In the 1990, there wasn't much free open source software for the PC. (Maybe it was there, but it sure lacked the easy distribution channel called the Internet.) There was shareware and freeware, but those applications were usually small and primitive, not full-blown productivity applications like image editors or IDEs. On the other hand, copying a cracked commercial software package from a friend didn't automatically mean that one's computer was virtually guaranteed to be infected with viruses (though viruses and Trojans sure did exist back then, malware just wasn't that widespread and evil). There was copy-protection, too, but most DOS and many Windows (3.1) applications could simply be duplicated by copying its installation directory to another system (via floppy disks, dude!).
Starting with the browser wars, people got used to the notion that some substantial software was given away for free, the risk of infection via Internet downloads increased, and software got harder to copy. The increased innovation during the dot-com boom also meant that software had to be updated more frequently for the latest features. So around the turn of the millennium, I decided to depend less on commercial, licensed software, and to look for alternatives, which I found in the burgeoning open source movement.
I still remember when I exchanged my evaluation copy of UltraEdit (8.0, IIRC, as of Mar-2009, it is at version 14.20!) with Vi IMproved 6.0 (as of this writing at version 7.2), on 12-Feb-2002. On that day, I wrote (somewhat lightheartedly) in my diary:
Today I've fallen in love. Her name's Vim. She's freely available, does not cost anything, and I can look into every part of her. She's fancy, attractive, and though it's tough at first, I can make her suit my every need. She offers things I've been dreaming of for years. I can have her wherever I am. Maybe I'll spend the rest of my life with her.
The text editor is the most important tool a software developer, and moving to a different one is a difficult endeavor; at first, one takes a huge productivity hit because all the shortcuts, tricks and customizations have to be re-learned and re-created.
Though even UltraEdit provided downloadable syntax highlighting files, that was nothing compared to the Vim community, which has been providing a wealth (okay, sometimes a mess) of syntaxes, mappings, tips and other customizations. I've benefited greatly, learned a lot, and quickly surpassed my previous capabilities.
This open and plentiful community encouraged me to give something back, and I started my involvement in the open source community by adding a tweak to an existing tip in May-2002, which was well received, and later improved upon by others, which immediately made me feel valued and accepted.
The next project I got involved with was TWiki collaboration platform in Mar-2003. At first I had problems installing the software on HP-UX, so added a note to an existing support page for that problem. Later, I figured out how to solve the problem, and posted my solution to help others. Finally, I fixed a problem in a plugin, and posted the patch to the plugin developer, which incorporated the patch into the code.
Since then, I've been involved in multiple projects (various Firefox plugins, for example), picked up development of an abandoned project (for a Perl link checker), and published some of my own developments. Most of my involvement is still in the community of the Vim editor, where everything started. For details, please refer to my list of my contributions.
I'm glad that there is much more awareness of open source software today, and not just by software professionals like me, but all sorts of people (best example: my wife) are using free software alternatives like OpenOffice or Mozilla Firefox in their daily work.
Ingo Karkat, 28-Mar-2009