There is a rarely explored relationship between the world of open source tools and free knowledge collaboration. This relationship developed naturally and quietly. Some open source tools have become quite essential to projects like Wikipedia, and I’ve started a page on our Meta-Wiki called Open Source Toolset to document the use of open source/free software tools in the Wikimedia Foundation projects. Others have quickly made useful additions (if you see any glaring omissions, please do not hesitate to edit).
Inkscape is an example of a mainstream open source tool that has become essential, even though it has not reached 1.0 yet. It has been used to create thousands of vector drawings in Wikimedia projects. But there are much more specialized tools, such as Hugin (used for stitching panorama pictures) or PP3 (used for celestial charts). The availability of these tools is incredibly empowering. Anyone with the necessary skills and interest can use them to immediately contribute their knowledge; there is no charge, and the quality of the software almost always increases over time.
The importance of this open source ecosystem of tools can hardly be overestimated. Every new tool, every new feature, directly feeds back into the quality of content that is being generated. Therefore, I strongly believe that we must find ways to support them. Google has an annual Summer of Code, through which it spends a lot of money on student projects. This is very worthwhile indeed. We do not have a lot of money, but we do have global website exposure. Perhaps the Wikimedia Foundation should support its own “Autumn of Collaboration”, providing learning resources and guiding volunteers to work on the projects that make the greatest difference in the collection and development of human knowledge.