#9: Pervasive support

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.

I have this weird relationship with the words “it’s not supported”.

Whenever I’m talking to an audience of typical computer users about Linux I’ll hear those words. I also often hear them when I’m meeting with organisations that could well benefit hugely from free software infrastructure or desktops. “I’ve heard about Linux, it sounds great but it’s not supported.”

This is an interesting comment, when Canonical along with many other companies offer 24×7 support for Linux. Red Hat offers support. Novell offer support. HP and IBM and others all offer support. You can get it on commercial terms pretty much anywhere, anytime.

So why do people say “Linux is not supported”?

Because the guy behind the counter at their corner PC-cafe doesn’t support it. Because the guys they deal with every day, who are more than likely a relatively small outfit, don’t support it. And even if they DO support it, they don’t have a big sticker on the front door next to the Windows logo and the Apple logo, saying “Linux”. There are huge amounts of skill in Linux in many economies out there that are effectively invisible, because they are not specifically advertised.

This is why I encourage governments to announce that some portion of their infrastructure will run on Linux – it catalyses the whole ecosystem to make their existing capacity public. It gives IT services companies a reason to put Linux on the door. It gives project managers a reason to learn about Linux deployments and how best to manage them.

There will come a day when Linux shifts from being something behind the scenes to front and center stage. Then, although the actual number of Linux-skilled people won’t have changed, people won’t say “it’s not supported”.

60 Responses to “#9: Pervasive support”

  1. Robert Hofmeyr Says:

    About a month ago, we were shopping around for a dedicated web server to be hosted in the states. We develop our software in a linux environment (Ubuntu) and would have preferred to host in the same Ubuntu server environment. We were a little bit unsettled by the fact that no hosting providers would install and support Ubuntu on our server. Many of the hosts we looked at wouldn’t even support Debian. It seems that in the web hosting world, hosting partners offering more than RHED and MS Server 2003 are far and few between. By the way, we ended up settling on a Debian server from LayeredTech.

  2. Nancy Noose Says:

    I believe marketing is still the #1 answer to a lot of the misguided perceptions about Linux.

    Can we please get some Ubuntu Linux commercials in the U.S. so the public can finally be made aware of where to look for answers? Everywhere I go when I mention Linux people are now starting to say, “I’ve heard of it, something to do with computers, right?” and the occasional person here and there that uses it.

    News of Ubuntu Linux should pour over the media (and I’m not talking about geek magazines squirrled away in dimly lit corners of bookstores) in the U.S. so the general public starts to wake up about it. If you want people to begin to understand anything about Linux, first you have to grab their attention, and sadly the majority isn’t going to hunt out that information on their own, they need to be spoonfed. Ubuntu Ship-It is fantastic, but I believe a commercial or two in the U.S. will send a strong message, if done right and broadcast enough.

  3. dado1945 Says:

    Usually governments are influenced by big IT companies. At least that’s what happens here in Lithuania where Microsoft-centric companies has weight through influent contacts. Those companies creates vertical monopolies in government’s IT infrastructure and politicians become easy influenced by reasoning saying that linux will not support the infrastructure.

    There are some OSS initiatives from government side but I don’t find them having reasonable weight. They just do not have chance fight “linux is not supported” reasoning from those Pro-Microsoft companies. The funny part that I have been working for one of those companies and while having developers who knows OSS and let know about that to heads of company those companies still spread “linux is not supported” FUD.

    I really like your idea but I don’t think that this catalyzer is enough. How to make government run some portion of their infrastructure run on Linux?

  4. Wouter Schut Says:

    Isn’t Linux always hard to support when it is so fragmented? I thought you were going to introduce nice Ubuntu stickers for on the windows of local pc-shops ;).

    Maybe we all need to go into pc-shops and ask about Linux. In the Netherlands we have a joke:

    A bunny walked into a bakery one day and asked “Baker, do you have carrot cake?”
    The baker said, “I got all kinds of cake but no carrot cake.”
    So the bunny left.

    The following day the bunny went back and asked again, “Baker, do you have carrot cake?”
    The baker said, “No I still haven’t got carrot cake.”
    So the bunny left again with a sad face.

    The baker now decided that he should make carrot cake for the bunny. It took him all night but he managed to create the special cake.
    That day the bunny returned and asked again “Baker, do you have carrot cake?”
    The baker said with a big smile on his face “Yes I have”
    The bunny replied: “Disgusting, isn’t it?”

  5. kelp Says:

    Hi, it’s the first time I write in your blog.
    This is an oftopic comment, I hope that is don’t bother to you.

    I write here because reading yout blog I see that you have a Copyright license in this… I know that you have the right for having this, but I think that it would be more coherent with free software filosofy to use a creative commons license. It’s only a suggerence, please dont take it like an attack.

    I admire you, I’m an Ubuntu user and I love what Ubuntu is doing for the difussion off free software.

    Sorry if my english is bad, i’m spanish girl.

  6. Riot777 Says:

    I called a company some time ago and I asked them is my sister’s multi-function device working under Linux. They could only say “Linux is not supported”. People want just to use their hardware on their favourite system and don’t want to think “Oh my is it gonna be supported in my OS?”. But maybe in future that gonna change and we will see that mythical sticker “Linux Supported”, who knows. I agree with your point of view totally, we should promote and advocate Linux, this can bring more interest to the system.

