What’s a poor, lonely Linux developer to do? Where are all the good support sites? How am I going to fix that troublesome bug?
These are questions that even novice code writers no longer have to ask. The classic view of a lonely, isolated programmer writing code for some obscure open source project in a back room is no longer an accurate view of the work environment in which Linux developers toil.
Open source programs have become so mainstream that the boundaries are blurring between proprietary, commercial and public domain software. Many software companies offer both open source and commercial versions of business-class programs.
“Open source communities have built amazing response systems to developers’ needs,” Bdale Garbee, chief technologist for open source and Linux at HP, told LinuxInsider.
Support sites for Linux developers are extremely important, agreed William Hurley, chief architect of open source strategy for BMC Software. The only thing more important than support is documentation, he said, noting that documentation is often a weakness found in most open source projects.
“Most Linux developers use IRC (Internet relay chat) channels and mailing lists, both absolute musts if your company is trying to support Linux developers,” Hurley told LinuxInsider.
Linux developers today do not suffer from a lack of support sites and collaborative outlets. In fact, code-writers have many alternatives to community-based Web sites.
For instance, there are LUGs (Linux User Groups), DevCamps, BarCamps, SuperHappyDevHouse, and countless local meet-ups where developers can mingle with like-minded individuals offline, in the real world, according to Hurley. These events also strengthen the local development community, which is integral to spreading the adoption and support of Linux and other open source projects, he said.
Today’s Linux developers are much better armed with a variety of support opportunities, noted Garbee. They have access to project revision boards that open a whole new level of support not available to individual proprietary software developers, he explained.
These additional support outlets include Web design forums and e-mail lists. Ultimately, there is no reason a Linux developer should feel isolated and without help.
“Very early in the process, Linux developers need access to wiki technology,” Garbee said.
Linux developers do not face unique needs that isolate them from the information sources available to software developers for other platforms. Rather, suggests Hurley, it’s the other way around. It’s the proprietary developers who more often have unique needs.
“It’s usually very easy to get an answer to an open source development question. Proprietary companies, on the other hand, charge for development programs and support. Also, proprietary developers are conditioned to think proprietary, i.e., they are more competitive and less willing to share knowledge or contribute freely. Open source developers have a mentality of cooperation. Communities share knowledge freely, even with competitors,” Hurley said.
LinuxInsider asked industry experts to recommend some of the best support Web sites for Linux developers. Here is a list of the most popular suggestions:
- Kernel.org One of the ultimate Linux developer goals is to gain access to a Kernel.org account. However, this Holy Grail for open source code writers is not easily achieved. Kernel.org does not grant account status unless the developer is making a reasonable amount of contributions to the Linux kernel and has a good reason for wanting and needing access. Those who feel qualified can plead their case for an account via the Web site’s link to ftpadmin.
- The Apache Software Foundation Perhaps playing the role of Big Brother to individual Linux developers, The Apache Software Foundation provides support for the Apache community of open source software projects. Code writers involved in Apache projects are often keenly interested in collaborative exchanges and have a desire to create high-quality software that leads the way in its field.
The Apache.org community sees its role as extending beyond that of a traditional hoster of projects connected by a common server. It is a vibrant community of developers and users. However, newcomers need to approach the community with caution. Membership is reserved for those Linux developers who have demonstrated a commitment to collaborative open source software development through sustained participation and contributions within the Foundation’s projects.
- Sourceforge.net One of the newest open source developer help spots is Sourceforge.net, which offers support for a broad base of software categories. Code writers can find communities for clustering, database, desktop, development, enterprise, financial, games and hardware. Sourceforge.net also has community support for multimedia, networking, security and storage.
This past July, Sourceforge.net launched a Community Section with tools to help developers talk to Sourceforge leadership and other developers.
There you will find forums for discussing topics not directly related to particular software projects, a blog with posts from the Sourceforge.net regulars, and a calendar of upcoming events.
- The Linux Foundation Another relative new group for Linux movers and shakers is The Linux Foundation (LF). LF is a nonprofit consortium founded earlier this year by the merger of the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group. Its leadership is bent on fostering the growth of Linux and is supported by a growing list of leading Linux and open source companies and software developers from around the world.
Linux code writers will find a base here for neutral collaboration forums that focus on helping companies and individuals work together to solve the challenges facing the Linux platform. The Linux Foundation Advisory Councils provide forums for end users, members, vendors and community developers to discuss shared issues, collaborate on projects of common interest and decide how best todirect resources in support of the development community.
- Mozilla.org Here, Linux code writers can find all things related to Web site issues and the open source browser world. Mozilla.org can provide a wealth of community contacts for Linux developers working on projects that integrate with Mozilla projects such as the Firefox browser.
One handy information source is the Microsummaries. These are regularly-updated succinct compilations of the most important information on Web pages. Site and third-party developers provide them.
The Mozilla Development Center provides information on new developer features in Firefox 2 for application developers, XUL developers and extension developers.
Kernel.org deals primarily with the Linux kernel and its various distributions and larger repositories ofpackages. It does not mirror individual projects and software. Even if Kernel.org grants a newcomer account status, the administrative team generally does not provide help in solving programming issues because of a lack of resources.
A better starting point is becoming involved with the Kernel Newbies Web site. This is a community of people actively involved with improving and updating their kernels and those of aspiring Linux kernel developers. Here, newcomers may find experienced developers more willing to share their knowledge.
Also check out the Linux Documentation Project.