The Community Obligations of Using Free Software

by chromatic

In The Optimistic Contributor's review of Parted Magic on LWN, Robert R Boerner Jr mentions the disheartening fact that Parted Magic's developer has decided to discontinue the project.

Yes, the source code is open and available, but that in and of itself is not always sufficient for success:

I can only wonder how many other projects in the free software world have met the same fate. What great application or idea is lying dormant in Google's cache or the Internet Archive? I know what you are thinking, if we are dealing with open source software, why doesn't someone else just pick up where the original developer left off? The simple answer may be that people with the time, skills or inclination to scratch the same itch that brought a project to fruition are few and far between. Quite frankly, why would someone want to, knowing that they might meet the same fate as Patrick Verner?

Boerner's solution is, ultimately, the only solution that makes community-driven software work:

When I advocate the use of free software such as Linux, I always tend to think of the freedom to make changes, the freedom not to be locked in. What I forgot is the old adage that freedom is not free. Along with that freedom comes the responsibility of the community at large to do what they can to help.

This help can come in any form, whether it is writing documentation, helping to moderate a web forum, or just simply sending a thank you email to the developer(s).

There are no requirements in an OSD-compliant license to do any of these things to use the software. Nor are these requirements to redistribute or modify or modify and redistribute the software.

Yet if your business or work or privacy or freedom relies on such software, please do consider helping keep the ecosystem of free, community-developed software healthy and vibrant.