Open Ballot: should we all be contributing to open source?


Everyone loves the New Distro feeling: great new features, more efficiency, fewer bugs (usually!) and general computer improvement. But how many people actually take the time to contribute back to the free software movement? Given the vast number of ways that people of differing skill levels are able to take part in the community, should we be actively encouraging people to help out more, even if it's only a small thing such as correcting typos in documentation or by donating money?

Remember, this is the Open Ballot for our podcast: please include a name with your comment, and please answer the question "yes" or "no" along with some sort of reasoning. Also, if you have contributed to free software - either by helping in forums, submitting patches to someone else's work or even perhaps releasing your own open-source project, please include that too!

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Your comments

'Yes'. If we benefit from

'Yes'. If we benefit from it, it is nice to give something back.

My experience of programming is very limited, but I have reported two bugs in Ubuntu Karmic Koala. Actually, I am still in the process of doing it - I think for a newcomer understanding how the open-source community works is a complete headache. I've been clicking around on launchpad for a while, not knowing what the hell is going on in there!

(But I'm sure it's something good)


I have nothing to add further



Everyone who uses software, any software, contributes something to it.

Yes. If nothing else, people


If nothing else, people should submit bug reports and try to follow up the best they can, every little bit helps. I'm not the greatest developer but I actively submit bug reports, feature requests and help in support aspects on forums and IRC channels for various open source projects.

Dumb question. YES

Everyone has something to contribute, and should take the time to do so. Distro forums are an invaluable resource precisely because users/developers/noobs et al use them. Long may it continue..........


Yes, certainly. In any way, shape or form. It can be easy to misconstrue the meaning of a bug report, 'random features', missing functionality or code submissions yet objectivity and an understanding of the problem, working with users and programmers has shown the rewards are worth it.

Many people feel rewarded in many different ways. Everyone should feel like they can contribute.


I have posted bugs, filed forum questions, answered forum questions, localised and translated many apps into Slovene.
I think things like this make opensource so great.

Haverfordwest, Wales

in whatever means they can

open source is about community, and everyone involved may help... contributing patches? founding new projects? reporting bugs? improving documentation? expressing opinions in forums (even not specialized ones, how about user-point-of-view opinions about improvements to the software)? promoting it between friends?

there's always a way to help, and that is the escential part of what open source is, so is the part that should never be left aside

Everyone's a contributor

By just using OSS everyone's contributing. The bigger the community, the more important the project, the more contributors, the better. Also, by telling friends and stuff. Let's call it passive contribution.

Buy a box distro once in a while

I typically get a update from the news stand. But every major release of my distro i buy a boxed set.
P.S. And don't forget about the crash reports.


I do think that it is a good idea for people to contribute to the open source community. And not just linux distros, all the programs as well and even the open source programs on windows.

I'd love to contribute to the community but i don't have the sklls to write code at the minute. However bug reports/suggesting features is jut as important and i feel it may be overlooked, but i don't know for sure.

Actively encouraging people to do it?

Yes of course, people coming from windows may not realise exactly how important their voice is, and how windows didn't allow you to use that voice effectively. letting people know that all suggestions are welcome is a good idea.


Not all can contribute. Person who write documentation for software and have no idea what he writing about - no. Translating documentation or application using on-line translation tool and having no idea what translating - no thanks. Coping (proprietary data or code) and pasting not very good idea.

Using oss is not same as using and contributing. Community is about sharing, helping, communicating etc. Just using oss don't make any contribution. Contribution shouldn't been made by all, but just by who want to contribute, who want to learn how to use or to contribute to oss. People who only knows how to take don't always knows how to give. Out where is a lot people who don't care about oss and sometime is better if they don't know or use oss at all.

You should know some examples of "contributions" and it done not to help oss and "contributors" didn't learn any lessons.

P.S. in my opinion its complicated subject as all other things surrounding oss and it's impossible to answer only "yes" or "not".


I can't code so I post bugs and donate.

Yes ...but through


...but through encouraging the user to contribute and not as a condition of use.


No. It's preferred if people do, but there are plenty of people who just want to be users, and might not even know how to send bug reports.

With Ubuntu's new bug submission system this becomes a bit easier, but if EVERYONE were doing that we'd only get tons of confirmations/duplicates with no further information (except perhaps showing that it is or isn't hardware-related).


But it's not easy to do it. So let's say I find a bug in an app and want to report it. Wait, I better check the docs and make sure I'm not missing something before I make a fool of myself. Now... Where's the forum? Project alive or dead? Bug already reported? Fixed in a newer version? Stable enough for me to risk upgrading? If unreported, register to yet another site to post my report? Am I informed by email or must I monitor to answer questions or check progress?

Am I willing to bother if I can work around it or get it done with another app? Probably not. I want to help out with apps that already work best for me.

