The Kudos Society – My take on the Open Source community

I am working on a set of posts in which I want to talk about Open Source products. Given how long just my introduction to these has grown, I will probably move them over to separate pages on the Blahg. To begin, I am writing a bit on why I am such a fan of Open Source, what tools I use and what tools I recommend for others, and why I try to participate in parts of the Open Source movement. The overall community of Open Source developers, users, and other contributors is something I call “The Kudos Society,” which may deserve at least a small bit of explanation as well.

All that said, what follows below the break is some of my personal history in joining this movement, which hopefully sheds some light on why I care so much about the status and health of Open Source overall.

I am a long-time user of Open Source and freely redistributable software. Long ago, based on the recommendation of a friend (hello, Jay, wherever you are), I started using Linux at home. I still remember downloading via zmodem the 4-disk installation set for SLS Linux (most likely you’ve never heard of it, as it didn’t last very long – I think due to lack of update cycles, at least compared to a number of other then available distributions). I never got it working right, because it didn’t have proper driver support for my SCSI card (an UltraStor 34F, if you must know) and I didn’t know nearly enough to resolve the problem at the time. So I looked for and found a distribution that came with the drivers I needed (SlackWare), downloaded and installed it, and all was wonderful. I came in to the Linux flock on Kernel 0.99pl14, registering with The Linux Counter project sometime not long after it went live. This was geek heaven, as running Linux really got you down close to the system and made you learn what you were doing to get everything running right – back then, I didn’t care if Linux was usable by the so-called “typical” computer user.  It worked for me, and it kept me sharp on maintaining a Unix-like system.

For the next few years, I dual-booted, playing The 7th Guest (sample game play video), Descent (reborn as DXX-Rebirth project), Doom, and other games in DOS or Windows, and rebooting into Linux to do “real” work, such as email, Usenet (there was not much on the World Wide Web for socializing and mass communication back then), and accessing and working on some Solaris systems I had guest accounts on.

After getting married, living on a limited budget meant sharing a computer with the wifey-person after some of her hardware crapped out on us. Her need for a regularly available work computer at home meant I needed to stick to a one-OS computer. And since the wifey-person was totally non-technical (the implication here being that she might be slightly technically inclined now), and many of the available productivity tools were less capable for her needs than the commercial stuff she knew at the time, that OS had to be Windows. Because of this, I was in Linux withdrawal for a few years. I still read the Usenet Linux groups and tried to help others (at that time, a busy group might get 300 messages a day – totally manageable for a single day’s readings), but I fell behind on Linux knowledge and skills. Clearly, action was required.

At this point, I started getting in to hardware in a way I’d never done before. I researched Linux driver development for all kinds of then-modern hardware, figuring that to save money I needed to build my system piece-by-piece. I was a huge believer in the need for SCSI drives at the time, because the IDE standard was just too unreliable for burning CDs. Burn protection that prevented bad disc burns when the system fell 3 milliseconds behind on feeding data just didn’t exist at the time. The irony here is that I bought a bad Philips SCSI burner that failed on discs over about 400 Meg, replaced it with a bad SCSI burner purchased on eBay, and then no longer really needed to burn discs after finally getting a reliable SCSI burner from a local store. In the end, though, I built a decent Linux capable system for a few hundred dollars (a crazy-low price at the time), got Linux running (not difficult since I’d researched my equipment needs first), configured X-Window to work (crazy hard, given the required technical details necessary to configure everything), and started looking about for software to make my efforts worthwhile.

And this brings me to where I want to start talking about what I call the Kudos society. I will be writing about tools I use, tools I’ve looked at using but do not for some reason, things I and others can do to contribute to support this community, and what I hope to do to help in the future.

First, my term “The Kudos Society.” It’s not really accurate to refer to the entire Open Source movement with this term, but what I’m really talking about is the tendency for so many to work on projects where there often isn’t real benefit beyond scratching an itch except recognition and appreciation from others.  I know there are people who get paid for working on Open Source projects. I know there are people who do the work on these projects who remain anonymous and avoid the recognition the projects could bring. And there are people who use Open Source project contributions as something of a resume to help get paying work. But generally speaking, most of the developers I see on Open Source projects are working on things as a side project to their “real” job, or are working on whatever because they have the time and skills necessary.

To me, these people seem, in essence, to be working primarily for Kudos – “Thanks for your good work.” I appreciate this attitude (even if I am incorrect in my perception), and do try to find ways to support the Kudos projects I use or would like to use. And with that large, rambling introduction, I’ll point to my “The Kudos Society” pages for my thoughts, my experiences, my attempts to contribute, and my recommendations.

[tags]Open Source, Free software, The Kudos Society[/tags]