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GNU is Not Unix

How Can I Contribute To Open Source? 332

Posted by kdawson
from the in-kind dept.
rtobyr writes "I work for a state government agency. That means we can't donate money, because it's a 'gift of public funds.' I had the idea to put up a Web page stating that we 'use the following free software to save tax dollars,' as a way to help spread the word about open source software, but management calls this an 'endorsement.' A mirror server is a no-go as well. I'm certainly not a talented enough programmer to help with development. I've donated $10 here and there out of my own pocket, but I'm hoping you Slashdotters have some creative ideas about how my organization could give something back to the teams that create free software we benefit so much from."
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How Can I Contribute To Open Source?

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  • by alain94040 (785132) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:15PM (#30529950) Homepage

    Buy support. Pay for your Linux licenses. Just because it's open source doesn't mean that you should pay $0.

    By buying from a legitimate open source company, you help reinforce the open source eco-system.

    And it's all legitimate: it's not a donation, so your boss shouldn't object. You are still saving a lot of money compared to buying a proprietary solution, but you are helping people who code full-time sustain themselves. Let's face it, developers are the critical resource for most open source projects.

    PS: some cool startups are looking for extra developers/founders [fairsoftware.net]: help people go solar, build a better bug collector tool, or help build a music community that supports its bands.

    • by FictionPimp (712802) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:22PM (#30530022) Homepage
      Exactly. My company has used OpenVPN for a long time. Recently I saw their nice pay product and convinced my boss that the features it offered was worth it (wasn't a hard sell at all). Now we have bought 20 user licenses of OpenVPN. It allowed us to give back, and still look good to the business office.
      • by raddan (519638) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @07:54PM (#30531496)
        Ditto. We've been running OpenBSD in our server room for years, and we duly pay for it. We buy 1 copy of the newest release for every machine running OpenBSD, regardless of whether that machine gets an upgrade or not. The bean counters don't have a problem with it because we're paying less than other IT divisions in the company, but we're still shelling out about $5k a year to the project. If we could afford to pay more, we would, but we have other things that we have to pay for as well.
    • by Forge (2456) <kevinforge@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:51PM (#30530432) Homepage Journal
      You also don't need to buy support from an existing provider. You can ask the project leaders for something you find valuable to submit a bid for annual support within a defined price range. With the price range limited, they automatically win on competence.

      This means you could for-instance switch from Windows to KDE on 100 desktops and offer the KDE project the bargain basement fee of $10 per PC, per year to deliver the desktop the way you like and respond to concerns.
      • by Kalriath (849904) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:00PM (#30530532)

        You also don't need to buy support from an existing provider. You can ask the project leaders for something you find valuable to submit a bid for annual support within a defined price range. With the price range limited, they automatically win on competence.

        I don't know what it's like over there (I expect it's similar) but over here that would be illegal as any competitor to that project could file court action claiming corruption in the tender process. And win.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wvmarle (1070040)

          What is that based on? As long as the tender is open ("we want option x and we are willing to pay no more than $y for it") and offered to all other competitors as well where is the problem? Or are you not allowed to put a price on a tender beforehand?

          If you would offer directly to a developer or two without allowing competitors to bid, I can imagine it's illegal indeed.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gander666 (723553)

            I will venture to guess that the parent poster is in Europe. There are wacky laws there on bids and tenders. Any one who submits a bid and doens't get selected can hold the tender up for ungodly lengths of time with (seemingly) silly arguments ($10 per desktop is too low of a price, What they really want is windows blah blah blah).

            I used to be in the business of selling analytical instrumentation there, and you can win the tender, and not get the order for 6 or more months. And fritter away your profit f

      • by atomic-penguin (100835) <wolfe21.marshall@edu> on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @12:35AM (#30532840) Homepage Journal

        The original poster was vague about the type of open source software which is saving the taxpayers money. It may be a distribution, or it may be an entirely different animal, such as one single desktop application, or enterprise-level server software.

        This means you could for-instance switch from Windows to KDE on 100 desktops and offer the KDE project the bargain basement fee of $10 per PC, per year to deliver the desktop the way you like and respond to concerns.

        This means you could for-instance switch from Windows to KDE on 100 desktops and offer the KDE project the bargain basement fee of $10 per PC, per year to deliver the desktop the way you like and respond to concerns.

        No, it doesn't. If the policy is, that you can't donate, then you can't *bleeping* donate. It is entirely possible this advice could lead to charges of fraud, other felony charges for misappropriation of funds, and jail time.

        The support level circumstances vary per vendor, and size, of the Open Source project. For your particular example, there is no company, which I know of, that offers Support Level Agreements for "just KDE". However, if the OSS package is a "supported" package by your distro vendor of choice, then you legitimately purchase support contracts. Using your example of 100 KDE desktops, you could buy 100 Kubuntu Advanced Support contracts from Canonical at roughly $120 per year which comes out to $12,000, not $1,000 as in your example. Chances are that you are using more than KDE, as one component, in an entire distribution. If you are going to advocate buying support, then advocate buying a support contract. There are obviously other ways you can contribute to an Open Source distribution project, other than monetary contributions. Things that come to mind are: working on documentation or translations; filing bug reports; packaging software.