So for example, I wasn't able to get rosegarden to work at all, but out of all the music apps that worked, I found lmms worked great for the way I make music. I didn't bother troubleshooting rosegarden. Then jack was flaky on playback, so I switched to alsa and that was good enough for me. I didn't bother troubleshooting jack. No use, no contribution.

After using lmms for a while, I wanted to contribute. I found a forum I thought was the right one and read it, then registered and posted, then found out my post was rejected from a mailing list fed by that, then registered for that, then got some mail and found where the official stuff is, then found my issues and suggestions already reported there by others. Because I'm an lmms user, I'm willing to jump hurdles to contribute, and that includes knowing when NOT to contribute.

Yes, but that is in an ideal


but that is in an ideal Richard Stallman-esque world.

Developers range wildly from the very open to ideas to the close-minded ones.

I've taken to bug reporting (some of these enhancement requests) for many years and see this as a minimal thing that I could do for open source, to help it meet my vision I have to give that vision. Some developers don't take kindly to feature requests in this manner, or aren't responsive enough to help a bug get tracked down and some developers merely say, well if you can code it, fix it or add it.

In essence I think it's the developer-user relationship that has to be focussed on. It is quite probable that many Firefox extension authors were and are users. Schemes like Jetpack (I believe) to try and use standard web technologies to "code" are a way forward. The more democratic projects seem to be the better ones, where if at all else, the users are happy - even if that happens to be developers dog-fooding their own wares.


Everybody who downloads and uses OSS is contributing!

Maybe not in the way some would like, but contributing all the same. If people didn't use OSS then there would be little point in people writing it, other than self interest which is still a valid motivator.

Ideally everybody would actively participate by writing code or documentation, testing and/or debugging, translating, suggesting features etc. Realistically though that is neither practical or possible and frankly would be impossible to properly manage and co-ordinate.

A user who does nothing more than download the OSS App/code whatever is contributing by letting the development team know that there work is wanted. Brilliant!

If they then go as far as telling others about it, whom may also end up downloading it then you have that most powerful of marketing tools "Word of Mouth".

If any of the new users then repeat and/or actively contribute then you are well on your way to a vibrant OSS community.

Everyone benefits and everyone has contributed!

Finally those OSS projects that are really not worth it or have been superseded by something else will naturally wither and probably die! Darwin validated again!


As many different ways there are to contribute, with time or money, there is really no good excuse not to.

Yes, but this poll doesn't make sense.

Yes, of course people should contribute, if they can. The problem is most people don't know where to start, especially if they're not coders.

I think a more productive question would be "How can people with different kinds of skills help open source projects?"

For non-coders, It's not really obvious to them how they can help. Here are a few possibilities for them.
- Creating\editing Graphics or sound.
- Community moderation (Troll Patrol) or site maintenance.
- Test things for usability. Coders are not always great at making things usable for normal humans. Non-coders could help shape apps to make sense to the average Joe.
- Review user docs\wiki for clarity. Hopefully, the app is usable enough so that most people don't need help. If not, the docs should make sense to normal humans without raising too many questions.
- Transfer info from the Forum's Q&A sessions to Wiki's or FAQ's. It's not fun to have to dig through countless posts\flames to get the info you need.

What else can you come up with?

Yes - it's a kind of investment

Yes. By contributing we are actually making investment in better software for us and for out children.


Yes we should all be contributing, because it helps us to improve the software, help other users, avoid being freeloaders and indirectly show our appreciation for those who've already contributed.

We should encourage others to contribute for the same reasons, but at the same time we should be happy if people use the software without giving anything back - that is part of their freedom. Besides, if software is useful to someone then the developers' time wasn't wasted.

The thing I've found most helpful over the years (apart from the code itself) is people posting in fora about what's worked for them - sometimes even a passing remark is enough to give me the right Google to solve a problem.

My contributions have been mostly in fora, bugfixes & awareness. I've never contributed code, unless you count the script I posted to work around a bug in a closed-source app (the vendor didn't fix the bug, but quickly provided an update that broke the workaround... :op ).


Although I think the term "should" means something different than "can".

People should contribute, but only when it makes sense to do so. If you don't understand a program, then don't write documentation for it, although correcting typos anybody can do.

You can't go wrong with donations and boxed sets and paid support but not everybody is financially able to do that.

Bug reports should only be sent in when you can articulate what the problem is and what the conditions were that might have caused it. If a lot of bug reports come in that don't make any sense, developers will not only waste time reading them, but they might not know what to fix.

Helping other people on support forums and sending developers messages and emails telling them what they liked, didn't like, want to see changed, and what to see the same, are probably the best thing most people can do.

In short, if you can contribute, then yes you should, but if you can't, then please don't.

End User

I am a user of OSS for some years, but am not likely to ever progress beyond the end user stage. I have dipped into Launchpad on occasion, but didn't feel that I was knowledgeable enough to even contribute bug reports. For example, I recently downloaded Thunderbird from Mozilla site and found it would not work on latest Karmic. Launchpad has technical discussion on reasons why this and other third party software is failing on Karmic. However, the solution to my problem was to download it from the repos. Equally, I am shy of contributing on boards, in case I give a wrong steer to someone.

