Being a Good Free Software Citizen

From time to time, when I'm reading a mailing list for a Free Software application, I see a posting like this:

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: your program is lame

Hi I downloaded your program but it crashed. It sux. Im going back to Windows cos

Linus crashes all the time.

whatever

Dave

Perhaps I'm exaggerating for comic effect; most people aren't quite that rude. I think people get used to that stranded-by-the-car-in-the-desert feeling whenever something goes wrong with their computer. They take out their frustration on anyone who will listen, without realizing that the Free Software community includes a lot of helpful people. Having said that, it can be difficult to help people like Dave, particularly when they don't provide enough information about the problem. For example:

• Which exact version of the software is Dave using? (That's very important, because the bug may have been fixed already.)

• What was Dave doing with the application at the time of the crash or other problem? Details matter.

• Did any text appear on the screen, where the application provided details of what had gone wrong?

• Did Dave try any experiments to track down the cause of the problem?

Providing this kind of information would help Dave get a positive response. However, Dave should remember that most of the people who hang out on Free Software mailing lists, in forums, and in chat rooms are volunteers. They aren't obliged to help Dave with his problems in any way. As Dave learns more about the program, he may be able to help other new users with simple problems. If he does, he will be more likely to get help from the experienced users and developers of that application. That's what community support is all about.

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