I’m sometimes asked by people how they can participate in open source projects. Alternatively, I’m asked for support money by people who have very specific open source projects they want to do, but that’s another blog entry.
If you have coding skills and want to use them to develop open source software you have several options. You can start a new project by yourself or with some friends, or you can join an existing project. The advantage of the former is that you get to make the rules and there is a pretty good (i.e., 100%) chance that your code will be accepted. Not all established open source projects welcome new people without some vetting and your code is certainly going to be subject to significant review. If you are new to operating systems, it’s not likely that your code will be put in the Linux kernel tomorrow, for example.
In addition to coders, many open source projects employ the skills of designers, testers, writers, and translators. If you are interested in these aspects, poke around the links I’ve given you below to see if those projects have needs for those kinds of participants.
Also remember that since some projects have architectures for extensions or plugins, you can work in open source without touching the primary application. Examples of those include FireFox, Drupal, and WordPress. You could even do an open source add-on for the non-open source World of Warcraft and some other games. I did a blog entry on this kind of participation last July, with the really interesting stuff being in the comments.
You can host your own open source project on SourceForge or Google Code. Another way to get involved is to look around those sites for projects that interest you and then contact the projects owners to see if they are looking for help.
Here are some links to information about how you can get involved in some of the popular free and open source projects. My linking to these sites does not mean that I particularly endorse any of the projects.
- Free Software Foundation projects needing help and high priority projects
- Mozilla – Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.: coders and others
- Drupal content management system
- WordPress blogging software
- Projects sponsored by the Apache Software Foundation
- Information about current contributions to projects in Eclipse
- Contributing to GNOME, the Free Desktop Software Project
- Getting involved with KDE, the K Desktop Environment
- Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution
- Fedora GNU/Linux distribution
- openSUSE GNU/Linux distribution
- Sage open source mathematics software
Feel free to suggest other projects in the comments and please include links. I’ll update the list above.