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What You Should Know Before You Get Started - Practices

What happens when the effectiveness of your favorite search engine turns against you, when it becomes almost too effective to be useful, giving you so much information that you're not sure where to start?... Well, my overworked friend, you're in luck. Today, I'll be covering the holy grail of information gathering: asking people... In the process, I will also show you some of the better locations to begin your searches and give you a few pointers in getting the most out of your queries.

  1. Getting Help the Free Software (and Open Source) Way
  2. What You Should Know Before You Get Started
  3. Newsgroups
  4. Mailing Lists
  5. IRC Channels
  6. Putting it All Together
By: Norbert 'Gnorb' Cartagena
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 9
October 09, 2003

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Before I start ranting and raving about where youought to go,I feel obligated to cover some important points when it comes togatheringinformation through live sources. Reliable, fast, and friendly as theymightbe, they don't always turn a blind eye towards people who don't followtherules, spoken or not. Just keep the following guidelines in mind whenaskingfor help: 

  1. Keep a good attitude. No one likes aloud-mouth know-it-all, so ask nicely and thank people for theiranswers.
  2. Be willing to do some of your ownfoot-work and learn. Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teachhim how to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.
  3. Be willing to give answers as well asask for them. Be willing also to give more relevant information on yourtopic when it is requested of you.

Unlike web pages, which don't care whether you're ajerk ornot, chat channels, e-mail lists, and newsgroups require some amount ofsocialfinesse in order to get the information you need quickly andeffectively. Thisis especially true in the world of Open Source and Free Software. Likea searchengine, to get the best results you have to be able to play by therules and toknow how to ask a question. The better you know the rules, the fasterand moreaccurate results you are likely to receive. Before you go off into theworld ofFree Software and Open Source development, however, make sure youunderstandwhat you're getting yourself into. Sometimes there's more to keep inmind thatjust getting your project done.

The following are some sources I highly recommendyou checkout now, before you need to start your search for technical knowledgein theOpen Source and Free Software communities:

The brainchild of RichardM.Stallman (commonly known as RMS), the Free Software Foundation (FSF) isanorganization set up on the premise that the practice of Copyright,unlike inthe paper-and-ink publishing industry, is not particularly appropriatefor thedigital software industry. In 1984, RMS began creating the GNU OS (GNUis NotUNIX Operating System), seven years before Torvalds created the Linuxkernel.Out of the development of the GNU tools came much software, includingthecategory killer Emacs. A category killer, as Eric Raymond explains inhis work,The Cathedral and the Bazaar, is a piece of software so good atwhat itdoes that it has no competition because no one feels the need tocompete withit. Stallman and the FSF are also to be credited for the creation oftheGeneral Public License (GPL), also known as Copyleft. 

Note that Free Softwareis not thesame thing as Open Source. Open Source Software, like Free Software,espousesthe principles of creating open, high quality, powerful software. TheFSFclaims that unlike Free Software, however, Open Source shuns the ideasoffreedom, community, and principle which are at the foundation of FreeSoftware.Agreeing with the goals and principles of the FSF is not necessary;knowingwhat those goals and principles are should be.

This monumental work byEric S. Raymond (ESR) explains themethodology and philosophy behind OSS.This paper, first presented at Linux Kongress in May of 1997, uses thestory ofESR's creation of Fetchmail to describe how he figured Open Sourcedevelopmentshould work. In it, he explains his realization of how amazinglyeffective peerreviews and feedback loops are within the Open Source model. His ideascan besummarized in the following quote: “Release early. Release often. Andlisten toyour customers.”

From their website, “theOpenSource Initiative is a non profit corporation dedicated to managing andpromoting the Open Source Definition for the good of the community...”Containing everything from a list and explanation of various OSIcertified OpenSource software licenses to the infamous Halloween Papers, this webpage isessential to helping anyone build and argument for open source in allrelevantaspects, including technical, philosophical, and business.

Simply put, The JargonFile is themost comprehensive guide to hacker-talk ever assembled, period. Eventhe mostseasoned programmer will from time to time run into phrases that he/shedoesn'treadily recognize. Because of this, ESR's Jargon File is a necessarytool foranyone serious about information gathering on the Net.

With that out of the way, it's time to get started.After all,if you're planning to do any sort of Open Source project management, orif yousimply want to look for answers to a current conundrum, you'll need tolearnhow to dig for information quickly, right? 

>>> More Practices Articles          >>> More By Norbert 'Gnorb' Cartagena

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