What is a FOSS community?

Yesterday morning, I was chief guest at the Minideb conference at Pune. I chose to talk on the notion of FOSS community. Often, we think of FOSS community as a special bunch of people – the geeks, long haired/bearded fellows in T-shirts, etc. But in the emerging world scenario, we need to take a more broad based look. I think everyone who believes in FOSS philosophy should be in the community, and FOSS needs all of them. Today, there is no profession or job with no use of computing power – in the form of mobile phones, computers, applications, etc. and hence almost everyone is a user of some computer software or application. If that is a FOSS — and sure enough, there are FOSS solutions for whatever you are thinking of — you could be a member of the community.

As a member, you can be simply a software user – who can tell the rest of the world what is nice and terrible about that software. Bugs you notice, features you would love to have, and so on. But take the trouble to send a note when something like that happens to you. You can help locate bugs if you know the programming language and the design of the software. You can fix the problem if you are geeky enough! You can build add on modules for existing softwares and contribute back. This is particularly handy for features that is relevant only for some section of the target users of the software. We also need a lot of people to write documentation of the software – from user level, developer level, etc.

Often people think of FOSS as the Linux kernel or the desktop like Debian. These are, of course, important. But there are thousands of other FOSS solutions out there which are equally important. From word processors to ERP systems, from machine translation to payroll processing, there are many packages/applications that are good and widely used. We need people to look at that and work on them. Examples include SugarCRM, Moodle, Koha, Drupal, etc. See my earlier post of contributing to FOSS.

We also need to look at accessibility – making (or building fresh) these softwares to work for people with various disabilities. We need the software to work on various Indian languages. And so on.

We need thousands of people in the workforce to make our goals happen. We need lakhs of people in the community. We need to welcome all – irrespective of how they can contribute. As they say, little drops of water make the mighty ocean.

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