Reaching Back

Reaching Back

Article from Issue 223/2019
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The Free Software community sometimes reminds me of those similar-but-mysteriously-not-similar parallel universes that turn up in science fiction novels. It looks just like the rest of the world, but occasionally you get a reminder that it really is a little different.

Dear Reader,

The Free Software community sometimes reminds me of those similar-but-mysteriously-not-similar parallel universes that turn up in science fiction novels. It looks just like the rest of the world, but occasionally you get a reminder that it really is a little different.

Linux users can download any tool they need for free. You're working along, and you think of some task you need to accomplish. Then you search for the best available tool and download it – it is yours. Or if you feel like trying a new Linux operating system, you look around, compare the features of the available systems, download an ISO, and start the installation.

Looking for an open source tool can feel a lot like shopping. If you're in a hurry (which many of us often are) or if you are in a less-than-mindful frame of mind (where many of us live), you might have the notion that downloading an operating system is similar to walking into a drugstore and buying some toothpaste, but in the Free Software universe, you need to operate with a little more care.

Linux Mint leader Clement Lefebvre posted a thoughtful message in the Mint blog recently to remind us that obtaining open source software isn't just a transaction – it is a two-way relationship that requires feedback in both directions [1].

The post points out that developers on Free Software projects like Mint aren't really in it for the money – what really motivates them is knowing that what they are doing matters and that it makes a difference for people. According to Clem, "developers need to feel like heroes."

He adds, "It's not always easy to achieve what we want; sometimes it's not even easy to define what we want to achieve. We can have doubts; we can work really hard on something for a while and then question it so much, we're not even sure we'll ship it. We can get demotivated, uncertain, depressed even by negative reactions or interactions, and it can lead to developers stepping away from the project, taking a break, or even leaving for good. And then sometimes simply seeing people enjoy what we did can boost an entire team, whether it's seeing happiness in an email/comment or getting a feeling of satisfaction after a constructive interaction, which leads to a fix or an implementation."

The next time you download some open source software, think about reaching back to the developers to let them know what you think. By starting the conversation, you will be playing an active role in the development process. Show some appreciation, or at least, take them seriously enough to offer some constructive feedback.

As Clement Lefebvre puts it in his insightful post, "Feedback is something we should love, not something we should fear. It's what fuels our project and our development. When developers do things right, the changes they commit result in users being even more happy. When users do things right, the feedback they give results in developers being even more motivated."

Infos

  1. Linux Mint Blog, March 2019: https://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=3736

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