Published: 30.06.2020 | Edited: 22.12.2020 | Tags: personal

You support open-source without knowing it

In a recent article I have explained how you can reduce the time needed to download pictures for your content by eleminitaing page load times from three to just one. In that article I have mentioned that I am currently creating presentations in the LibreOffice Impress, namely because it is a free open-source software.

Depending on how you look at it, one could say that just by merely using the open-source software, you are supporting it. I would say that, this reasoning is not too far-fetched, and I would like to explain why.

Let's consider a situation where you use, for instance said Impress to create a file. In case you do not run the suite off the USB in some live environment residing purely in RAM, you probably run it off some writable non-volatile memory, for instance off SSD. Running programs in such environments is very common. Your device probably also contains a hard disk where operating system you use to read this post right now is loaded from. Even if you have some kind of cloud attached device, which just displays the output, chances are that the remote device contains it's own hard disk.

It was however not always the case. In the past, there was no such thing as a non-volatile electronic memory. But as side note, back then also usually all the software was open-source, since the most common way to distribute it was on a paper, either as a punch card or later in a text form.

Thus, for the sake of the argument, let's assume, that all the programs we are running can write to disk and what they write, stays there arbitrarily long time. Except for the age of computer infancy and a current age of live USB environments without persistency enabled, I cannot think right now about any other similar cases, but for know, these two are enough.

Subtle traces

Now, LibreOffice is doing some work in the backround. One of the things it does that falls of the category of non-obvious is related to recovering files in case of an error, making it harder for you to lose your work. Look for backup and temporary files in the settings or in web search. This functioncality is nothing sort of uncommon these days, and not having it built in in the software in one way or another is becoming more an exception than the rule. Vi editor family does it in the form of swap files. Surely you can find more examples in whatever software you are using to do work easily.

Even when you do not pres the Save button or a hotkey that does it manually, modern software does this for you, automatically. It usually does it by default and usually without asking for a permission. A lot of times it does it without you ever knowing, not showing the icon or a notification of any kind, hiding away unimportant details. The swap file mentioned earlier is usually a hidden file itself, for instance, which is in my experience one of the more common conventions. Don't get me wrong - I love when the software does this! It helps me keep my mental health and sanity when using technology, because techonology might fail for whatever reason. You can always replace a piece of technology with a newer one or a better one, but you cannot easily mitigate the damage done by time spent on a work that did not end up saved.

These subtle traces are precisely the core of my argument that I am trying to express here - that by merely using a software to do work, you are supporting it, maybe without even knowing. Since what matters to me in this post is a free open-source software specifially, we will stick just to this side of a coin, but obviously it applies to all work related software. You see, when a software you are using creates such hiden artifacts on the disk, someone else not familiar with it might start poking around them and thus learning about the original software that created them, possibly becoming a supporter or even a contributor in a process as well. This can happen even after the software was removed from the machine.

Conclusion

Take this example with a grain of salt. I am not trying to convince you about something using what could be also described as a most unrealistic scenario possible. I did also made a distinction between the terms supporter and contributor. I consider myself to be a contributor when I do contribute consciously to the project. This could be by creating an issue in the issue tracker, opting-in for a usage data statistics, updating the documentation or submitting a pull-request with an actual code.

By just learning about the software project and spreading the word, you also become a supporter, albeit a conscious one. This post explains how you might simultaneously become a a supporter in an instant when you become a user.

If you have any thoughts about this that support, or even better, challenge my view, do not hesitate to let me know. The bottom line is, do not fear using open-source software even if it scares you, because you might even do more good than a harm, without even knowing!