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  • Use it.

  • Try to feel out the author's intent so that you can use the software effectively, or understand why it is the way it is fully. Knowing some of the culture is helpful in this.

  • Don't take things personally. This is software that pleases its authors, and for all the talk of taking over the world, the best bits are the ones that please their authors or are culturally useful.

  • If it breaks, see if you can fix it. Got an error message you want to know what it means? grep and the source are your friend. It's not that scary. Just look. You might figure it out on your own. You'll have more respect from those you ask if you don't figure it out, too.

  • There's great tools for getting an idea how things work. Use them. Want to know for sure where a process is looking for a config file? strace -e open theprogram will tell you authoritatively. If your software has the option to install debug info, gdb beomes really useful too. If you start persuing the problems you have as if you intend to fix them, you will get quite a lot of respect — and help. You won't be seen as a leech, and that's a good thing.

  • Talk to people. If you have an idea, sketch it out clearly and send it on to the author. If you find a bug, talk about it. Understand whether it's a technical problem, expectations problem, interface or library. Those are valuable things to know in a discussion.

  • Accept that a few things suck pretty universally: Network setup scripts, modem drivers, and many pieces of cheap-ass hardware. Also, for reasons of manufacturer stupidity, 802.11g cards and many printers are broken by design. Don't expect them to work. You get what you pay for, and that it works in Windows is an accident. They usually don't work well there either. Spending a little for quality hardware is a wise investment. Open software just makes the choice a little more obvious.

  • Remember that a lot of people do this for their own personal gratification — some like helping others. Some like to code. But their time is theirs, and asking them to help you, specifically, as if you are the most important thing in their life might be asking a lot. This list is about how to be important enough to matter. It's not hard — most hackers love to talk to smart people — but if you look like you just want to take answers and not share, you'll have better luck trying to squeeze information out of a rock.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 8th, 2005 01:56 am (UTC)

Actually, things like 802.11g cards don't work because their drivers aren't legally allowed to be opensourced. Otherwise Linux drivers would most likely be right there on the CD like they are for any piece of wired network hardware you can get your hands on.

That aside, 802.11g cards are one of those things that I'd expect to work right out of the box, for the simple reason that ndiswrapper exists--many manufacturers have wised up to its existence and instead of burying the driver in a cab file or (worse) a self-extracting executable, they put the INF and SYS files right onto the CD so you can just say ndiswrapper -i <whatever>.inf and it'll install it for you.

Aug. 8th, 2005 02:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's getting there. Slooowly.

But really, it's the chipset manufacturers I have issues with anyway. Locking up the chipset? WTF! If you need to region code them for FCC regulations, do it in write-once PROM!
Aug. 8th, 2005 02:14 am (UTC)

It's not region coding, though. They're closed-source because the FCC (and other regulatory bodies) don't want you to be able to adjust the power of your wireless hardware, not the frequencies.

The public-use license only extends to certain power ranges, and hardware manufacturers allowing users to fiddle with the power settings easily moves too much of the responsibility for any changes to the manufacturers. If you go to the trouble of disassembling a driver yourself to change it, it's quite clearly your fault if you violate local RF-power bylaws, not the manufacturers'.

Aug. 8th, 2005 03:29 am (UTC)
True that. So burn it into PROM! ... annoying, but I'd rather have working drivers than ones where I can max out the power.
Aug. 8th, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC)
Great, just great
Great explanation, just great, thank you.
-- agaran
Aug. 8th, 2005 09:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )