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Making the Future Happen In Linux

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A consequence of Linux's amazing growth is a growing new user population that is not accustomed to having any power. Folks, you have the power-- you don't have to sit around all sad because Linux is missing an application or feature that you need. What you do is roll up your sleeves and help make it happen, because that is how Linux works, and that is what makes Linux--and all Free and Open Source software-- so good.

I started writing computer howtos because there were so few good ones. Ken Starks builds Linux computers for children and does hand-on Linux teaching and support. Cathy and Earl Malmrose build and sell excellent, fairly-priced Linux computers. Jon "maddog" Hall challenged some Linux developers, who were complaining about not being allowed access to source code for a certain library, to write their own. And they did, and it was better.

Ohio LinuxFest is a popular, genuine community grass-roots Linux conference. It attracts corporate attendees such as Novell and Red Hat, but it is not a corporate event.

Most Linux distributions are maintained by small dev teams. Slackware, PCLinuxOS, Linux Mint, Clonezilla, Parted Magic, Puppy Linux, Sabayon, System Rescue, and hundreds more were all created and maintained by 1-5 numbers of developers and various other support people. Slackware is extra-special; it is the oldest surviving (and thriving) Linux distribution, it is still under the control of its creator Patrick Volkerding, and it is exceptionally stable and high-quality.

Linux Weekly News, which is the highest-quality Linux news site, was founded in 1997 by two people, Elizabeth Coolbaugh and Jonathan Corbet, and currently is run by a staff of four.

Linux Gazette has been going since 1995, and was founded by John Fisk. Linux Gazette is a testament to the power of a genuine community project-- SSC, which used to be the publisher of Linux Journal, attempted a hostile takeover of Linux Gazette in 2003. For a time there were two Linux Gazettes. The SSC version, linuxgazette.com, was a mess, went through several botched makeovers, censored unfavorable reader comments, and finally disappeared without a trace. Even the archives are gone. Meanwhile, the real Linuz Gazette is still chugging along at linuxgazette.net.

And the Point Is?

The point is that joining the 'wah, Linux isn't 100% ready for me yet, and dangit someone needs to do something about it' chorus isn't the best way to get there. Sure, if you wait long enough whatever problems are bothering you will probably be solved. But, unlike proprietary software, you don't have to wait. If you can't code contribute some help documentation-- tips and tricks, helping other users in forums, report bugs. If you can't do that donate a few dollars or some hardware. Maybe you're an artist-- donate a spiffy logo. Many FOSS projects have wish lists; sometimes it's as easy as buying a dev a book or some other trinket.

And maybe you'll want to learn to be a programmer. There are abundant tools and howtos, and modern high-level languages (like Python, Perl, Ruby, Lua, and many others) are not hard to learn.

The main thing is to change your mindset. In the FOSS world, users are not helpless victims, but welcome contributors and participants. One person can make a significant difference, and the barrier to entry is low-- all you need is an idea and some time.

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