Getting help with open source software

One of the best things about open source, particularly those that adhere to the GNU General Public License (GPL) is that the code must be made available for the general public. This entire design has many benefits as described by the GPL's creator, Richard Stallman.

One of the best things about open source, particularly those that adhere to the GNU General Public License (GPL) is that the code must be made available for the general public. This entire design has many benefits as described by the GPL's creator, Richard Stallman. If you ever want some interesting reading, look into why he created the GPL and what it is designed to do. I've found it very interesting on his personal thoughts and what he experienced with the Xerox code and how it spawned his crusade for opening up source code for software. The book "Free as in Freedom" is a good read on this subject.

Recently as I wrote about previously, I had the pleasure of replacing Windows XP and Windows 2000 with Fedora 14 for several people. With those deployments, I found a problem with each one that I was not able to fix right away. It was with Rhythmbox (a full featured media player that is installed with Fedora by default). Rhythmbox has been quirky in the past, partially because I think the developers have tried to make it support a wide variety of players, formats, and also give it a lot of features that are common with media players now. But, the issues I saw with every Fedora 14 installation was that when opening Rhythmbox the first time, it would pop up with an error saying "Unable to activate plugin Audio CD Player". After clicking Close for the error, Rhythmbox would open up and work until a mp3 song was played. When playing any mp3 song, another error would pop up saying "The playback of this movie requires a GStreamer element audioconvert plugin which is not installed.".

I finally had some time to get to the bottom of these issues. After searching on Google, I found another bug tracking forum for Debian, a completely different Linux distribution, mentioning this same problem and the fix was to install the "orc libraries". Looking at Fedora's package database, I found the "orc" package and installed it (using the command "sudo yum install orc"). I also performed the additional steps mentioned in the forum which were to delete the "~/.gstreamer-0.10/" folder and run the command "gst-inspect -b" to build a new registry for GStreamer. After doing the recommended steps, mp3 files were working again like normal. Also, I discovered another Ubuntu specific post mentioning the "unable to activate CD player" error, which mentioned installing the "musicbrainz" package. I again searched Fedora and found that when installing "libmusicbrainz3", it resolved the issue. A little bit of research, and a little tinkering using the command prompt, but the information is out there.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Proprietary software cannot provide as this level of support in the community, because the code is hidden from the general public. Imagine using a proprietary software package, a proprietary media player for example. Nobody except those that have access to the code would be able to track down the issue. Otherwise, it is just a guessing game for the software users. In worst case scenarios, those with access to the code can charge for support, even after charging the customer for the software itself. Thankfully though, it is getting more common for software vendors to provide basic Q&A or forums with common fixes for their software, as somebody would have to contact the vendor in the first place to report the problem. But only with true open source under the GPL, can the code be examined by the general public, tested, and a solution found right away. And for those that are not able to do this, forums with those that are able to, are open for discussion among the various parties in a global cooperative effort.