Learning about OSS

We’ve gotten through about half the semester, and have learned about Open Source Software, how it works, and how to work with it. OSS has both pros and cons. I like that it’s free to both use and get the source. I like that with OSS, if you want a specific new feature and you know how to do it, you don’t have to wait for someone else to make it, but instead do it on your own, how you want it to be done. I also like that anyone, from anywhere can contribute. With that, you can get a lot of talented people from all over the world.

However, when working on an OSS project as part of a course, there are some things that can be difficult, which wouldn’t be a problem with typical class assignments. This includes not knowing exactly who your customer is. It’s unclear to whom questions should be referred (the Epiphany group, GNOME accessibility extensions group, someone else?). It sometimes seems like there are more questions than answers, and you can’t have in-person meetings with those who you’re giving the questions. So the communication isn’t always as easy as if you could talk to people face to face. Another issue is outside influences that can impact the success of the project. There can be sudden major changes, such as the Epiphany group deciding to do away with separate extensions. That could mean that instead of working on a potentially useful extension, we’re now working on an extension that will potentially go nowhere even if we do complete it. It’s also hard to gauge how long a given project will take from start to finish. Since it’s a new project for the professor as well as the students, no one knows at the beginning what challenges there will be, and whether they will be met within the few months of the semester.

The powerpoint presentations in class helped to understand how OSS works, and some of its pros and cons. It also helped to download Fedora and Epiphany, and to start using some of the programs that we would be using and programming for, like Epiphany. Also, through the project we’ve learned about keeping in touch with the OSS community, which is an important aspect of OSS. As with any software development, communication is key, and so it’s important to know how to communicate with people who are working on the same project.

As far as my interactions with the HFOSS community, I have regularly gotten the emails from the GNOME accessibility list and Epiphany list. That helps me to stay in the loop, and I also feel reassured knowing that if questions arise regarding Epiphany extensions or accessibility, I have access to people who can answer the questions, and I know that the list is active, and that I will get a response back. Additionally, there are constantly people on the #a11y IRC chatroom as an additional place where I could direct questions if needed.

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