        Many large and well-established Open Source products have companies that will offer paid support for that particular product. If my organization wants a support contract for wine, because they might need to run a Windows-only Office Suite or a particular version of Photoshop. Then they could buy a copy of Crossover Pro from Codeweavers for roughly $70 per copy, and a support extension for $35 year per copy. This money gets you both support, and directly supports the enhancement and development of wine. Although the prices vary, this same support system has been applied to other projects such as Samba. You can buy enterprise support from a company such as Likewise, a vendor who offers a "Samba-like" product and directly supports the enhancement and development of Samba through paid developers. Otherwise, you can buy support from a distro vendor such as Novell or RedHat at a cost of $60-800 per server each year, just for the base OS and standard server applications. Enterprise distro maintainers also have paid developers whom contribute a great deal to the enhancement and development of enterprise-level server applications.

        Some exceptions are when you have a small, hobbyist, higher-ed, or government Open Source project. Maybe it is a new and small project. Perhaps they have only 1 or 2 developers that work on the project part-time. These type of projects probably do not have an established support system. The developers may not even be able to take monetary contributions, or have a system set up to do so. Some developers may have to opt for gifts purchased through an Amazon wist list for legal reasons. Accepting donations may be a legal issue with an employer who pays the developer to work on that particular Open Source project. It is another issue if the developer is a government employee and is forbidden to take large gifts, or accept money, which could be construed as a bribe (assuming they work on this project as part of their job).

        I was involved in consulting work, a few years back, for a fairly large hospital. The hospital made use of Open Source Firmware for commodity Linksys Wireless Routers.

    • by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:52PM (#30530444)

      You are still saving a lot of money compared to buying a proprietary solution...

      Except when you're not.

      I'm looking at you, RedHat and SUSE.

  • I had the idea to put up a Web page stating that we 'use the following free software to save tax dollars,' as a way to help spread the word about open source software, but management calls this an 'endorsement.' A mirror server is a no-go as well. I'm certainly not a talented enough programmer to help with development.

    First, if your manager says don't put up a web page, then don't. End of discussion. Yes he might be wrong. In fact, it's likely he's wrong. But you have a job to do -- don't risk it by challenging your boss. It's enough you're saving taxpayer dollars doing that, even if it isn't acknowledged (Thank You).

    Second... I don't want my tax dollars being used for a mirror server. Plenty of other people do that already, and even if they didn't, we have bittorrent.

    • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:24PM (#30530060)

      But you have a job to do -- don't risk it by challenging your boss.

      Maybe it's just the person you are, but I think you're flat out wrong. Putting your head down and just doing your job instead of making a persuasive argument and showing the benefits is simply pathetic (especially at a government job, where it's typically much more difficult to get fired/laid off). Before working for myself, I've challenged bosses before when I thought a decision was grossly incorrect (don't quibble over little stuff), and have even gone above them before with less than horrible results (once got a raise, once got my boss' job). Not to go too far off-topic though, going through life never challenging those above you is.....no way to go through life.

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:32PM (#30530172)

        Maybe it's just the person you are, but I think you're flat out wrong.

        You're entitled to your opinion, but I'm speaking from a decade of experience in the field.

        Putting your head down and just doing your job instead of making a persuasive argument and showing the benefits is simply pathetic

        He made his argument. He lost. Move on. Pressing the issue will only irritate management. It's not business-critical and it's not impacting his professional reputation. If it was, then appeal to upper management and/or write a CYA letter informing them of the consequences if your professional recommendation is not followed.

        You admit that you don't quibble over little stuff. This is pretty minor -- his job is IT and while his aims are noble he hasn't been asked to represent his employer. That's somebody else's job. You have to recognize the limitations of your job function and work within them -- that's not putting your head down, that's being a professional and doing your job.

        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          by TooMuchToDo (882796)
          I guess I jumped into running my own consulting firm (and out of working for a manager) fast enough that I'm not cynical to the point that it's just a job if it's something you care about. I wish your 10 years in the industry had been better than my 10 =( I seem to have had the opposite experience, but I've worked at Pixar, a DOE lab, and Google, so YMMV.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Hecatonchires (231908)
            Name dropper
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by TooMuchToDo (882796)
              You'd do it to if you got to work there ;) Besides, I was trying to prove a point. It's not like I've worked at easy going places my entire career. The DOE lab was extremely stuffy and bureaucratic, but I was able to make a lot of great changes by getting to the right people.
          • There is something to be said for being an advocate for your position and arguing for what you think is right. But there comes a point where you have to cede that the final decision is made by those above you(or by your client) and that ultimately you must do as they want.

            By accepting this, you can make a professional argument to support your position and still save face when you lose the argument. Pushing too hard will make you look bullish or get you fired.

