We do, to some limited extent, acknowledge the efforts and contributions of open source software developers. But another aspect of that goes completely unnoticed, which is the community around that software.
By the word “Community”, I do not mean just the geeky people who are very much obsessed with a specific software, nor the ones who benefit somehow from working on improving the project they are working on… I mostly mean the normal, average users whether newbies or advanced who help others in finding that software, and more importantly, help them in walking through it and using it for their needs. In my opinion, it is a priceless experience to have someone from the other side of the world to help you fix your issues and get what you need to be done, for free.
It is true that a lot of open source software developers are paid to do their job (acknowledging that most of them aren’t), but in terms of the community, I have found most of those fellow humans – if not all – willing to give you the help you want and need for free. Think about the countless forums and online support channels (Mailing lists, IRCs…) that are always available to help you in case you need help, they are always free. In those channels, people spend countless hours asking those in need for help for extra information and debugging details, only to give them the support they need and teach them how to do X.
It isn’t just about support. How many times have you been referred to a great open source project by a friend or colleague? Say you didn’t know such open software solution existed, how much effort, money and time it could’ve costed you to find an alternative? Also, how many times have you Googled on “how to do a specific thing in X” only to usually end up in a StackOverFlow question, an online forum or a web blog that gave you the information you needed? All of this is given to you by volunteers who usually couldn’t contribute direct code to the open source project, but still found useful ways to be helpful.
I am guilty of mixing the terms “open source” and “free support” together here, because you could have easily expected to get the support/resources you needed if you paid $$$ for software you bought. But if you didn’t, why and how are you getting it? Those volunteers and contributors around the open source project are the answer. And sadly, most of them aren’t recognized neither in the press nor in reality. There are contests and selections for “best open source developers this year”, “best DevOps open source projects”… But you never read something like “Here are the most 100 people who supported users of open source projects the most”.
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I acknowledge that the community support has its limits, so for example if you are trying to deploy a complex Kubernetes cluster in your data center, or anything similar, it would be hard to find someone or an online blog explaining you everything you need in details. That’s where premium support should come. But in most cases and for the larger user-base of the average community, you never really need to pay for support or resources, because the community is always there for you.
I have posted countless forum support requests throughout my years of using Linux and open source, and I’ve received a lot of help from various Facebook support groups, and I’ve saved myself tons of money and time by reading StackOverFlow questions and other blogs/websites posts that showed up in the search results. Experienced people in their profession usually taught me a lot of things about deep-level libraries and applications on the mailing lists. I hardly remember the names of any of those people who helped me or provided me the resources I needed, but for everyone of them, I say thank you.
If you remember any specific names of forums users & moderators who used to provide support and help for thousands of people, or to you personally, I would be happy to hear about them and your experience with them. In fact, I think the only way to pay them back is simply to thank them enough for the help they provided you, and let them know that you are also thankful for their favor.