Open Source, Less Labor, More Love
Open source software is inextricably tied to the idea of "giving it away." Projects open their code for a number of reasons -- to better the codebase, or to allow others to bend an application to their own needs. Maybe the reasons are entirely altruistic, or maybe the altruism is the happy side effect of more project-centric decisions.
Of course, the open source approach doesn't just help code, or simply act as the framework for strong applications. The desired end result of any application is to improve the life of the user in some way. It sounds like hyperbole, perhaps, but if an application isn't making work in some way easier (or play more fun), it's not an application you'd want to use again.
Recently, Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager, asked about what drives that particular community -- what makes them use Ubuntu, what keeps them using it from both the technical (and non-technical) standpoints. He comes to the conclusion that much of the project's strength comes from people working in conjunction to make their own situations better. He observes, "Fortunately making your own world better often means making someone else’s world better too."
He mentions in particular a response to a related post on open learning. Open source software has an advantage in that it runs exceedingly well on modest hardware. It likely won't make the digital divide history, but it levels the playing field, opening people to knowledge and ideas far beyond computer literacy.
Free Geek Central Florida was the project Bacon specifically mentioned, but there are many others like it out there. They use a number of Linux distributions, and may serve different groups, depending on local need. Bacon makes another good point -- there are many of these organizations, but they are largely uncoordinated.
I touched on this a bit last year. Bacon suggests that Ubuntu LoCo teams that recycle and redistribute hardware talk about their experiences. It's a great idea that would benefit most, I believe, as a wiki or collective knowledge base focusing less on "hard" tech, and more on the "soft" tech of managing and sustaining organizations with diverse clients who have varied needs and technical interests.