            As for the submitters original question, buying s

            • I agree very much with both of your points (my debate with girlintraining and your answer to OP's question). As a fan of like-minded individual's, next time you're in Chicago or San Francisco, let me know if you want to grab a beer (I've got offices in both locations).
          • by BobMcD (601576)

            I guess I jumped into running my own consulting firm (and out of working for a manager) fast enough that I'm not cynical to the point that it's just a job if it's something you care about.

            Well there you go. You're the boss, so you're always right. Of COURSE you would encourage yourself to stand up for what you believe in - you are the boss. The boss ALWAYS does that. What you need, on the other hand, are examples of where your employees stood up to you and changed your mind, or preferably elevated their career by doing so. That might be constructive. But if you are neither employer nor employee then your opinion probably doesn't carry that much weight as you have nothing personal at st

            • I thought my argument was that the boss *wasn't* always right. I highlighted my situation because I *am* and open-minded boss. A good example would be (funny enough) an open source product we were using (RT), and while we didn't need support for it my employee made the case why we should support them when previously I thought we might be too small of an organization to contribute a meaningful amount. Now, we contribute financially to any open source project whose product/code we use sufficiently. Hence, why
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Second... I don't want my tax dollars being used for a mirror server. Plenty of other people do that already, and even if they didn't, we have bittorrent.

      Indeed. Government should be as efficient as possible. As a public servant, your responsibility is to the taxpayers. You should offer only those contributions which do not increase the burden on those taxpayers, or which directly benefit them.

      If you can't contribute bugfixes or enhancements, then contribute by filing bug reports and feature requests. Possibly documentation, but only if it is something that you, your coworkers, or your eventual replacement would use in the future. (IE documenting the structu

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:37PM (#30530236)

        Possibly documentation, but only if it is something that you, your coworkers, or your eventual replacement would use in the future. (IE documenting the structure of an unclear config file, not writing a detailed tutorial.)

        Actually, writing up documentation is a great way to contribute to open source. If written in a generic fashion, it can be released to other government organizations (and the general public). There's plenty of other ways to advocate open source that are work-related as well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by gbjbaanb (229885)

          +1 to Documentation. A lot of Open Source projects are created by programmers to do some task, unfortunately that means the rest of the development ecosystem (project management, testing, documentation, installation, support etc) don't get enough attention *

          If you're not comfortable coding, that's good, you can help out by making the project better quality by helping out with those areas.

          * except project management, of course.

      • by SydShamino (547793) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:03PM (#30530558)

        Indeed. Government should be as efficient as possible. As a public servant, your responsibility is to the taxpayers. You should offer only those contributions which do not increase the burden on those taxpayers, or which directly benefit them.

        It's that direct stipulation that leads to short-sightedness, and ends up costing taxpayers billions in the long run.

        "Oh, well we don't need to shore up these levies in New Orleans. There's no immediate benefit when there hasn't been a major hurricane in years."

        "Oh, bridges can last a little while longer than designed. We'll just send someone by periodically to do a cursory check. That's a lot cheaper than replacing all those 1930s projects."

        "Who cares about preventative care. If you want that, get insurance and go to your doctor. Never mind that taxpayers will cover you when your problem gets worse and you go to the emergency room uninsured."

        "Regulation is an inefficient burden on commerce. It's hard to show a direct benefit when you back during a boom and ignore any lessons more than three years old. Just let it all go, and the publicly-chartered companies will police themselves!"

        I think we have very different opinions on "efficient". I believe that long-term and indirect benefits can be significantly more efficient than short-term nearsightedness, and the government if anyone should be able to look at the long term. In this case, for example, he should find a way to fund the projects he uses (such as buying support licenses), because in the long term it will keep the projects active and improving, and save significant cost versus a system redesign due to an EOL/abandoned software product.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          In imperial China, the ideal for developing strategies and large plans as the emperor, was to carefully consider any foreseeable impacts over the course of 500 years. Of course, not every decision was actually made with this sort of wisdom, but it was certainly the ideal and the way rulers and scholars were educated.

          Long term thinking is something we largely lack today in government, even in our ideals of governance, and it's dangerously short-sighted. This leads to not only shoddy patchwork and disasters
      • by bberens (965711) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:10PM (#30530638)
        *shrug* At my company I put it in the suggestion box to support some of the open source projects we use. The manager pulled it out and got with a few other development departments and all of a sudden several open source projects got a check for several thousand dollars each last year. I was hoping we'd drop them a $10 spot or something. Not every work place would do that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by newhoggy (672061)

        As a public servant, your responsibility is to the taxpayers.

        Don't you meant to citizens, or to voters? If a public servant's responsibility is to tax payers, your voting power would have been proportional to the amount of tax you pay.

    • by reub2000 (705806)

      Second... I don't want my tax dollars being used for a mirror server. Plenty of other people do that already, and even if they didn't, we have bittorrent.

      Many of the mirros that download from are hosted by state universities, and guess who funds those.