  7. Joseph Says:

    Could we create a community-supported sticker program? Namely, you may keep the sticker if your community rating is at “crap” or below for 6mo or longer, and may have it back if your community rating is at “adequate” or better for 6mo? [should also average ratings for number of feedback]

    The apple and microsoft stickers imply that the shop does the required amount of work; it provides a sort of guarantee to the customer that the shop does at least *some* work. The problem is that Ubuntu doesn’t have the facilities for doing the checking and stuff. This is where the community comes in, providing a *local* check of the support provider. The sticker is free or maybe a couple of bucks to help with administration (gotta keep a centralized db of all ubuntu-supporting shops) maintain the servers to rate and look up a rating.

    Heck, you could do most of that right now, without the stickers. Set up a feedback system (a la resellerratings) for the ubuntu community to rate local providers. Though the stickers would be great.

    But I would agree. We need more penguins in the computer shops, prominently displayed (you hear me, Dell?!)

  8. Joseph Says:

    erm, s/Namely, you may keep/Namely, you must relinquish/

  9. Stephan Schwab Says:

    Isn’t saying “it’s not supported” simply another form of fearing change? Most people fear change, because they don’t want to learn something new.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    >This is why I encourage governments to announce that some portion of their infrastructure will run on Linux

    NO. The benefits of free software notwithstanding, it is not the place of government to advocate one software methodology over another. To ask for such a thing is to court heavy handed intervention that is glacially slow to adapt to change, the exact antithesis of FLOSS. If you truly believe this, you are no friend of open source.

  11. Yannis Says:

    I agree to the argument “It’s not supported for Linux” seems to fade day by day. However, what seems somewhat problematic with the penetration of Linux to the desktop is its branding. Inevitably, with the benefits of Free/Open Source Software benefits come the negatives. Thus from the market fragmentation of Linux distributors it is obvious that the product is highly commoditized. Though many different products mean choice and choice means freedom, at least in my books, many people are unaware of their choices when it comes to OS. Apart from the Linux implementation in the governmental level, a key strategy would be to target major retailers. This would be a very good way to show the cost effectiveness of Linux on the desktop. A cached inference for those who buy bundled computers with operating systems is that the retailers actually support it, which of course is rarely the case. Probably I am not the first one to think about that, but I think this is another important reason for low Linux desktop penetration.

  12. Mark Maunder Says:

    Not sure I agree with the solution Mark. Government wheels have a lot more inertia than the private sector, particularly in those countries that would benefit from Linux the most.

    I think a large part of the problem is branding. Red Hat is perceived as a distro. HP makes PC’s. IBM and Novell are… well.. whatever the heck they are these days.

    A globally distributed network of Linux support engineers and/or organizations that cover everything from desktop to very large enterprise deployments under a single brand may help. They could be distinctly separate organizations but under a single (GPL’d?) banner. The banner and marketing thereof is what really solves this problem. Perhaps participation requires waving the flag.

    Mark Maunder
    CEO, Geojoey.com

  13. Tom Russell Says:

    Hi Mark,
    Good comments, but it doesn’t work like that in Australia.
    We have a lot of government, corporate and educational Linux and OSS in Australia, supported at least by IBM, HP, SUN, RedHat and Novell.
    Many of my local area PC shops do install and support Linux if the customer wants it, but don’t advertise it. I ask them why not, and they tell me they already pay MS the $80 per every machine they make for Windows OS and if they advertised Linux, the MS rep would find out about it, and poof would go their cheap Windows rate.
    This means that even if the customer wants Linux, they still have to pay the PC shop for the cost of Windows.
    It would seem to me that the only viable way to combat this problem, is for a consortium of Linux vendors to seed Linux PC install and support shops that would install “paid for support” copies to return money to the seeding consortium.
    This could easily be done under a Government or Industry supported program along the lines of Jamie Oliver’s 15 Foundation, where a new centrally located shop in each metropolitan area would give the students a year of experience and an Industry approved certificate before finding jobs for them either in existing PC shops or by working with local governments to seed new Linux shops.
    Here in Australia we have a work for the dole program which could be tapped for funds, support and students, and I expect many of the larger companies like Shell, BP, Quantas and Telstra, whom already give some of their upgraded PC’s to CBQ for refurbishing with Ubuntu or Vector for donation to the needy, would love to support such a skill creating project.
    All this project needs is a well known champion of the underpriviledged like yourself.

  14. Jonathan Carter Says:

    It’s not like that everywhere anymore. In South Africa there is certainly a huge shift. There was a time where I’d mention Linux and someone would say “that’s a programming language, right?” These days, I can walk in any computer store in Cape Town and at least one staff member in the store would have installed and played with Linux. These days it’s considered ‘uncool’ to not know about Linux if you’re a techie. It’s perhaps not a radical change, but there’s definitely a big shift in mentality. People generally *want* to be good at Linux.

    Two nights ago at the gym, I was in the sauna and the one guy asked me what I do for a living. I told him I mostly work with computer labs in schools. His first question was “oh, so you probably work a lot with open source software right?” and the strange things was.. the other guys in the sauna had at least a vague idea what open source was about. I was quite surprised.

    I’m very happy to be somewhere where free software is gaining this much acceptance. I think your go-opensource campaign, the strong local communities we have here, and other local projects have played a big part in making this possible. Hopefully these trends will spread and continue world wide…

  15. Frank Bailey Says:

    Yes, South Africa’s really come a long way with Linux. Mark’s from South Africa – coincidence? I think not :) Folks sit up and take notice when people do really well in the business world and then produce something like Ubuntu.

