Support for Gnu/Linux Systems

People who use Windows have a couple of huge advantages over people who use Gnu/Linux: games and hardware/service support.

Defeating the no-help desk is an article on Newsforge that talks about how to get around tech support that isn’t helpful if you run something other than what is explicitly supported.

What you should never reveal

Many call centers bill by the call, so they are focused on the number of calls they complete, not the number of problems solved or the degree to which customers are satisfied. In these situations, the phone support person you’re calling has one duty: to get you off the phone as fast as possible without breaking the rules. There may not be as much concern for whether your problem is solved as you’d like. That means that the support person’s first strategy may be to find a reason why he cannot help you. If so, your response should be to eliminate every reason that he might have to end the call.

I’ve worked part-time at a help desk for a few years. In the beginning the goal was to solve problems. Near the end of my employment I was told by someone that the new goal was to get off the phone within two minutes. I wasn’t told in an official way, so I didn’t pay attention to it. What I found was that I was making a lot of people happy by actually solving their problems, especially after others might have gotten them off the phone fairly quickly.

But this post is not about poor service. This post is about support issues when running Gnu/Linux.

A lot of companies have a policy of not supporting anything but users running Windows and maybe Mac OS X. Sometimes this policy makes sense, such as ActiveX controls or DirectX issues. Fine.

How about ISPs? They provide a network connection, and NOTHING about the operating system you use should matter. Yet if you don’t run exactly what they require, you’re out of luck. In my area, I had a choice between cable and two DSL providers. I asked questions. The general idea:

Cable company: “We offer one package. You can use one computer. It must run Windows.”
Local phone company’s DSL: “We offer PPPoE, so it isn’t always on, you must login to use it each time, and we require you to run Windows.”
Speakeasy DSL: “We give you a network connection. So long as it isn’t illegal, you can do whatever you want with it.”

Speakeasy was way more expensive than either of the other options. I went with Speakeasy anyway. I don’t have to pay extra for each machine on my network. I don’t have to pretend to be using a different OS. I don’t have to lie. I also get very knowledgeable tech support whenever something goes wrong. When I move into a new place, I am making damn sure I get Speakeasy again.

Similarly, if hardware fails, the fact that I am using Gnu/Linux shouldn’t matter. A bad hard drive is a bad hard drive. A fried motherboard or CPU is just that. No, I highly doubt that the fact I was running Firefox instead of IE matters. I don’t think that Gnu/Linux use prevents someone from replacing the CD drive. At this point, drivers don’t matter. The fact you don’t support the use of the device under Gnu/Linux doesn’t matter. Imagine telling someone using Windows that a failed hard drive can’t be supported because Service Pack 2 isn’t supported or the use of non-Microsoft products on the system voids the service support contract.

Well, in that case, there might be enough people that think that they have no choice in the matter and give up. They’re used to it by now. People have been conditioned to be afraid of the computer. If something goes wrong, they are conditioned to believe that it is their fault and nothing can be done. “We don’t support it” is simply translated as “Do exactly as we say or else you lose all of your photos and term papers!!”

I like computers. I am not intimidated by technology. I made sure I was knowledgeable enough to have a choice. I didn’t like the idea of Microsoft’s Activation, so I made Gnu/Linux my main operating system. These days it is easier than ever for people to do this switch, especially with distros like Knoppix, Ubuntu, and others. Unfortunately, “we don’t support it” forces people to stay with an otherwise lacking system like Windows. “My digital camera won’t on Gnu/Linux?” “I just paid $300 for this printer and there are no drivers for it?!” “I have to run Windows just to check my email?!?”

So there are a few options to get support:

  • Keep Windows around, either on a second machine or a dual boot configuration.
  • Lie about what you’re using, requiring that you’re knowledgeable.
  • Not use the service or hardware.

Some people find one or more of the options unbearable. Hardcore Free Software people wouldn’t want to use Windows nor would they want to lie about what they use. Others would be hard pressed to do without the service or hardware. Either way, everyone loses.

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