Saturday, March 15, 2008

Linux Technical Support

One of the consistently cited reasons to avoid open source software, particularly if you're talking about letting Linux take over your $2000 computer, is the lack of tech support. With all purchases of computers and major software packages comes the promise, or at least the option, of being able to call someone, day or night, when things go awry. Having been a computer owner for years, and having used traditional 1-800 tech support phone numbers or live chat (or whatever) for various issues, I have found them to only occasionally be truly helpful. Here are some observations I have about traditional tech support:

  • I have seen that most tech companies have outsourced much of this sort of thing overseas (see The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman) which is something that I generally do not support.
  • You usually have to wait on hold forever, constantly being told by a recording how much the company cares about you and your time, and more often than not, the person on the other end of the phone couldn't care less about you or your problem.
  • Companies have come to rely on a searchable "knowledge base" in which they show either articles by experts on a particular issue, or the record of a forum in which a user asks a common question and experts explain how to fix whatever the problem is.
The biggest problem with the combination phone/chat/knowledge base option is that you end up frustrated in any case. If you use the phone, you have the problems I mentioned above. If you use the knowledge base, you usually find an article that almost addresses what you want to know, but usually leaves out some important detail, which means you end up having to call anyway. I know I'm ranting . . . I'll get on with my point.

Linux tech support is most often addressed in user forums, like the Ubuntu Forums. There isn't a question I've had about Ubuntu that has not been asked and answered, often over and over, on these forums. The experts on these forums are almost always just other users who have been through exactly what you're dealing with, and they usually show empathy and respect, which is NOT often found in traditional tech support. Since they are so friendly, and updated daily, and since there is no 1-800 or live chat option, almost every conceivable issue is covered. This form of tech support requires more effort on your part, but the payoff of community and empathy (I mean, really - who doesn't want to know they're not alone in whatever the problem is?) is very much worth it.

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