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Friday, September 22, 2006


5 Ways to Contribute to Open Source Projects Without Coding

Maybe you've seen many good Open Source projects that are no longer maintained. One of the many reasons for that may be lack of contribution. In fact, there are many one-man projects out there. Most of any program's users are just that, users, not developers. Nevertheless, average users still can contribute to Open Source programs to make them better.

I made a search for ways to contribute before writing this and I didn't find much. However, I found two very good articles: "How to Contribute to Open Source Without Coding" and "HOWTO Pay for Free Software". These articles explain how to contribute to Open Source. I summarize the information in this post, with a little info added by me.
  1. Contribute quality: help to make a better project, better looking and with new features
    • Submit bug reports
    • Suggest new features and options
    • Suggest ways to improve the framework (maybe comparing it to similar OS or comercial projects)
    • Submit some artwork (icons, backgrounds, logos) to use in the program
    • Correct spelling and grammar mistakes in documentation
    • Help maintain a web site for an Open Source project

  2. Contribute documentation: Some Open Source projects have a poor or insufficient documentation
    • Help write good documentation
    • Translate the documentation (and program text) into another language
    • Read existing documentation, follow the examples, and make corrections
    • Create diagrams, screen-shots, and graphics for documentation
    • Develop spelling and grammar style conventions for documentors
    • Build a glossary of technical terms (so non geek people can understand)
    • Convert documentation into more useful formats (i.e. DocBook)

  3. Contribute support: everybody need it at least once. Let programmer do their work while you help other people
    • Answer questions on forums, mailing lists or IRC channels
    • Contribute to (or start) an online support group
    • Help other people learn how to use the program (or programming library)
    • Write HOWTOS and post them in related forums or your own blog (you can find more info in "How To Write a Good Howto" post)

  4. Contribute money: many Open Source projects have a donate button or a shop where to buy related products, but there are other ways to contribute money
    • Send a developer, project or company some money
    • Buy a Free Software product, or associated products
    • Hire Free Software developers
    • Contribute hardware
    • Contribute bandwidth
    • Advertise in their web site if they show ads
    • Buy products from companies that support Free Software

  5. Contribute publicity: If the project gets popular there will be more people wanting to contribute
    • Package the application for a particular Linux distro (or other OS)
    • Convince people to chose Open Source products when possible
    • Write reviews
    • Write about new ways of using an Open Source program

  6. Contribute appreciation: it's an extra way to contribute but may be the most important
    • Express your appreciation to developers (through email or forum post)
    • Send the programmers post cards
    • Give a project or developer a gift (some have wish lists for this)
    • Be polite when reporting bugs or asking for new features; developers has no obligation to do it after all
Although most of the list is self-explanatory I plan to post more in depth info in the future.

Finally, this list is in no way complete. You can read the mentioned articles for more information or add more tips in the comments.

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This blog has moved to There you will find new posts
Blogger cyber_rigger said:
6. Buy your next computer from a Linux vendor.

Companies selling preinstalled Linux
Anonymous Anonymous said:
I do try to promote opensource games/free games/abandonware by reviewing them on my brand new website.
Anonymous Anonymous said:
7) keeep visiting and click the ads..

8) wear a red hat and roam arnd the city
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Donating some good quality documentation can just be as good as coding. If the documentation is quality then new users will feel that project is professionally run. I think a big issue for open source is frightening off new or none technical users with the scope of installing some of these projects.
Blogger virens said:
Very usefull post: general ideas of contributing in FOSS are summarized and arranged. Greate job!
Anonymous Anonymous said:
But is only free as in beer, not as in freedom. In fact, just SourceForge (the software) is non of them.
Anonymous Anonymous said:
There's something very important missing:
criticize the framework, expose in the mailing list about its weaknesses, how concurrents do better, explain how other do, etc.. that will help the project to improve a lot.
Blogger Beerorkid said:
I donate bandwidth from my webhost.

Currently I am hosting some compiz packages and used to host automatix.

Also at work we have set up a mirror for a couple linux distro's.

I can't code, but at least I am giving back to the community that has given me so much.

nice article.
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Very useful post and indeed completely true, even necesary to some developers since they can do the coding part, but in example cannot write the documentation correctly themselves or create the graphics for their applications. Together with people with different expertices the open source programs can become more succesful.
Blogger nongeek said:
I'm glad that many people find this post interesting and helpful. I'm already working in a more in depth info for some topics. Thanks to all for your comments.

And keep contributing!!! :-)
Blogger nongeek said:
You're right. I lived that experience. But that situation is changing: there are many projects with very good docs; but still there is room to improve.

Someone said:
"There's something very important missing:
criticize the framework, expose in the mailing list about its weaknesses, how concurrents do better, explain how other do, etc."

It's true. I thought it is already included in "contribute qality" but it isn't. I'm gonna include it. Thanks a lot!
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Excellent article! I took the lead to translate it for Portuguese and published it in my blog. I hope you don’t matter about that.
Pliss visit
Blogger nongeek said:

don't worry. I'm glad there are translation of this post
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Hey! very very nice article!!, I have translated it into spanish at

Thanks for this summary, it's excellent to show to new people on OpenSource communities.
Anonymous Anonymous said:
7. Blog using Open source software.
Blogger nongeek said:
Lloyd D Budd:
You're right. But Blogger is part of Google, and Google supports Open Source Projects. Since it's good to use products and services from companies that support Open Source I think I may use Blogger. It's good that other people use Open Source software for blogging, though
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Anonymous Anonymous said:
Keep visiting and click the ads..
Blogger Ahmet AYGÜN said:
A Turkish translation of this post is here:
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