How much do you owe Open Source

Unsung heroes

There are these tools that I’ve used for so many years they basically seem ubiquitous and I hardly notice them anymore. The other day, a co-worker of mine asked about a dialog that poped open on my Windows machine at work. It was Launchy. He asked whether is was like the start menu quick search function. To which I replied that indeed it was, except that it could do a lot more, and I started using it way before there was anything approaching it in vanilla Windows interfaces.

A quick mental calculation turned out the appalling result. I’ve been using this stable, top grade software product for about 8 years, having donated exactly $0. In that time I’ve probably been saved countless hours of menial menu/folder navigation. How many hours? Probably hundreds. And yet I’ve given nothing back (other than switching some people to it over the years).

About charity and tipping

In one of his courses, Dan Kennedy talked about charity. What I do remember from this was a was a philosophy that quite stuck with me. In essence, I remember that rather that charity, you should consider setting aside a budget for big tips, exceeding by a factor of 10 the usual tip the service-provider is given.

While this advice was written in a different time, I feel that it still is true. I’ve been disillusioned countless times by the charities I supported, and something about compensation for hard selfless work really rings true to me.

Action plan

So I’ve put together, off the top of my head, a list of all the open source/free tools that I’ve used over the years, taking into account two factors in the priority:

  1. How much time has something saved me
  2. Is the project a small, person-driven project or corporate/foundation driven

I’ve come up with this list of tools:

  1. Launchy
  2. KeePass
  3. AutoHotKey
  4. Open/Libre Office
  5. VIM
  6. VirtuaVin

Some of these I don’t really use anymore, after switching to Linux on my home base, but I feel I owe them very much. I’ve decided to donate to each of them, at least once, a substantial (for me) amount of money. Then, I will build the list up once more and keep going until I’m out of tools that I use. Somehow, I doubt that will ever happen… And that makes me very happy.