  16. Raymond Says:

    “This is why I encourage governments to announce that some portion of their infrastructure will run on Linux”

    The french governments has certainly read your blog, here’s the anwser…but we don’t know yet what linux distro will be use

    PARIS (Reuters) – the deputies will use “free” software with the French National Assembly as from the next legislature, which will make it possible to realize “substantial savings”, announces the Parliament Wednesday. The computers of the deputies will be equipped with the operating system Linux, of navigator Internet Firefox, the office automation continuation Open Office and of a “free” software of email, the Parliament in an official statement specified. These programs are qualified the “free ones” because their code can be consulted and modified, contrary to the traditional commercial software. The quoted software is in addition free. “The free solutions offer from now on functionalities adapted the needs of the deputies and will make it possible to realize substantial savings in spite of certain costs of implementation and of formation”, explained the Parliament. The legislative elections will proceed the 10 and June 17.

    Via Reuters

  17. mclaren Says:

    Linux only needs support in a few areas. We’re getting very close to the point where Linux won’t need support in those, and at that point Linux will take off like a rocket.

    Look, I tried Red Hat back in 1996 and I had to spend about 3 days
    typing in different dot rates to get an unsupported 17″ monitor to work. That was more than I was willing to do, so I abandoned Red hat in 96. Then in 2003 I tried Red Hat again and guess what? They had fixed that problem. The RH install just worked. It detected my AGP video card and my monitor and it all just worked. It still wouldn’t work with Winmodem, but linux was getting close.

    Today, Ubuntu autodetects everything in my computer. It does a better job than Windows. I’m serious. Ubuntu kicks Windows’ ass on setup. XP wouldn’t autoinstall a driver for my mobo’s ac97 chipset and couldn’t iutoinstall a driver for my onboard ethernet. Ubuntu did both, then it even tested my sound for me to make sure both stereo channel work. That’s better than windows.

    So right now linux needs no support on the install. The install is fone. It just works. It works better than WIndows. Where linux needs suport today is only in a few areas.

    First, linux seriously needs to revamp CUPS. CUPS sucks donkey wang. CUPS is seriously broken. Windows autodetects my printers and it autoinstalls the drivers, and it just works. CUPS is not yet at that point. CUPS needs to be either fixed (or, given the weird-ass cryptic error messages it gives) dumped and replaced with something, you know, modern. Something that just works.

    Winmodems need to be autodetected and drivers autoinstalled. I know, I know, mfrs won’t release drivers, blah blah blah. I don’t care. Just fix it. LIke 50% of the population I don’t have broadband and until prices come down in my area below 100$ a month, I am never going to have broadband, so just deal it, okay, linux people? You need to make winmodems work. I don’t care you do it. Just do it. You claim your’e all 1337 haxx0rs. So get it done.

    Dependency hell needs to be fixed. This is serious problem. I don’t hit dependency hel in Windows. This can be solved. SOftware needs to be dsitributed with ALL the components required to run it. I don’t care if this bloats file sizes, I don’t care if its inielegant. Just fix it. I am not going to use linux on a regular basis if, every time I try to intall a piece of software that’s not one of the top 50 most pouplar packages, I get “error missing lib blah blah blah.” That’s garbage. That’s a non-starter. That won’t work. I need to install a piece of software and have it actually isntall and work, not tell me I have to spend the next week chasing down obscure libs on the web. Fix it, people. Just make it work.

    …And that’s about it. Evertything else is a luxury. I can work past everything else. So linux is very very close. Once that stuff is fixed, you wont’ need support for 90% of what users will want to do. If everyone had affordable broadband, of course, we could even elimiinate a lot of that stuff — but after all, we don’t live in a developed coutry. We live in America, the armpit of the internet, 16th in the world in per capita broadband penetration and falling fast. So deal with it. Stop assuming everyone who runs linux is sitting in a university computer lab with a gigabit internet 2 connection. Out here in the real world, dialup is still king, so deal with it and move on.

  18. Isolationism » Blog Archive » Reaction: Pervasive Support on Linux Says:

    […] A recent blog entry by Mark Shuttleworth (owner of Canonical, creators of Ubuntu Linux) describes a gripe about audience response to his presentations about Linux: “pervasive support.” I think Mark and I agree that this level of product support is required, but our opinions perhaps differ a bit on perceived vs. actual levels of “support” in/for Linux, or even the multiple meanings of the word. […]

  19. Alexander Demushkane Says:

    Here is how it might happen in US. One day, there will be a service that a lot of people will use in every town. Something as ubiquitous as Internet connection or phone. Maybe it will be next evolution of local media that somehow will utilize a free Linux OS. So Linux will offer something exclusive that can be in demand on a daily basis and Windows users will feel a little bit less convenient. This may create demand for Linux in a mainstream computer user base that in turn will stimulate local computer stores to provide low-cost Linux installations.. Hmm, what that service that will influence everyone’s life could be?

  20. Justin Says:

    It also stems from the fact that Dell/HP don’t support it the same way they support windows. The majority of people never upgrade or change the OS that comes on their computer. That’s the roadblock. While it matters if the average tech on the street corner supports it, the only real pervasive support that needs to happen is a large hardware manufacturer, as they are the major source for OS installs, rather than the users themselves.

  21. onno Says:

    Well I think the solution would be, and I have been thinking about it of doing it: (no money to do it)…
    A. Start a “Ubuntu” computer brand that sells the computers pre-installed.
    1. Connect to this company/shop also the support.
    2. Open in some city’s a shop.
    3. make sure company’s ask how much these computers cost and what support they will get.
    4. Open a webshop like Dell but then only with GNU/linux (maybe also give option windows in dual boot, people like to play games and windows is very good at that!)

    B. Start a company that designs tailored software for company’s, (Really intressted doing this) Still 90% is taillord
    1. focus on the Small and middle sized company’s.
    2. Use the open source company’s to make more possible for your company’s.
    3. Make some standard usefull country tailord software (example: accounting)
    3. compete head on with GNU/Linux against the establisment.