    • I don't see him challenging his boss anywhere - he's just relaying the story so he can say what did and did not work in the past. I think you're jumping to assumptions here.
  • by Faizdog (243703) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:20PM (#30530000)

    The knowledge that government agencies are using open source tools probably does a lot to legitimize such software. Even if you can't publicize it, you can probably let other government agencies/depts know what you use and how it helps you and how it helps with your budget (crucially important to every government entity) and encourage them to adopt similar practices; hell help them out with doing so and making the transition.

    Eventually, the word will get out through suppliers, vendors, potential news articles, etc and will do more to help the movement than small monetary donations. Whaddya mean that program x is unreliable, the fire dept/tax agency/welfare dept, etc uses it?

  • by FauxPasIII (75900) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:21PM (#30530012)

    Many FOSS projects need lots of help on the documentation and art assets.

    • by multisync (218450) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:30PM (#30530138) Journal

      This is what I came here to post. Since you've already done that, I'll add that the submitter can also participate in forums or wikis devoted to FOSS software he uses; beta test new releases; attend LUG or other user group meetings; help spread the word to other potential users of FOSS and teach his kids/nieces & nephews/whatever young people he may encounter in life that there are alternatives to proprietary software.

  • Donate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:21PM (#30530018) Homepage Journal

    For many projects out there $100 would be a lot of money. In many cases project web pages have "Donate" links which work through paypal. So I suggest you list a few OSS products you use. Take a couple of hundred dollars out of petty cash (call it software licensing) and donate it to those projects.

    • by oasisbob (460665)

      For many projects out there $100 would be a lot of money. In many cases project web pages have "Donate" links which work through paypal. So I suggest you list a few OSS products you use. Take a couple of hundred dollars out of petty cash (call it software licensing) and donate it to those projects.

      The OP can't do this. If you think state governments in the US have anything close to petty cash funds, you're probably mistaken. They're too ripe for abuse.

      • For many projects out there $100 would be a lot of money. In many cases project web pages have "Donate" links which work through paypal. So I suggest you list a few OSS products you use. Take a couple of hundred dollars out of petty cash (call it software licensing) and donate it to those projects.

        The OP can't do this. If you think state governments in the US have anything close to petty cash funds, you're probably mistaken. They're too ripe for abuse.

        How do they buy pencils and books?

        • Re:Donate (Score:5, Informative)

          by dave562 (969951) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:40PM (#30530278) Journal

          They buy pencils and books with a purchase order from an approved vendor. My girl friend works for the state of California. I was talking to her about dealing with invoices the other night. She looked at me like I was crazy. She never deals with invoices because she is only allowed to buy things approved ahead of time and has to go through a long and involved process to do it. Buying anything at the state level (in California) is an exercise in frustration and patience. They can't even buy electronic devices that aren't on the approved list without having the local fire official sign off on them. If they want a microwave they can't just go down to Target and buy one. They have to solicit bids from three approved vendors and MUST go with the lowest price for the item.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            This whole process varies by agency. In the CA agency I work in (about 200 employees) I can buy from just about any vendor as long as they provide competitive pricing under the WSCA contract. It is suggested to solicit bids from three approved (WSCA certified) vendors, but a lot of the time they provide very similar pricing, at least in my experience with IT equipment. If prices are similar enough, at that point it is up to the agency who they will purchase from. You can provide justification as to why y

          • by rnturn (11092) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @08:51PM (#30531826)

            "If they want a microwave they can't just go down to Target and buy one. They have to solicit bids from three approved vendors and MUST go with the lowest price for the item."

            That must have been one heck of a microwave. Back in a previous life, I worked for the State of Ohio. You had to go through a bidding process for things that cost $1K or more. (That may be different nowadays but that was the way things were back in the '80s. And it was amazing how many quotes for $980 or $995 you would get from suppliers; they knew the rules as well as we did.) For a microwave oven, we probably would have taken up a collection in the department. (We actually had a microwave back then. Wonder how it was paid for? I doubt it cost a grand, though.) I know that when I was in grad school, a bunch of us collected the money for a decent coffee maker for the lab; no bidding process required. :^)

            We had to deal with approved vendor lists as well. They work as long as the people who made the list of vendors knew what they were doing. Back in the day when 8-inch floppies ruled the earth, there were as many formats as there were manufacturers (it seemed). After three failed attempts to use the approved vendors to get a single stinking box of floppies that would work in a PDP-11 floppy drive -- with each attempt taking about ten days from placing the order through the arrival of the wrong media -- I ordered some from the office supply store we walked past on the way back from lunch. Accounts payable was going to refuse to pay the store because they weren't "on the list". After we explained that they were holding up a federally funded research project, they backed off and paid the invoice.

            As for bids, I doubt that they must accept the lowest bid. There was an established procedure we could go through to justify selecting a bid that was not the lowest cost. We didn't use it often because it was a pain to write up the justification but it was possible. Again, times may have changed so my experience may not apply any more. And California's budgeting process is infamous for being impossible to deal with. Ohio's may be just as bad now as far as I know.

        • You have a department that forms a comittee that discusses the various ways those supplies could be bought, then they send out at the very least 10 requests for offers, they get about 5 in return which again needs to be discussed for feasibility and long term cost of deployment. The whole deal is noted down painstakingly in a report no less than 50 pages for approval by the higher ups. They, in turn, get to meet and find a consensus to approve the purchase of a pack of pencils.

