A Short Breakdown of the Free and Open Source Software Crowd

While I’m not into the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) movement as I was in the past, I feel that one of the things new people dealing with that community should understand is the different types of people they’ll encounter. With that in mind, here are the four types for users of FOSS.

  • Contributors: Those who actually contribute the code to the community. They might have ethical reasons to do what they do, but they either enjoy sharing knowledge with the rest of the world, or work on a project to improve on certain skills. These are the guys who usually contribute to or run projects on the side.
  • Advocates: Those who don’t code, but push the cause with their action (also known as computer show coordinators for their respective user groups.) These guys spend a good chunk of their time evangelizing open source, much like video game golfers spend much of their time exalting golf and all its wonders and glory. Usually try to cover up their inability to contribute code with their ability to blend in well with society. Sadly, many of these guys need a lesson in hygiene.
  • Fans: Guys who don’t really do much for open source other than use it and recommend it to their friends. Ironically, they’ll be both the biggest and least effective word of mouth advertisers.Their main interest is “Free as in Beer”. They’re somewhere between Advocates and Users.
  • Capitalists: People who use open source because it best suits their needs. Usually corporate heads fall into this category, and force their employees to become users if they’re not already one of the first three. They’re the least likely to care about the “Free” part of FOSS, and rarely know the difference between Free Software and Open Source Software.

So why did I write this? To show you what type of people you’ll be dealing with. It might be that you’re only writing software because you’re a contributor and you’re trying to help other contributors (e.g., you’re trying to fill a need). Or it might be that you’re a contributor with a dream of reaching all four categories. Or you might be a capitalist who doesn’t see the difference between Open Source and Free Software, and who doesn’t care. In any case, remember that the most successful projects start with contributors who create fans who lure in the capitalists. At last, when the capitalists are lured in, maybe–just maybe–they’ll begin to understand the true value of a contributor to the Free and Open Source Software movement.

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