    Connect A and B … And we will have a strong growing market that gives support.

    Above all believe in Free as in Free Speech.

    Ps. You see whe have the knowledge but we fail to bring this knowledge to the the market.

  22. Taran Rampersad Says:

    Well, this is also where LUGs come in. This is where LUGs have got to be kept in the loop on things, and have regular meetings and so forth. I’ve met quite a few people in Latin America and the Caribbean who do use Linux, and they have support. I think it’s part of a culture instilled by decades of proprietary software – but on the flip side, it is becoming pervasive. Just not in the ways some of us expected (and perhaps wanted).

    The new desktop is the mobile. The old desktop is becoming a server for mobile devices – especially in areas where there is a lack of access to technology (and please do not say the OLPC fits that criteria, it doesn’t). Which is the better server? Linux of course. So make it invisible instead of pervasive. Done right, it will be a matter of the mobiles having to get it right – and the lead there belongs to… you guessed it… Linux.

  23. Waide Soper Says:

    I would love to own a linux computer store with a sign on the door showing proudly “We support linux… and all those other OSes too!!”. My biggest problem in my city is that people think that if they switch to linux then FOSS is the only way they can go, which is intimidating for amateur computer users. I think people need to understand that what we are offering is a choice, and a freedom to choose, and that there is a large community out there to help them if they make the better (linux) choice.

    I think the term “Open Source Software” is now common enough that it would be easy to start nudging people into understanding what that concept is.

    Governments are some of the hardest people to convince about these things but they are one the best people to convince.

  24. cantormath Says:

    I would say that the typical computer person knows NOTHING about Linux and/or they are delusional about its applications/implementations hence they complain about things that are not broken.

  25. tobias Says:

    Mark clearly mixes two incompatible definitions of “support”. Okay, if I want to try out something with linux and stumble at a certain point, Linux offers best possibilities in the World to get assistance, like newsgroups, IRC, forums and even commercial phone support.

    But what about manufacturs that provide essential business applications? If they tell my I need a Windows/Apple/HPUX box to control my conveyor belt, I have not much room to discuss my own OS preferences … They wouldn’t even let me fiddle with their (proprietary) software to get it it run on Linux.

    Additionally, I know companies that only accept solutions, where they have someone liable (sue-able) in case it breaks and the downtime costs money. What about that type of “support for linux” ?

  26. links for 2006-11-23 por BrPoint Says:

    […] #9: Pervasive support Quando falo que propaganda é fundamental ninguém acredita. (tags: Linux,Ubuntu) […]

  27. datatec Says:

    just wish ubuntu would support serial mice out of the box, have had at least three live cd demo’s trying to get people to convert, but by default serial mouse is not supported, try to show them just need to change the config of this file to get it to work, but they just smile say thats ok, and say something like, if my mouse isn’t suported by default I am sure its just to complicated to setup and use for me, perhaps in a few years. definatly frustrating

  28. Mike Griffiths Says:

    I am sure that if someone produced a Linux “Home Edition” that was simple to install and hid all of the hobbyist mumbo jumbo of Linux commands behind the GUI (rather like Apple OSX I suppose) so that the OS could be installed on our Granny’s ageing x86 box so that she can still read her email, surf the net and write the odd letter but with a more robust and (above all) more secure platform then…

    If Linux makes it to your Granny’s PC then it’s capable of making it to the mainstream in it’s more generic form.

    (I’m getting there). A “safe for grandmothers” Linux would kill of the discomfort felt by those rationalising their worries by claiming that the distros are “not supported”

  29. stelt Says:

    Mr. Shuttlesworth and everybody reading this: I have bought a domain that is meant to become one easy URL to remember for finding help with free(er) computing worldwide: homecomputerhelp.org (as hosting is on its way you can see a very early preview on http://steltenpower.com/homecomputerhelp.org )
    Maybe you/Ubuntu wants to help in developing or taking advantage of this.

  30. stelt Says:

    Excuse me for the typo in your name

  31. abrarey Says:

    I think open source software has many potential in many countrys still in development.
    Other countrys than that for now I don’t think could get a the open source philosophy very soon.

  32. David J Patrick Says:

    In general, I concur with your take on why even those who know OSS exists might be of the opinion that it’s not supported. However, I gotta say that this “guy behind the counter at their corner PC-cafe” certainly does offer support! We’ve given away (and sold) hundreds of CDs, I’ve personally assisted with scores of installations, and daily connect those in need of support with the small (but potent) league of freelance consultants in Toronto. We have lots of Windows and Mac users on our fee WiFi hotspot, but it’s an Ubuntu “sticker on the door”, not the Apple, nor the butterfly. linuxcaffe is actively working to establish a stronger network of consultants, easier access to distributions and applications, a bigger OSS reference library, and hosting monthly New2Ubuntu workshops. If you want to rent a laptop, you’ll be getting Edgy.

    Ok, we’re not exactly typical, but you can’t say that it doesn’t exist ! :-)

    If you’re ever in Toronto, you really must visit. Here be dragons, too, and the coffee’s really good !

    keep up the paradigm shifting goodness,

  33. Avi Alkalay Says:

    Linux is not supported and will keep on being unsupported in the terms you say until we have one single strong Linux distribution.

    You can blame me saying this will take away a considerble amount of freedom, but commodity HW vendors can’t deal with many Linux providers that techniclly differ that much between them. I mean, look at RHEL and SLES. They are completely different.