          All of course in the name of a

        • A purchase order is put in for office supplies. Most places that deal with corporations or the USG accept POs. The accounting/finance department tracks all POs and monitors for legitimacy and patterns of abuse.

          To clarify, as I assume you're unfamiliar with them:

          Purchase orders are legally-binding documents, and as such they are often accepted in lieu of immediate cash payment. Merchants will often require certain paperwork on file before accepting POs from a company; failure to issue payment would result in

          • Nah we had them when I worked for the state government here in Victoria, Australia. Petty cash may have been limited to 100 AUD or so. Normal purchase orders went to 50KAUD. Above that you had to go to competitive tender. All purchases had to be signed off by our manager but he was right there and understood the work.

            But because we did a lot of tech stuff we had a lot of small purchases on the go. We fabricated our own cables to a point, and sent bigger jobs off to a small company who did that as their busi

      • > They're too ripe for abuse.

        Ripe for abusive political accusations, at least. If the typical shareholder was as old-testament jealous as politicians wanting to appear "tough on government waste", then CEO live expectancy would be measured in weeks.

    • Take a couple of hundred dollars out of petty cash (call it software licensing) and donate it to those projects.

      Damn, dude... at least read the first line of the summary:

      That means we can't donate money, because it's a 'gift of public funds.'

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      No don't. Odds are that is also illegal.
      1. Pay for support.
      2. When you pay for custom software make it FOSS.
      3. Pay to have features added to FOSS that you may need.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:22PM (#30530028) Journal

    How Can I Contribute To Open Source?

    This question seems to be distinctly different from your paragraph. Your $10 here and there is something I've also done many times. And it's great to hear that I'm not alone. From buying Firefox swag to just realizing that FOSS Product A saved me (at least) three days of my time so the least I can do is paypal $20 to those in charge.

    So if you'd like to contribute in other ways, pick a project that has something that you know a lot about or are passionate about and try to make small improvements submitted as patches. Good with embedded C? Try to help out the Firefox team in squeezing out cycles. Good with computer vision algorithms? Hit up OpenCV or even write some more script/extensions for the Gimp. What's your passion? The most important thing to remember is to not get discouraged when your patch gets rejected or deferred or sent back. Ask for feedback from the team and keep in mind you're there to support them. Firefox might be too closely knit of a project for you to break into but just perusing sourceforge or github will open up your eyes to who's out there looking for your help. A lot of these projects have wish lists.

    But what I'm hearing from you is that you'd like to give FOSS more recognition than contributions. No one wants your management or tax payer to feel obligated to fund open source. That flies directly in the face of what open source wants to do for you.

    I had the idea to put up a Web page stating that we 'use the following free software to save tax dollars,' as a way to help spread the word about open source software, but management calls this an 'endorsement.'

    Above all, respect your management. Were I in your place, I'd take a page from the DoD [disa.mil] and on your page post side by side both the open source products you use and the proprietary products you use with a brief explanation. Get your management to approve this (pending security concerns) and whenever a change is made or an addition of open source product is used, put it up. I think you'll find that your page--if not from the get go--will slowly start to paint a common picture: the coexistence of open source products and proprietary products not only working side by side but also supporting each other.

    I would not recommend trying to make a business case out of government funded changes to open source products unless you have someone high up in your pocket and on your side. Doing something like that could really make you look foolish if you have no clout to begin with and could injure your reputability. Just a thought, you're free to proceed as you see fit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      So if you'd like to contribute in other ways, pick a project that has something that you know a lot about or are passionate about and try to make small improvements submitted as patches. Good with embedded C? Try to help out the Firefox team in squeezing out cycles. Good with computer vision algorithms? Hit up OpenCV or even write some more script/extensions for the Gimp. What's your passion? The most important thing to remember is to not get discouraged when your patch gets rejected or deferred or sent back. Ask for feedback from the team and keep in mind you're there to support them. Firefox might be too closely knit of a project for you to break into but just perusing sourceforge or github will open up your eyes to who's out there looking for your help. A lot of these projects have wish lists.

      Why is it so hard to understand that there are people out there who don't have hot coding skills (and no time or inclination to gain them), who think FLOSS is good, use FLOSS tools, and want to contribute? Go and read the original question again. Now explain how the above paragraph is helpful. How do you read I'm certainly not a talented enough programmer to help with development and manage to suggest Good with embedded C? Try to help out the Firefox team in squeezing out cycles. Oh, the smart, welcoming wo

  • If your agency can spend the time, testing/bug reporting and writing/improving/proofreading documentation is always welcome. If there are any people in your organization who are fluent in other languages, have them participate in the translations.
  • Government operates by forcibly taking money from one person and giving it to another person or organization. So you can't "contribute" to open source any more than I can contribute my neighbor's car to a needy family. That said, by using open source you're doing a noble thing: you're preventing that much taking-and-redistributing that would otherwise occur. So I agree with your boss - don't endorse, don't "contribute", but definitely use, thereby reducing the burden of government for everyone. And, quiet
    • wohoo, I was waiting for this post!

