Last month, we conducted a poll asking how open source might have enriched your life. We got a great response. Over 150 people answered, and the comments they left hinted at the personal impact open source has on individuals.
The answers we supplied were slanted towards personal growth or transformation, but "Other" got the most votes, almost twice as many as "Learned a new skill," and more than double "It renewed my faith in humanity." So if open source hadn't enriched someone by helping them "create something of value," or in making them “more open to sharing ideas and opinions," what had it done for them?
The "other" comments were about the power and the freedom open source software gave the respondents. "It empowers me," was not one of our choices, but if it had been, it would have won.
Open source made new things possible for more people. One commenter said, "Open soruce technologies give me freedom...I was the prisoner of proprietary technologies for many years...open source gives me [options] a free choice."
Another commenter pointed out that open source empowers them to help others. They said, "I have also used open source to provide computer systems to people that would otherwise not be able to afford a new one with a proprietary system..."
And don't forget accidental careers. As another commenter put it, "After first meeting it at the university as a Biology undergrad, open source attracted my attentions so much that I actually changed my career to IT 'after' graduating, and since then, I've been working solely in IT, completely focused on open source."
When we talk about open source doing big things - changing the technology industry, or re-orienting the strategy of business, or making the world a better place, we often forget to think about how many individuals are part of this massive transformation, and how their lives are transformed by their participation.