    Most software all distros use are the same: Apache, Samba, X.org, Gnome, KDE, etc. Most differences live in the configuration files.

    A SW or HW manufacturer can’t get its product easily instalable on any Linux system because this action implies mostly on putting the product files on the right places and manipulating predictable configuration files to get your product correctly activted. Since in every distro de configuration files differ (in position on the filesystem and layout), you can’t predict it, thus, you can’t, as a HW or SW manufatcurer or writer, easily deploy it wihout having to create a huge support force to help customers install it. What happens then? “We do not support Linux”.

    Or distros get unified (which I doubt will happen some day) or configuration files formats get unified. For this last, there is the Elektra Initiative trying to solve the problem. The Samba project already embraced the initiative, but a bigger ecosystem is needed.

  34. SpitFire101 Says:

    dont see the prollem linux is easier than windows , perhaps not to install but then again that should be left to professionals, every bit of hardware ive tried apart from one obscure d-link webcam has worked well ( there is a cvs module for it but it wont compile :( )

    onward comrades , death to m$!!

  35. Steve Purkiss Says:

    People in Western culture often mostly on a see-it-to-believe-it basis. You can’t moan at them about it, it’s just the way it is, so as you say you need to have that penguin on the internet cafe window. More marketing is what free software needs, and that’s where the service provider companies come in – IBM etc. with their adverts.

    The current retail/SME IT industry has been built on the back of proprietary software which is sold, unlike free software which is software as a service. There is also the trouble that a lot of people earn a lot of money for doing zero and getting their cut of their clients’ yearly license costs. Not everyone is as nice as the free software community…

    I think there are many opportunities for this to be changed though – in my own particular case I have been trying to set up “third workspaces” where business people can “hang out”, have client meetings, record a podcast, etc. of course all running on free software. Small business is where a big impact can be made at the moment because many don’t have the money for software to start a business, and of course they are focussed less on the games front and more on the office/etc. side.

    I’ve just returned to the UK from living on and off in Canada for two years trying unsuccessfully to set this up – investors like the idea but when you ask them to put their money where their mouth is no-one seems to want to be the first in this field. My ideas are welcome for anyone to make use of – I just want more people to use free software. More at http://www.thebox.at and http://coworking.pbwiki.com/OpenForOrganisationsConcept


  36. norbrook Says:

    You make a valid point about support. It’s not the major corporations, it’s the local computer techs who are going to be the “front line” if Linux is to make it into the home desktop in a big way.

    As someone who has run a computer shop, I want to point out that Linux does not make it easy for someone like me to support. There’s a tendency, which you show in your posting, to point to “supporting Linux” as if it were a standard OS to support. The good – and bad – thing about Linux is it dizzying array of options and distributions. Yes, I have a multitude of choices, but that’s also what makes it a bear to support. Each distro seems to want to make itself “different” by shifting around things like updates, patches, drivers, and root/user privileges, so you need different commands, repositories, or techniques. A driver that works for Fedora may not work for Debian, or vice versa.

    Although there are a multitude of things I don’t like about Microsoft and Apple, I will give them credit for this: In terms of support, a Windows computer is a Windows computer, and Apple computer is an Apple computer. I didn’t have to agonize over which distro, look up a set of commands, determine what I needed to look at in this distro, versus what I knew from this other distro. That is the issue that the local support techs deal with. It’s not whether you’re willing to support Linux, it’s that you are forced to choose which flavor of Linux. Choose wrong, and you lose business and reputation.

  37. Frank Earl Says:

    Mark, I have an interesting relationship with those words as well- but I also know where some of the source is for
    those words you keep hearing. “It’s not supported” also comes from a lack of hardware support and percieved
    vendor support. People keep thinking they have to buy all their software and the vendors out there aren’t sharing
    info or even providing proprietary binaries. Some of the vendors providing the proprietary binaries aren’t supporting
    things as well as they could.

    I’ve got an interesting relationship with these other words:

    “We must keep the details of our hardware private to protect our IP…”


    “Show me/us the money…”

    I get both of these on a regular basis as a consultant for people including LGP. Got told it recently, in
    fact- and it explains at least one hardware vendor’s quality of blobs… I get told the “Show us the
    money…” line regularly with studios and people from studios that I happen to have the good fortune
    to meet up with and try to get the foot in the door so Michael Simms can try to get more titles for
    that percieved support…

    Nobody realizes how big things are in the Linux world- because all they see is Microsoft’s numbers or
    the numbers of someone like IDC who looks at shipped/sold SKUs. Something that is a lie, really-
    Microsoft counts the 12 machines I happen to be running on a regular basis as being delivered 98 or
    XP installs (depending on the age of the machine…)- when in reality, only 3 count for them, two of
    which are solely for game comparison testing, the other being my wife’s computer. (She’s not migrated
    yet…I’m not going to push… :-) The same story plays itself time and time again, but the numbers keep
    getting quoted as being gospel and they need to lower those figures by at least 10-20% of the total

    And worse, so many companies get BAD advice from IP attorneys. It explains the reticience of many
    firms to release technical data- they feel that it’ll give away some percieved edge, reveal some flaw
    in their products, or impair future patentability. Heh… They’re fooling themselves; I know about IP
    (Not a lawyer, but a software developer, SF author of little recognition, and Patented (well, soon…)
    Inventor) and not a single thing about the programming details will impair patentability- it might tip
    someone off if you’ve stepped on a patent, but they’re going to find that one pretty soon with or without
    that info. And as for edges and flaws being revealed- if you’re hiding problems or gaining a boost
    with something “clever” in your drivers, you probably need to rethink things. Flaws will be found
    by your competitors anyhow- and it won’t take long either. Just have them use the product in a
    competitive analysis. Any good one will show most of the problems you’re “hoping” to hide. And
    percieved edges- if it’s protectable by Patent, file one for it and MOVE ON. If it’s not, it’s not so much
    of an edge, now is it- and someone else will figure it out on their own eventually anyhow.

