My journey in the world of open source started a couple of years back in college. Back then, it was mostly about using Linux as my primary desktop..using it for doing everything I wanted to do. I always thought that I did not contribute to any open source project. Its only now that I realize how wrong I was !!
What does it mean to contribute?
Well, first things first.
Contribution != code.
There are umpteen number of things you can do to claim that you contribute to the open source projects. Its not just about code. Rusty conducted a brilliant session at the close of the ceremony at FOSS.in to emphasize just this (though he gives himself 6/10 for it, IMO, he deserves a 9/10!). So what does indeed fall in this category...broadly..
- Using foss : Having a large number of user base is the first step towards making foss popular and better. So, simply by switching to Linux as against using Windows, you are playing an important role in this movement. The more the number of Linux desktop users, the bigger the market would be and that will help in convince the PC makers to ship Linux as default..no matter which distribution. So take pride in using Linux.
- Evangelizing foss : The reasoning is similar to the above...influence people around you to switch to foss..
- Helping in making any open source software better : There are many things that one could do to make foss better. Provide documentation, report bugs, help in resolving the bugs, feature enhancements and testing. Don't keep quiet when you come across an error in an application that you are using, for eg, amarok. Report it to the amarok community and rest assured, you will have a fix! This will improve the quality of the software and will be an encouragement in itself for many more people to switch over to foss.
So the important point to note here is, you needn't be a programmer to call yourself a contributor. I met several such eople at FOSS.in. I met a woman working in a NGO, an open source fanatic and has played an important role in making her NGO use foss for their day to day activities. I also met a graphics designer who does all her work using open source software. There were some teachers who are advocating open source in their schools. Each of these individuals, in my opinion are making as valuable role in this movement as the code developers. After all, what use is the code if there are no users!!
Getting involved...this is the key if you want to make a difference. Actively participate in any of the above...get that code fixed or fix that code! Its your software and you can make it better...the onus is entirely on you...