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We don’t just use our computers, we form emotional bonds with them and the software they run. You can see this in debates over macOS and Windows, PlayStation and Xbox, or Galaxy phones and iPhones. For better or worse, the gadgets we use often work their way into our hearts and our sense of identity.
This is no different in the free software world. Only here, we don’t show our support by buying products. Given the nature of the open source ecosystem, it’s easy to love Linux and never show appreciation to the people who make it all happen.
There are many ways to contribute back to the free and open source software ecosystem, but if you specifically want to show your love financially, here are seven open source organizations that could use your support.
1. The Linux Foundation
No one company or organization owns Linux, but there is one that pays developers and promotes Linux adoption around the world. The Linux Foundation sponsors Linus Torvalds (the founder of Linux) and Greg Kroah-Hartman (the kernel’s lead maintainer) to continue their work. After forming in 2007 when the Free Standards Group and the Open Source Development Labs merged together, the Linux Foundation has since grown into the largest open source-related non-profit organization in the world.
While the Linux Foundation is invested in the Linux kernel specifically, it also encourages the adopt of open source apps, interfaces, and other tools, both on the desktop and online. The group has achieved great success in the corporate world. AT&T, Cisco, Qualcomm, Samsung, and even Microsoft are among the many companies that are members.
2. Free Software Foundation
If the Linux Foundation is the largest, the Free Software Foundation is one of the oldest. It has been around since 1985, when GNU founder Richard Stallman created the organization to further the advancement of free software. The GNU Project created many of the core components that make a free and open source operating system possible, including the license that has kept Linux and most of the software written for it free for anyone to use.
The Free Software Foundation provides tools and resources for people who want to use computers completely free of closed, proprietary software. Its standards are strict, with popular Linux operating systems like Ubuntu and openSUSE not making the list. Even Fedora, which only distributes free software in its repositories, is excluded because it uses the standard version of the Linux kernel, which contains closed-source bits that enable it to run on my hardware.
If you want to know what operating systems don’t contain proprietary code, and which computers you can buy to run them on, the Free Software Foundation is the place to check.
3. Open Source Initiative
The Open Source Initiative is a non-profit dedicated to the spread of open source software. It formed in 1998, founded by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond, two men who looked at free software not from the perspective of morality and ethics, but as a pragmatic way to develop computer programs.
The OSI pushed the phrase “open source” as an alternative to “free software” in part to make the concept more appealing to a broader audience, including corporations. These days the community has largely settled around the name “free and open source software.”
The OSI maintains an official definition for “open source” and provides a green logo that programs and products can use. It details open source licenses aside from the GNU Public License, such as MIT and Apache, that offer developers additional ways to make source code available to others. The OSI is a great resource for people and companies interested in transitioning to open source but are unsure how to begin.
4. Software Freedom Law Center
A license can tell someone how they’re allowed to use a piece of software, but that doesn’t mean they will follow the rules. Sometimes people break the terms of a license, either knowingly or unknowingly, and someone needs to hold them accountable.
That’s where the Software Freedom Law Center comes in. This open source foundation, started in 2005, offers people who develop free and open source software free legal representation. Otherwise companies with greater financial resources could get away with misusing freely available code however they wish.
You can contribute by making a donation.
5. Software Freedom Conservancy
The Software Freedom Conservancy was born a year after the Software Freedom Law Center, with the latter’s support. It provides another form of legal protection for free and open source projects. Members can assign copyrights to the SFC, which then manages compliance and enforcement issues on their behalf. Developers get to focus on making code, and lawyers can do the work of making sure these contributions are used accordingly to the license.
6. GNOME Foundation
The GNOME Foundation is the face of the GNOME desktop environment. It has been around since 2000, a couple of years after the first release of GNOME. This open source organization guides releases, puts out press, and determines what software is officially part of the project. It also maintains infrastructure used to host supported software and their accompanying websites.
Money from donations goes toward infrastructure costs, travel expenses for developers attending GNOME conferences and hackfests, and outreach activities.
7. KDE e.V.
KDE e.V. is the KDE equivalent of the GNOME Foundation. This organization exists to aid the development of KDE software and the surrounding community. It uses funds to arrange developer sprints and other major events, such as Akademy.
Likewise, KDE e.V. administers servers that teams use to store and distribute KDE code. The organization also has groups dedicated to promoting KDE and engaging the broader community.
Support More Open Source Organizations and Foundations
You can support other open source foundations that back specific projects, too. There are organizations built around Apache software projects, the Eclipse development engine, and OpenStack cloud computing infrastructure.
You can also make donations directly to the people who develop the apps you love, such as the GIMP image editor, Ardour digital audio workstation, or Blender 3D modeling program. Free software may not charge money, but that doesn’t mean that money isn’t needed.
What free software projects or organizations do you support? What other ways do you show your appreciation for the open source ecosystem?