    Until you combat these two other problems, you’re not going to see the suggestion you make happen,

  38. Tobias Cloete Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I agree. I worked for Business Connexion (A large and popular IT enterprise here is SA) and I was for the four years I worked there, The only guy to ever run and use linux, The other staff and managers flamed and groaned and me and didn’t know about Linux till I educated them, but still they thought Microsoft is superior and that Linux has no support. After almost a year since I left. The people I still have contact with, still think Linux is not supported and even though they’ve tested it them selfs and found help on forums and from developers, still they think its not well supported. A well, I hope to one day create a pc shop or sumthing that sells (the cost of the cd) Linux and Open Source software but support etc.. I’ll at present work on my non-profit organization’s (The Alpha Centauri Network) ideas and project together with the OpenCafe (http://www.opencafe.co.za) to create awareness in the community about Linux and Open Source, especially to schools and kids/teens/adults learning about IT.

  39. Prime News Blog » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth: Linux needs pervasive support Says:

    […] “I have this weird relationship with the words “it’s not supported”. Whenever I’m talking to an audience of typical computer users about Linux I’ll hear those words. I also often hear them when I’m meeting with organisations that could well benefit hugely from free software infrastructure or desktops.”read more | digg story […]

  40. Another Tobias Says:

    I would already be very happy if our local hardware shop would have some documentation about which piece of hardware is supported by Linux and even include the needed kernel switches.

    Theoretically this information could be provided by the community as well in a distributed manner. Perhaps Ubuntu would coordinate such a database?

  41. Henning Sprang Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I like the idea of making the existing knowledge about and support for Linux more visible. Go ahead and send “We Support Ubuntu” Stickers with your free CD’s. I’d even buy some of them.

    Still, I have a problem with thze tendency I hear from the first sentences in this post.
    While it’s true that it’s not true (hehe) to say “Linux is not supported” in general, it is true in the same special ways like the contrary is true.

    Some examples: sure there is a lot of knowledge about Linux in the world out there, for a business it’s no problem to find Linux support in the same or better quality as Windows support in every town (at least here in germany I can say that). It might be also true that some or maybe too many companies with Linux knowledge hesitate to say proudly “we support Linux/Free Software”, because some customer yould have a bad image of these people (unprofessional, hackers, long haired hippies they do not want to let into their server room). And the point that all private people, who just use computers for hobby-stuff like listening to music, watch videos, chat, surfing, and some other things, know somebody in their circle of friends having some linux knowledge who can help with problems and solutions isn’t far away.

    On the other hand, you can’t say that there exist no problems.

    For companies it’s these: companies have applications that are used by lots of people, and they often cannot just change the measily – it’s mostly a problem that can be solved one way or another, but when first looking at it, a comapny executive says “yes, but Linux is not supported by the vendor of our main (CRM or whatever business critical thing it might be) applications.”
    So, for these people it’s actually possible to move to linux, but there is some amount of analysis and development of solutions needed to migrate them.

    For private people it’s sometimes even worse. Did you ever try yourself to convert some private person’s computer to Linux, one as mentioned above?
    They have not much of an idea of Computers, and when their computer is crashed, and they have no windows cd anymore, they ask me if I can help them. I ask them “what do you want to do with the machine – I cannot help you installing windows, I can only help you installing Linux, but this is only a good idea when the things you wanna do and software you use are possible on Linux”
    What happens next is, they tell you they surf the web, read email, this and that. All sounds well.
    I start installing their machine. With Ubuntu, even the simple things mentioned above aren’t easily possible out of the box. Listening to music means playing mp3’s for the big majority of people, watching movies means using de-css, and having an mp4/divx decoder.
    That’s additional work, and I still fail to understand why there is no “free enough” version of ubuntu which is mainly free, but also includes some less free software for these features which are definitely standard for home users, and expected to be there by them.
    Still, this can be solved by some installing and hacking – for the people themselves it would actually hard to get started with these standard features if no one is there to do it for them, so the nice package of Ubuntu, that can be easily installed with 3 questions can turn into much more works than expected for these people if they believe it so simple as the ubuntu “advertisement” says.

    But that’s not all. After I am finished with all the stuff, and invested quite some work, show them how their newly installed computer works, and they understand it perfectly fine, are happy, they ask: “and now I need to install my mobile phone software, to exchange data and pictures with my phone”.
    Uff, that’s the killer, I forgot to ask about before. If I am lucky, they have some phone with a decent interface and API, and some software exists that can do all the necessary stuff. If not, I am fucked and wasted quite some time (the older the machine, the longer it took to do all the stuff before, and casual users can have really old and broken machines).
    I went through similar situations some times, and in the meantime, I know what to ask people, before I install Linux on their machines. Still, there are always some surprises left, because the casual users don’t know what they need to tell me, and sometimes I don’t know all I have to ask for.

    I don’t say, “Ubuntu is crap”, “Linux is bad and unusable” or something like that. But it is and can be true in some and maybe even a lot of circumstances, in the same way as the contrary is true in a lot situations: “Linux is not supported”.

    Better believe it and work on the problems than just stating in your blog they aren’t there.
    Having “we support Ubuntu/Linux” Stickers on each PC shop’s door is good, but not all.