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:36PM (#30530228)

      Not that I'm saying he should do this, especially if his boss has already told him not to, but it isn't taking his neighbors car and letting someone else have it. If approved it would be a government agency using your tax dollars and putting them to use to support the purposes of that government agency. This whole taxes equal theft thing has just gotta stop. Yes, taxes can go too far, lord knows I pay enough of them. If the agency he works for thinks that the best way to fulfil their objectives is with a donation to open source projects, that isn't theft, it's government.

    • by dermond (33903) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:43PM (#30530308)

      Government operates by forcibly taking money from one person and giving it to another person or organization

      where of course you assume that the person who had the money in the first place really deserved to have it. but a lot of persons today earn money without doing any useful work (e.g. they work for advertisment - creating artificial needs) or by doing harmful work (creating weapons, destroying the environment, etc...) or doing no work at all (just cashing in on their portfolio). the reason why some can earn a lot of money for nothing is in our system of society. this is an artificial system of laws and rules and it allows some to take the money from other persons without giving them anything useful in return.

      so taking the money from people that have that money because of some artificial rules by an other rule (the tax system) is just one way to try to compensate the many faults of the capitalist system.....

      mond

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        In addition to your very useful rebuttal, there should also be the very obvious point that the OP is probably contributing to his government department operating more efficiently, thus reducing the government's need to forcibly take money. This is an improvement, yes?

      • by BobMcD (601576)

        I wonder what universal truth you can use to make these judgements, where everyone would automatically agree?

        but a lot of persons today earn money without doing any useful work (e.g. they work for advertisment - creating artificial needs)

        If I ever invent something interesting, I hope someone with better skills than I have can get people to understand what it is, and to buy it. I hope they get paid for their trouble.

        or by doing harmful work (creating weapons, destroying the environment, etc...)

        Next time one of our soldiers pulls the trigger on his or her rifle, I hope the round fires. I hope that weapon was made with care and pride, and I hope the people who made it got paid to do so. Likewise, I hope the fol

      • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:27PM (#30530810) Homepage

        People pay me for useful services I do for them, and I pay people for useful services they do for me. That ad guy is useful for someone, useful for society? Society doesn't want anything, it's an anthromorphic combination of everyone else's wants. You can make some measure of efficiency but if you really want that, you can start by getting rid of everyone that lives off benefits first. That should clear up a couple billion carbon footprints. Interest on a portfolio is not for doing nothing, it's a loan of money is much the same way as if I loaned you my car. The only person who doesn't see that is someone who think he's entitled to borrow my car for free.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      So move somewhere with no taxes (or no tax collection success). A hut in remote Somalia for example.

      Of course I'm not sure how you are going to stop a hundred just as well armed as you men from taking all your stuff what with no government stealing from you to provide law and order.

    • by Kalriath (849904) *

      Good luck avoiding roads and footpaths. And don't you dare ever turn up to a hospital without insurance, or call the police or fire department. After all, those aren't things government should be doing, should it?

    • I agree with the concept you are advocating... that any use of tax dollars not designed to reduce the burden of taxes should be eliminated. However, others have suggested ways to contribute which do further that goal: namely, writing documentation for other departments/branches of government on how they can use OSS to reduce their reliance on tax dollars. In that case, spending tax dollars (aka: paid time) to write the documentation results in a net savings.

      Additionally, if there's some OSS which can't be

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      go have some fun living in somolia
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Government operates by forcibly taking money from one person and giving it to another person or organization. So you can't "contribute" to open source any more than I can contribute my neighbor's car to a needy family.

      The difference between you and government is that government can do it, unlike you. That's why we have it in the first place.

  • Bug Reports (Score:4, Informative)

    by thePsychologist (1062886) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:22PM (#30530038) Journal

    Use it, submit bug reports, and participate on forums. When you can, push for more open-source to be used in your organisation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by danlip (737336)

      In particular, write really good bug reports. Spend the time to track down the simplest conditions to reproduce the bug, write the steps up clearly and precisely, and contribute example code or data. This is an enormous help to open source projects.

  • Metrics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by osopolar (826106) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:23PM (#30530042)
    It's all about metrics - just telling you boss is never the way to get things done. Write a report - with real numbers, kind of like a cost/benefit ratio analysis.
  • by oasisbob (460665) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:24PM (#30530058)

    At $JOB-- (public university), we had a pair of redundant firewalls running OpenBSD that saved us thousands, and made us very happy.

    It was easy to get approval to buy the OpenBSD CD sets with each release. It was only a few hundred dollars over the course of several years, cheap for us, and better-than-nothing for Theo et al.

    Check to see if the devs have any documentation (O'Reilly books, pay PDFs, etc) for sale. This is another good place to kick in a few bucks, documentation is a legitimate expense and worthwhile investment.

    What bothers me is that some companies (eg ZenOSS) make support SOOOO expensive when you jump from the open-source to commercial version. The price jump for a small business is insane, especially if they're fine without 24/7 support and the features they have already.