Yes, but we "should" do a lot of things that we don't.

SHOULD we all be contributing to open source? Yeah, but we also SHOULD be more open minded, SHOULD recycle all the time, SHOULD NOT laugh when people fall and hurt themselves, SHOULD donate blood...

You get my point. It's a great thing to contribute to, and something that almost everyone can, but it's voluntary and people are lazy. There would be no ethical way to make the process mandatory obviously, so it's a matter of relying on people who care, or know enough about it in the first place to be able to care.

Yes! - If possible

It is only a good idea for people to contribute if they:

A) Have the skills to do something useful.

B) Know that somebody else isnt already doing it.


Yes and one of the jobs if to filter the comments from users

We need to promote that part of using FOSS is involvement in the community. All contributions are welcome, there is always that any sort of user can contribute, even if that contribution is only filtering and commenting on others comments on a bug report.

Only by involvement in the do we build and grow the cause.

This one should be a universal yes.

Absolutely not

First of all, there is your cousin Helen the policewoman who uses TomTom but is total rubbish when it comes to dealing with actual technology. What would you have her do?

More to the point, considering linux users. I am fairly sure that when Stallman founded GNU he expected businesses to use the software without any renumeration. One of the factors guiding him was to avoid users ( including businesses ) from getting hurt by the entanglements of companies acting in a proprietary manor. So we shouldn't expect that users "give back".

As for the generic computer user running Linux...

I remember the preAOL days of USENET. I would get intelligent replies to my posts, whether questions or comments. Yes I would occasionally get flamer for saying something stupid. I didn't mind, it kept me on my toes and alert to make sure that I thought out my posts and did my research ( and research being much harder back then, google not yet existing ), and once in a while it was a flamer who got his facts wrong. Then came Al Gore and the information superhighway and the AOLers flooding the internet.

I didn't mind the AOLers as such, a lot were good people but the sheer numbers, and the number not willing to learn the culture of USENET. Worse came the commercial people and flame nannys. Since then USENET has been going downhill, now to the point where it is almost useless. The USENET culture was destroyed.

Linux has a meritocracy based culture, and as I see it that culture worked very well. In the last few years something has changed. We see the emergence of Linux as the server of choice for web based stuff, as well as the techies toy ( Pixar ), and starting to make inroads on the desktop. With that it has dragged in a bunch of people, as with the AOLers, I've recently seen Richard Stallman and a few others come under attack from people whose contributions to Linux pale. People with political agendas in mind.

Worse it's not clear to me what they expect to happen. We all grab RMS, tie him down, give him electroshock therapy untill he changes his views? Maybe just get him off of FSF
and replace him with themselves. They think they can do a better job then he did?

Well I've got news. They can't. If putting up with their crap is the cost of their help, I say take them and their help and send them off to Apple to help there.

As for Cousin Helen or GrandMa Jones, their usage doesn't cost us anything, and it does help promote linux in the long run. Other people come in various forms, I say those that cost more then the value of their contribution send them to Apple. The rest, let them contribute.

PS: What do you chaps think of the new "Go" programming language from Google?

Yes, even if its only to submit bug reports

A quality bug report is a contribution. Even poor quality bug report is an indication of where a thing may need more attention.

Yes of course

I don't have programming skills but I try to help people use Linux and by doing so add more members to the community.
I can do some simple grunt work ie., editing files to xml format etc ;-)

Yes - but where is the FAQ on how

BTW - Password reset appears to be broken for a few weeks now

Yes. it's always possible to do something to contribute

If you can't code or simply don't have the time to contribute actively you can always put your hand in your pocket and hit the donate button for your favourite project...


You guys at Linux Format have too much free time in your hands, dontcha?



NO, but...

I don't think we should encourage people to contribute more than we're already doing. As far as I can see, FOSS community is already emphasizing the importance of giving back to community and showing various ways to contribute for intent users. More than that would be pushing people into it, and it would be certainly a turn off for some people.

"But" part;
I strongly agree with the thought that everyone's contributing by just using FOSS.So, just using software is accepted as contribution in above question, my answer would be yes, whenever possible.

if you want to...

Anyone who wants to should be able to find a way to contribute.
But, we do not want to generate confusion where there was none.


It should be up to individuals if they want to contribute or not. People should be encouraged to contribute and shown all the ways they can contribute, and then leave it up to the person to make a decision. Some people might want to but do not have the time, others do not know how they can contribute.
But no one should be forced to. Otherwise it is like using proprietary software that you have to pay for, the payment being the contribution.

I would if it was easier

Every time I've tried to submit a bug, I need to create a bugzilla account! I don't want a new account for every project I create a bug report for. If there was an easy way to I'd report every bug I find. I just don't want 1000 user accounts and 1000 passwords for bug reports.

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