    Convince mobile phone manufacturers to build standard interfaces in their phones, let them write their communications software in python or java or something like that, or at least make bluetooth support working nicer and create a better, really working blootooth GUI, create an Ubuntu “free enough” version that can play todays standard media, as frespire does, lobby in Hollywoood to make them release dvd’s that can be viewed with real free software, do similar things for music – there’s enough to do, instead of trying to tell us “Linux is supported” without restrictions.

  42. jamonation Says:

    Another difficulty to overcome is hardware vendors. Calling up a company like ATI or ASUS recently, the mere mention of the word Linux became the focal point of the discussion and any problem I was describing was because of Linux, not hardware. Most ISPs don’t provide support if you mention you are using Linux either.

  43. Benico Says:

    folowed this thread from linuxtoday.com – I’m sort of tired to introduce people to OSS – only to be red faced after a while. Installed mandriva 2005 for a local church – problems: 1) incompatibility between MS Office Power Point – and OpenOffice.org impress – 2) xine with libdvdcss just did not play all dvds – rendering the proxima useless 3) now openoffice has not got a ‘presenter’ view on monitor 2 like MSoffice 2003 – and it is in alny case a total mission to get dual views up & running with linux. – so hthey ditched linux and are running doze now. Local paint shop quit using quasar after 1 year and are now running on revelation. local plumber quit running quasar – bought ultisales for R12000. ourselves are using ltsp since 2001 in our tourism and computer business. local cycling wear manufacturer – very happy with openoffice – until they found that oo can’t delete cells within merged ranges – ditched oo people in sa are used to working with software that came at no cost – because EVERYBODY is pirating MS software – even municipalities and big companies.

  44. David J Patrick Says:

    Hi Mark,
    I couldn’t help but wonder why my leetle post, to your blog, didn’t make it through moderation. We’re out here waving your flag, and all. Did I cross a line somewhere ? The zeal zone ? 😉

    well.. I try not to be paraniod, musta fallen through the cracks.

    thanks Mark,

  45. Diego Says:

    Hey Mark. I understand what you say, those people that say things like that are the people that don’t know what Linux really is, and they will eventually know sooner or later :) is just a matter of time, like you said in some interview before. My dad that always trolled me about Linux and is a MS fanboy asked me the other day to install Ubuntu on his computer because he liked how it looks with Beryl and all that. I configured his computer and he is a happily using Ubuntu now for his every day life. So I want to say Mark, Thank you :) and keep the Ubuntu spirit for ever :)

  46. Jason Says:

    First off, I apologize for using your blog as a communication medium, but I think this time it is worth it. Second, Stelt, if you still need webhosting, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do, it’s not a dedicated server, and at the moment it’s a bit small (I use it mainly for PHP development), but the company that hosts it is great, and I plan to upgrade the account within the next couple of weeks. Personally, I believe Linux support can use a boost, and I will do whatever I can to help out.

    Oh yea, my email is: jasonh at arionyx.net

  47. Eric Gearhart Says:

    Yes exactly! Classic chicken-and-egg.

    For example I want to start an Open Source services consulting company, whose main purpose in life will be to support Small-Midsize business (SMBs) with converting to OSS and saving money.

    The problem is, people still have conceptions such as this. “It’s not supported” etc. etc. Or they’re simply scared of “not running Windows.” Other legit reasons they may have might be “My accounting software doesn’t run on Linux” – which is valid, but can be worked around until something comes-of-age (like GNUcash for example).

    Even better (from an SMBs perspective) QuickBooks Pro (or PEachtree or whatever) comes out for Linux.

    So the sign I’m forced to hang out on the door will be “MS Support,” and I suppose I will try and “get the word out” by showing the customer “Well you can continue paying the ‘Microsoft tax’ and be forced to upgrade to Vista and whatever else Redmond cooks up, or you can try making the switch. By the way you can save on hardware, licenses, support and patching by making the switch.”

    I suppose that doing something progressive (like one or two machines running OpenOffice.org) will help, so they “slowly dip their foot in the Open Source software water”, rather than suggesting they “dive head first” in.

  48. David Mackey Says:

    As a Network Admin. I’m not too concerned about whether local businesses support it or not, its more important whether I can have, as you mentioned, the same sort of 24×7 support one can garner from Microsoft.

  49. Peter Says:

    > So why do people say “Linux is not supported”?

    I once wrote an email to HP asking for some specs about the sound chip integrated in my laptop, no big issue, just a little help so I can start fixing some things in linux. The guy’s answer was “we don’t support linux”. At that point I was really angry so I replied with a kinda “god damn it I didn’t ask if it is sported but I had a specific OS-neutral question”. Someone with a greater influence must have read my mail because the next one answered my very question in 2 single sentences, and kinda begging for sorry about the first mail.
    That was my last mail to HP, and my next laptop will probably have an other brand on it.

    I don’t share the view that “linux is supported”, but I think I can rely on the linux community just as much as a paid support from Microsoft, and it’s good enough for me as an IT specialist.

  50. Ubuntu-blogi » Arkisto » Uutisia ja lainauksia, viikko 47 Says:

    […] http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/69 […]

  51. bill kagai Says:

    there is probably a misnomer about the term ‘support’ as applied in IT. our experience shows that support might not necessarily mean ‘call-in’ but a stong distribution network and training.

    go ahead and ask those who ask for support, the kind of ‘support’ they wish to have. it will most of the times centralise on where to get ready upgrades, how local the penetration of resellers is and certification they can put on their cv’s. certification releated to brand is more ‘sellable’ than open certification (lpi??) based on our experience. thats where we should head to demistify ‘support’.