    • Yep by far the best way to contribute to OSS from inside an organisation is to pay for something tangible. Support or media.

    • I fully agree. Maybe the author should tell us what software they are using in their organization so that we can give them some specific options in this vein.
  • Bosses don't like the "endorsement" aspect? Don't worry about it.

    Put up a web page saying what software you use, open source, closed source, all of it.. Don't say why you picked it.

    Put links to the open source projects.

    You don't give it "endorsement," but you do get the software recognized (hmm, they use a webserver named "Apache?")

    It's just freedom of information at that point.

  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:27PM (#30530100) Homepage Journal

    Besides the good suggestions above, I am curious about this part:

    I had the idea to put up a Web page stating that we 'use the following free software to save tax dollars,' as a way to help spread the word about open source software, but management calls this an 'endorsement.'

    Technically, if it is true ("you" are selecting free/open source software to save tax dollars, and there is a statement someplace in the govt documents indicating that is part of the reason for the choices made) then endorsement or not, it's public information, and I do not see why stating it, if worded correctly (to properly indicate the reason such choices were made) would run afoul of anything.

    The government has in the past made statements on how it has or plans on saving money. The wording of such a statement though is probably key to ensuring it does not run afoul with any other rules and laws (also assuming that such a statement is both (a) true and (b) indicated in some public government document).

    But that's just my opinion - and regardless of whether it is correct, it still in no way guarantees you will keep your job after making such a statement on a govt or related site.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dave562 (969951)

      Technically, if it is true ("you" are selecting free/open source software to save tax dollars, and there is a statement someplace in the govt documents indicating that is part of the reason for the choices made) then endorsement or not, it's public information, and I do not see why stating it, if worded correctly (to properly indicate the reason such choices were made) would run afoul of anything.

      I'm willing to bet that there isn't anything in his job description about collecting and publishing information

    • I was considering the same. Ain't one of the big things this administration allegedly rides on is open, accessable and transparent government? So it's not an endorsement. It's informing the public! Informing them of what their public servants use to fulfill their needs, informing them of how their tax money is spent (or rather, that it's not).

      You're not saying "we use X and it's great!", you just say "we use X". I cannot see the endorsement in this. It is information, nothing else. It's the transparent gove

    • by jmkaza (173878)

      There's truth in the truth argument. As a gov't agency, you can't provide an endorsement of a commercial product, but you're required to provide transparency in what you do. The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are (or aren't) being spent, so an information page on the site should fly. I'd follow federal guidelines though, and make sure you don't use any logo images, keep it text based.

  • Pick a project like bacula (best backup software made to date). Use it adopt it spread the word. After that you can support the project, they have a bunch of items on the to do list ( http://www.bacula.org/misc/Vote-2009.html [bacula.org] ). If one of the items would help your work, sponsoring project would be a way to help open source software. -Jason
  • Documentation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UTF-8 (680134) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:33PM (#30530188) Homepage

    First, ask the open source project where they need help. If all else fails, you could learn how to write documentation for the project. Helpful documentation is notoriously bad for projects that are too focused on the internals without an outside view.

    • by marcus (1916)

      It's been a long time since I've seen grammar as good as yours in/on/around a /. FA.

      By all means YES!, write documentation for your favorite project.

  • 1. Don't call it open source. Realize that the freedom aspect is as important for you as for the transparency of your "the people"-serving agency.
    2. Always consider free software first when implementing a new feature or system. Use is contribution.
    3. Learn to program and encourage others in your organization to do the same. It's not all about talent and can improve performance in nearly any job.
    4. If you have written any scripts to help you use free software, release those under the (A)GPL.
    5. Write, cla
  • Potential Employees (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Do you have the software you use listed somewhere to aid job applicants or to steer people familiar with that software toward you?

  • Some ideas (Score:5, Informative)

    by booch (4157) * <slashdot2010@craigb u c h e k . c om> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:43PM (#30530316) Homepage

    It's not directly aimed at your particular situation, but I created a list of ways for non-programmers to contribute:

    • Submit bug reports
    • Suggest new features and options
    • Make other comments on how to improve the the quality of the program
    • Help write good documentation
    • Translate the documentation (and program text) into another language
    • Read exisiting documentation, follow the examples, and make corrections
    • Correct spelling and grammar mistakes in documentation
    • Develop spelling and grammar style conventions for documentors
    • Build a glossary of technical terms
    • Convert documentation into more useful formats (i.e. DocBook)
    • Create templates to write documentation in a WYSIWYG word processor (AbiWord, KWord) and XSLT to transform it into DocBook
    • Create diagrams, screen-shots, and graphics for documentation
    • Submit graphics (icons, backgrounds) to use in the program
    • Help other people learn how to use the program (answer questions on mailing lists or IRC channels)
    • Write an email expressing your appreciation for the programs you use
    • Send the programmers post cards
    • Send the programmers a virtual beer
    • Write your legislators about the concerns that Open Source programmers have with recent and upcoming legislation
    • Write book reviews and critiques
    • Write a book
    • Maintain a FAQ or HOWTO document
    • Help organize LUG events, including InstallFests, BugFests, and DocFests
    • Help write articles for the LUG newsletter
    • Help update the LUG web site
    • Help maintain a web site for an Open Source project
    • Design a better user interface for your favorite program (GLADE and Qt Designer are great for mocking up a new UI)
    • Run usability studies
    • Create validation or regression test cases
    • See how a program handles streams of random data
    • Package the application for a particular Linux distro (or other OS)
    • Get the program to compile on a new platform
    • Create a Linux advocacy web site (probably not so easy to do right)
    • Provide training to new Linux users
    • Read relevant standards and make sure the program follows them
    • Convince people to chose Open Source products when possible
    • Write up case studies of successful Open Source implementations
    • Send the programmers some money

