This Christmas I decided to give a few gifts to people in the open source community. I'm making donations to the maintainers of some of my favorite and most widely used software projects. They've earned some payback!
Most of the programs I depend on the most, I've discovered, are actually not big ones -- they're little things, applications that fill in the gaps, and that make my work all the easier.
The first big open source project that gets a little of my Christmas cheer is the PortableApps suite, an incredibly useful bundle of no-install-needed editions of popular open-source programs. It's a one-stop shop of sorts for a whole slew of common apps -- Firefox, the OpenOffice.org suite, VLC, and 7-Zip -- and it can be run either from a removable drive or from a single self-contained directory on a PC. I've pointed a number of friends to it as an easy way to consolidate all of their applications and documents into one place. If they upgrade to a new machine -- or if their PC ever gets borked and they need to recover files from it -- they can simply copy the PortableApps directory somewhere else and pick up right where they left off.
It's funny how many open source projects of one kind or another you can end up using without even thinking about it. Not long ago I started using the above-mentioned 7-Zip as my archiving application of choice -- not only because it was open source, but because it actually gave me slightly better compression ratios than WinRAR (which I'd been using previously) on certain kinds of files. I'd originally started to use it provisionally, more as a companion program to WinRAR than a flat-out replacement. Eventually I disabled WinRAR's Explorer menu integration; not long after that, I deinstalled WinRAR completely. Any program that gets that much use from me deserves a hand.
Some of my other favorite programs aren't open source, but are freeware and get my support just because they're that good. The image viewer and converter IrfanView, for instance: I can't think of any other program I install as unhesitatingly on any computer as this one, and that I get quite as much use out of. Its author definitely gets a donation from me this year, whether there's source code or not.
What projects, open source or not -- but ones you've used regularly -- have you donated to?