I can’t help but notice the software that I’m using when it gets in the way. Getting in the way includes software that does not work the way I expect, fails, or is time-consuming when trying to figure out an infrequently used function or feature.
Murphy’s Law states that “If anything can go wrong, it will at the most inopportune time”. So you don’t, well I don’t, think I’ll pop over to the particular software project web site and see if my particular bug or annoyance has been reported when I’m in the middle of wanting to complete a task. But I do make a mental note, to do it later, which I’m sorry to say is not always followed up.
Software that ‘just works’, and is invisible to you to just getting the work done and completing the task, is also forgotten. No mental notes to follow up, so no triggers to improve the software that you use. Not a software developer? Contributions such as submitting a bug, adding more information to a similar or the same bug that has previously been submitted, writing documentation to show how you figured it out, or assisting someone else in the user forums or mailing lists — all help.
I use on my computer hundreds of programmes, most of which are invisible to me most of the time because they do ‘just work’ and or part of the underlying operating system which is hidden from me unless I choose to look. But then, how many people think about breathing or check their heart rate unless you want to monitor it for health or fitness reasons.
To transfer my mental notes into action, I thought once a week I could visit at least one software project that I don’t often visit. Project sites usually have pages so that you can find out about the project, a to-do list, documentation, and support fora. With this information, I would be in a better position to seek help when I needed it, but also to contribute, or pay it forward.
In the last three days I have sent and received email, browsed and searched the internet, created and printed a report, manipulated photographs, and posted and commented on weblogs.
Not a definitive list, but this is how I may be able contribute to the projects whose software that I used recently:
- Debian GNU/Linux My desktop is running version 3.1, but recently 4.0 became the current stable release (Etch) and I will be looking to use this new version. I may upgrade or create a new partition on my hard disk to install the new version. Either way, I will document my process in case I need assistance or my implementation may assist others. Also, I thought that I may be able to participate in the Smith Review Project that was announced a couple of weeks ago, as the tasks appear to be small and self-contained.
- I have been using the Xfce window manager for almost five years. When I begin to use Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 I will be updating my version of Xfce. I can document the changes that I need to make to customise Xfce to how I want to use it. Also, GNOME is the default window manager, so I may have a play with that as well.
- Thunderbird and Firefox work almost flawlessly, so I haven’t needed to visit the Mozilla Thunderbird or Firefox projects. However, I understand that the new version of Debian includes them under another name. What difference this makes to user support and documentation I’m not sure.
- I don’t use OpenOffice.org Writer that much, but getting page numbering for a report on the weekend was a painful experience. It did not work how I expected, and eventually I was able to fudge it so that I could prepare a print version with the correct page numbers. This is definitely an issue that I will need to follow up if I wish to continue to use this word processing software.
- GIMP just works for the small amount of reduction and change in orientation that I do on photographs from my digital camera. I’m beginning to explore other ways of using the GIMP, especially since manipulating a large image that I used for a poster last year that involved features that were simple to use once I knew how.
- GQView I think is freezing my computer, so this needs to be followed through. But for large amount of images I have begun to use Pho. I haven’t used Pho enough, i.e. not used GQView to know whether GQView is the problem.
- Flock was partly responsible for the establishment of this blog. They are having a Community Test Day on Monday 23 April in preparation for the public release of the next version. If I have Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 on my desktop by then, I may have time to download the test day build and participate in the testing.
Most open source or free software projects have a case study, stories, testimonials, or general discussion list where active contributors I’m sure would like to hear about what went smoothly or how an issue was resolved. So even if I forget to report what went wrong or do not have the time to actively contribute, at least I can always let them know what is going right 🙂