Sometimes it’s surprising how easy it is to help other people with their software projects. Besides the usual help – writing docu, helping with wiki pages, posting good bug reports – you can help these people a lot when you show them that their work is really appreciated. That pushes their motivation a lot!
One example: I have to tunnel all my mail through the university firewall where I am to my old university because here they block port 25 and 587 – at my home university they block only 25. So I need to fire up these tunnels whenever I want to send e-mail. Sure, I am able to to do this by shell, but that’s boring and far away from beeing userfriendly. Besides I don’t think that it makes sense to do a job on the shell if you are faster with a gui (but it’s nice to always have the ability to do it on the shell 😉 ).
One day I saw in a linux magazine a small text about a program which does exactly this job: gstm The Gnome SSH Tunnel Manager does nothing else – it is just a very well made gui for managing different ssh tunnels without opening the shell.
Since I read about the program I use it – and I use it a lot. After some time I realized that this program is small, but very usefull, and sent a mail to the author to let him now that I like his program. I was surprised by his answer: I was the first one who sent him a note message about the fact that I real like his program and that I use it. He was very thankful for getting any feedback, and was very interested about how I got notice of the program. So I sent him a photographed copy of the article and he published it on his web page.
For him it was very nice to see that his project, originally developed just for himself, got public attention and was so nice that others wrote an article about it.
And from my point of view it is nice that he got more motivation related to this project and probably will add some other nice features I am still missing (nothing important, but a system tray applet would be nice).
Both sides win, and I can only give you the advice: if you have programs or services which you use for free, especially if they are smaller ones or build in a way were normally no personal feedback is given, just send a small message to the developers/maintainers/whatsoever, and say that you like the service, and that their work is something very, very usefull. And if you have some spare time, ask them if they need help somewhere, adn provide this help 🙂