and doing my part to get it fixed, but I made sure that John Average down the road didn’t run in to the same problems.

You’ve always heard that being open and honest is a good thing, and if it’s one thing I’ve learnt about the open source community, is that this for sure applies to this community. A big thank you to all those developers out there who sit there, day in and day out to make our world a better place!

I love the open source community
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