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Supporting a Community


Congratulations, being at a NatickFOSS meeting, you have joined a support community.

NatickFOSS meetings are one way to get support while you build an understanding of Free/Libre Open Source Software calling it either FOSS or F/LOSS.

Indeed, anything about computers can be just a bit more confusing than we would like. We often want support.

Support for your FOSS journey can be free like NatickFOSS meetings or can cost you money if you hire a consultant to assist you. After a while, you may become so excited about your developing skills, that you tell somebody else about FOSS, invite them to a meeting to help them get started.

Congratulations again. You have begun to offer community support.

After that, what's next?

What if you are not a programmer?
What if you don't feel expert enough to offer bug reports or even serious feature requests to the coding team of your favorite program?
What can you do to raise your level of support?

The simple answer is "money."

Some Background

A recent bug showed up in a core network component called OpenSSL. The code has been maintained for a long time by a very small team. Secure Socket Layer code is critical, but it isn't "exciting." It doesn't attract eager young programmers. It doesn't attract much attention until a bug shows up.

Relax. the bug has been fixed according to Ars Technica. Open software often gets its bugs identified by researchers and others outside a software team. There is a bug reporting system Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures which unifies the security reports from all sorts of sources. The OpenSSL identifier in the system is "CVE-2014-0160", a unique ID which helps everyone to track the issue without the confusion which would happen if all the individual reports were referenced by their original researcher's description and ID.

A federally funded non-profit corporation called Mitre coordinates the CVE service. By contrast OpenSSL is the result of a very small team. For years, it subsisted on a limited budget in spite of being a major component of almost 2/3 of secure website communications, you know, the HTTPS style of web connection.

A bunch of concerned people realized there was a problem. Too many core software programs are maintained on shoestring budgets. After much discussion on the forums and technology news sites, somebody decided to go beyond just discussion. The Linux Foundation has created a funding mechanism to help avoid the mess which would happen if critical, core network tools were to be compromised because they received too little support. That is admirable. The Linux Foundation has plenty of corporate backing because it has championed the "open source" designation as opposed to "free software" espoused by the Free Software Foundation, (free in the four freedoms sense).

If the Linux Foundation and the federal government don't back you...

Corporate Contribution

Many contributors to FOSS projects are paid for their work. IBM is famous for hiring programmers specifically to work as contributors to projects in the FOSS ecosystem. IBM benefits because it uses the supported software within its corporate IT structure. The benefits to the community as a whole are also good public relations.

Non-Coding Contribution

People like Dick Miller work with a project, not doing coding, but serving as a test user (beta test) and idea/design consultant. People like Dick do not expect anything from their effort beyond a better application.

There are even projects designed to make it easy to directly contribute towards a project. Distributed Proofreaders is designed to make it easy to get more public domain scanned documents checked for typos caused by the scanning process. The resulting crowd-proofed books join the thousands already in the Project Gutenberg system.

You could also contribute by helping to write documentation for a project and tutorials. Of course both of those require a feeling that you are comfortable as a writer AND believe you know what you are talking about.

What's left?


When a software package does not have direct federal funding, nor a foundation, nor a corporate connection, it relies on the time its developers can devote to their FOSS work. Perhaps the lead developers are working with the tacit approval of their employers, taking as much as 20 percent of their work week to do FOSS development. Perhaps the programmers work purely as committed volunteers. Up to a point, that can work.

But there is a problem of scale. Some projects become successful beyond their dreams, gathering hundreds, or thousands or millions of users. If a project depends on direct connections from users, the cost of support infrastructure soars.

Let's look at a very visible project, Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not a matter of software, even though the underlying MediaWiki software is free/libre software. Wikipedia has need of support to keep the project running smoothly. They have resorted to putting a donation link on their pages. Occasionally, they have added a banner at the top of a page to urge readers to join a specific funding campaign.

It comes down to a personal decision...


The next time you use your favorite FOSS program, especially the next time you do an upgrade, think about how much you use it, how much you benefit from using it, how often you have used it without thinking about who is making your happiness and success possible.

Then go to the homepage of the project, if it has one. Look for a button or link that says, "donate." Click that button.


If you do not trust the Internet completely, you might benefit from Paypal. It is a popular commercial payment processing gateway which allows you to reduce exposure of your credit card credentials. Paypal lets you donate with a credit card, but you are only trusting Paypal with your credentials, not a series of sites looking for your donation. You may also find other companies accepting Paypal for your online shopping.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, CrowdSupply, Patreon, etc.

Buying things online has become the new normal, and online tools are out there for support of new ideas, startups, small-run productions, and more.

With these online support tools, you are "investing" a small amount like a venture capitalist, but only a little and you won't get part ownership or a big return on your investment. You wind up with a potential small reward for your early support, maybe an early release version of a new product.

Do you have a preferred tool?
Do you have stories to share?