    The original list can be found here [granneman.com].

    • by Hatta (162192)

      How about commissioning new open source software? A government agency must have need for some specialty software that's only available commercially. Hire someone to write a replacement and open source it. It'll be cheaper in the long run, and the community gets the source code.

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:43PM (#30530318) Homepage
    I support open source software by making fun of various open source packages on slashdot. That encourages the developers to create better software.
  • Some of your non-programming products that you do for an agency may be of values to others. Even well supported programs like OpenOffice could use more examples, templates, artwork, tutorials, help files, etc.
  • Sponsor it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:50PM (#30530414)

    You may not be allowed to directly simply give money to OSS. Many OSS projects offer prefered "development direction" for donors, though. If you want a feature in a certain tool, get into contact with the maker and see whether the project offers this option.

    You're not simply giving money away. You are buying a feature. A feature that will be publically available and not exclusive to you, that's a given, but then again, I thought government spending was supposed to be done to make the public benefit from it.

  • by Nerdposeur (910128) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @05:52PM (#30530452) Journal
    Go to a government agency conference and do a presentation. Talk about how open source has saved you money, eliminated licensing headaches, etc etc. Show some charts.
  • Attend a conference for your organisation - maybe a local govt conference or such like and evangelise for FOSS; people will believe your experiences much more than that of vendors and often local govt managers like to see proof from other similar organisations of FOSS success.

    Also, donate to the FOSS projects you use - get your manager to do so.

  • The best thing you can do is internal advocacy. Keep reminding people how this "open source stuff" has helped deliver projects on time and under-budget (if it has). Keep reminding managers how well they've done to save taxpayers' money. By helping to change attitudes of management and raising the visibility of OSS to other stakeholders, you're making it easier for the next project for which OSS could be considered.

    Always remember though that the business case trumps all. Just make sure that your business ca

  • by jafo (11982) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:08PM (#30530618) Homepage
    This is a common mistake people make -- I can't program therefore I can't contribute to open source.

    There are so many other things involved in getting software out: project management, graphic design, testing, training, documentation, advocacy, support, system administration, bug triage, design, architecture, translation (from *AND TO* your language), releases, etc...

    Surely there's something you can do to help...

    Pick some of your favorite projects, pick what you like to do that could help them, and look for opportunities to help out. Chances are it will be very well received.

    Sean
  • Simply listing ALL software that is used, the vendor and the cost. This is then not an endorsement, simply informing the public.

    If it happens that alot of the software is open source and cheap, then that is just fact; not endorsement.

    Just my $0.02
    err!
    jak.

    • Subscribe to FLOSS & related organisations and publications, eg: Linux Weekly News [lwn.new], Usenix [usenix.org], Free Software Foundation [fsf.org], ...
    • Leave the publications around for people to read
    • Go to conferences, send others in your dept to conferences
    • Get together with related Govt organisations and see what s/ware you can share; set up a common repository; making that repository world visible (may be harder)
    • If you produce interfaces for the public to use, fully document them so that FLOSS applications can use them
  • I assume that you have a web site for that government agency? While you cannot say you use open source software to save tax money, or even donate to open source projects, what you can do is use open source file formats on your agency web site for when you give out government documents. Save them in OpenOffice.Org and ODF format as well as RTF and MS-Word format, claim you are doing so for "accessibility" to many different types of software. If you have an audio file use MP3 and OGG formats, etc.

    Ask your bos

  • by mopflite (693070) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @09:18AM (#30534820)
    FOSS needs good documentation at this point more than anything else. There are dozens of superb FOSS applications out there which are almost unusable by all but experienced, technically knowledgeable users due to impenetrable and/or overly sparse documentation. New users, particularly new users migrating from Microsoft Windows, have neither the time nor motivation to learn the somewhat arcane terminology of man pages, nor to view one application's man page, then spend a day or so going through the same process in respect of another application that the first application's man page references (and so on, often ad infinitum). Quality documentation written for non-technical users to be able to follow and understand is essential if FOSS is to make further inroads into the Microsoft installed base. If you have technical authors, or ordinary users who are keen on and understand FOSS and have above average documentation authorship skills and a few hours to spare, I am sure that many FOSS projects would be delighted to hear from you.

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