What is support?

The trouble with evangelizing Linux/OSS support is that support means different things to different people.

The trouble with evangelizing Linux/OSS support is that support means different things to different people. Canvassing...

IT pros, SearchEnterpriseLinux.com found that to be true.

To some IT pros, support means being able to trust a product's makers, having the "goodwill" that comes from "knowing I can count on someone to help when I need it." To others, it means that a support person will always be on tap and will even jump in a car and be on site in a certain period of time.

For Jan Wilson, support means getting "help with anything I can't figure out for myself" from documentation or from a person. Wilson is system administrator for cash-strapped Corozal Community College and Corozal Junior College in Belize. Paying big bucks for support isn't an option, so Wilson has to take a do-it-himself approach of troubleshooting problems or finding free support online. The ample documentation provided by OSS developers and the many free how-tos available online are often all the support he needs. Beyond that, he posts calls for help on message boards and has yet to be left without a response.

For Rick Segeberg, support means any help or aid in solving a technical problem. Segeberg is Provo, Utah Site Manager for he Waterford Institute's IT department. Support "can be very general, such as a hint or tip, to get me going in the right direction," he said. "Or it can be very specific such as step-by-step instructions to get something done/fixed."

Segeberg's support expectations are different depending on the source. "With paid support for purchased software, I expect a quick point-and-click solution or even a patch to solve my problem," he said. With free open source software, he expects to spend time seeking the solution to his problems. "Then I hope to receive good technical direction from knowledgeable sources," he said.

Tad Walker, a veteran network manager, summed up the true meaning of support with this turn of phrase: "It's taking responsibility for getting IT done."

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