Supporting the Open Source Community - Yes, but how? [German] We come into contact with free software every day. Many of our smart phones use a Linux operating system. Some smart watches as well. When we drive our car, open source components are at work in the onboard system. In the server environment and in the cloud, open source operating systems such as Linux dominate. Free software is not only used in research and education, but also in business, healthcare and many other fields.
What exactly is open source software? In short, the term means that the source code of a computer program is publicly available for viewing and modification; moreover, open source software can usually be used free of charge. We are aware of two interpretations. The first is represented by the Free Software Foundation, which prefers to speak of "free software". It understands the concept more comprehensively and includes social aspects. In contrast, the Open Source Initiative limits its definition to properties of the source code. Both organizations accept more or less the same licenses under which a software project could be covered in this context (open source licenses). The term "open source" is currently more common.
There are numerous ways to get involved with open source software. The rest of this article presents a selection.
Support through use. Using open source software increases its relevance and market share - and with it comes greater digital sovereignty.
How do you make the switch, where do you start? The answer to this is more challenging than one might think. It's instructive to analyze your own dependence on proprietary products and vendors. The two master's students Jakob Jäger and Ralf Schweifler from the University of Würzburg have built a tool in a master's project with which one's own dependency can be made visible on the basis of a sovereignty score - in addition, possible solutions are suggested.
A first draft can already be tested. The algorithm for calculating the score is still rudimentary, but will be further refined as part of a master's thesis. Further open source product recommendations are also to follow. After completion of the master thesis, the source code will be made available at Opencode. In the medium term, a community is to be built up that shares knowledge and experience and allows the product to grow further through further development of the content. Feedback is accepted by Prof. Dr. Wehnes.
In addition to open source software, there is also open source hardware. Here, too, dependencies can be reduced. Furthermore, there is open content (e.g. under Creative Commons licenses) and open data ("Open Data"). And during the Corona pandemic, an open source vaccine was released. This allowed vaccines to be produced without having to pay import costs. There are also open source seeds, shareable free seeds.
Support through funding. Both open source associations and individual open source projects are worthy of support, such as carrying advertising or financial donations and membership fees. Crowdfunding and micro-crowdfunding mechanisms are common. In some cases, it is also possible to pay open source developers for the further development of specific components. For example, if one wants to support projects such as Wikipedia, one should keep in mind that these are built on top of other open source projects, such as PHP and MySQL. These infrastructure offerings also need support. Finally, in the enterprise context, one can use open source enterprise solutions, which are now available for many established applications - in return, one receives competent and reliable support.
Support through collaboration. Many local open source groups offer a quick start and the opportunity to exchange ideas with like-minded people. Volunteering locally would include translating and proofreading documentation, organizing events, updating the website, and designing flyers and infographics. Creating engaging and informative online articles is also useful to increase outreach.
There is also a lot to do in open source projects. Meetings need to be organized as well as workshops, conferences and events need to be prepared. Furthermore, it helps to write "bug reports" in case of problems and to document new requirements in "feature requests". You can also get involved by creating GUI designs and design guides or - with artistic talent - with printed T-shirts or logo designs.
Documentation is important, but often neglected. If you enjoy it, join a project and help out - either up close and personal with the code, or by documenting procedures and structures in the project, or by creating tutorials (or translating them). Writing skills can be used in other ways as well. For example, many projects offer newsletters and blogs to keep the community up to date. Regularly populating and moderating these channels is time-consuming, but worth it because it leads to a better perception of a project.
Of course, if you have knowledge of the programming languages used, you can also participate in fixing bugs or further development, either on the project's code or the build tools used. But even without programming knowledge you can help, for example by increasing the quality of bug reports by asking questions, thus saving the developers time.
In projects where data plays a major role, one could also help to compile images, GPS and GIS data and keep them up-to-date. For example, OpenStreetMap offers everyone the opportunity to improve the map material. Less well known are participation opportunities away from software development, such as open source plant varieties, open source standards, or open source design house building kits.
Conclusion and recommendation. Open source is everywhere. By supporting it, we can build a future that increases our Digital Sovereignty.
The article was written by Sascha Manns (computer scientist), Michel Pecchia (software license compliance manager at a German solution provider for electronics), Prof. Dr. Harald Wehnes (JMU Würzburg, Institute for Computer Science) and Prof. Dr. Julian Kunkel (Georg-August University Göttingen/GWDG).
The article was published in GI-Radar 332 of the German Informatics Society.
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