  52. Tobias Cloete Says:

    Following Peter’s statement: November 26th, 2006 at 5:44 pm,
    I must say that I’ve come across a few companies, eg: iBurst, that say ‘Linux supported’ but they really mean ‘Our hardware is Linux Compatible’, because, you can phone them, email them or visit them directly and ask them ‘I need to setup your iBurst modem on Linux, can you help me?’ and they reply ‘We don’t support Linux’, hmmm, its quite easy to setup the usb modem under Linux (the one with the RJ45 ‘lan’ port), just use ‘pppoeconfig’ so, they don’t have staff to help people to set this up (or a webpage even) and its sad, cause it will be a create investment for them as I’ve read numerous forums from people struggling with this.

    The same is said for other companies that state ‘Linux Supported’ and they turn their customers down, especially end users who tries to lean Linux, so the end user, just gives up and stays on Microsoft Windows.

    So, really, if I where a hardware vendor and know my product is Linux compatible, I’d rather state ‘Linux Compatible’ than ‘Linux supported’ or do some research and post a page on the website with some instructions or link it to a forum that talks about the hardware or Linux as a topic.

    Tobias Cloete
    The Alpha Centauri Network
    info@centauri.co.za | http://www.centauri.co.za

  53. Neale Pickett Says:

    I thought you were going to introduce stickers too. If someone made a “Linux Supported here” sticker, and gave it away for free (like System76 does with their Ubuntu stickers), I have a feeling geeks around the world would slap them up in their places of business.

    I remember going into a print shop in Seattle once with a PostScript file that I’d written for our wedding invitation. Turns out their printers didn’t have the font I’d specified, but the dude behind the counter had a Tux T-shirt on, so I asked him to just edit the file and change the font. No prob. That guy might have been able to convince management to put a sticker on the door. The guy working at the coffee shop with free wireless might be able to, also. Geeks *want* to advertise Linux, you just have to give them a consistent way to do it and suddenly people are seeing “Linux” stickers all over the place.

    Just a thought.

  54. Otto Kekäläinen Says:

    For those who live in Finland, there is the Linux Support Finland at http://www.linux-tuki.fi/ which provides general support for all Linux-related issues.

    I’m sure this consept could be adapted to any country trough some kind fo franchising agreement or similar. Of course, it might need some more funding.. you don’t happen to know somebody with extra money to invest? 😉

  55. Justin Hartman Says:

    Mark the problem I am having at the moment is the whole ethics behind Ubuntu and what it actually does support. The concept or idea you came up with initially for Ubuntu was to provide a free desktop for all users in the world and make computing and technology more accessible to the people.

    A recent decision however by the dev team at Canonical to drop PPC as a supported distribution concerns me. It concerns me in that it would appear there is no long term revenue in supporting PPC as a technology and it has seriously made me wonder just how true the idealism of Ubuntu really is.

    I myself run Ubuntu Edgy on two PCs and my iBook G4 but to know that Ubuntu for PPC will ultimately be turned over to the community to support is a growing concern for me. My initial reaction was to move over to Debian but in chatting on the forum I have decided to, where possible, get involved in the PPC community because clearly there is a market and one that needs supporting.

    While I realise that PPC doesn’t provide much commercial value for Ubuntu does this then not go against everything that Ubuntu is supposed to be in providing greater accessibility to the world? I’m curious to know your thoughts because I am certainly damaged in my perception by this recent decision.

    Response from Mark:


    It’s difficult to make a philanthropic case for PPC over other architectures. Most people with a PPC desktop or laptop have multiple devices and can afford either to purchase an OS, or to contribute to a free OS like Ubuntu. We see relatively little community contribution, rapidly declining installs (if you read the spec, the details are there). So would it be better to spend three people making the x86 desktop better, or keeping the PPC desktop alive?

    At this stage, I think the better philanthropic argument is in favour of improving the desktop of 98% of our users. If you are willing to become one of the community members that it will take to keep PPC officially-supported, then please make your voice heard in the distro mailing lists and channels, sign up, contribute time, make it happen.

  56. justin hartman » Blog Archive » mark shuttleworth puts me in my place Says:

    […] So this Ubuntu PowerPC issue has been bugging me a lot, so much so that I left the following comment on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog site this morning. Mark the problem I am having at the moment is the whole ethics behind Ubuntu and what it actually does support. The concept or idea you came up with initially for Ubuntu was to provide a free desktop for all users in the world and make computing and technology more accessible to the people. […]

  57. Justin Hartman » Mark Shuttleworth puts me in my place Says:

    […] So this Ubuntu PowerPC issue has been bugging me a lot, so much so that I left the following comment on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog site this morning. Mark the problem I am having at the moment is the whole ethics behind Ubuntu and what it actually does support. The concept or idea you came up with initially for Ubuntu was to provide a free desktop for all users in the world and make computing and technology more accessible to the people. […]

  58. Shuttleworth from Ubuntu Gives Talk at CERN at JStorage Says:

    […] #13 Pretty is a feature #12 Consistent Packaging #11 Simplified, rationalised licensing #10 Presence #9 Pervasive support #8 Govoritye po Russki? #007 Great gadgets #6 Sensory Immersion #5 Real real-time collaboration #4 Plan, execute, DELIVER #3 The Extra dimension #2 Granny’s new camera #1 Keeping it FREE […]

  59. Mighty Linuxz » Blog Archive » Shuttleworth: Linux needs pervasive support Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  60. 451 CAOS Theory » 451 CAOS Links - 2006.11.23 Says:

    […] Pervasive support, here be dragons, Mark Shuttleworth (Blog) […]