#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. 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’.

  2. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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? 😉

  5. 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:

    Justin

    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.

  6. 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. […]

  7. 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. […]

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