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Linux Mandrake Tech Support Nightmare

By OmniGeek in News
Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 08:20:53 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

Mandrakesoft's paid-user installation support has failed me in a drastic manner. I've had a "paid installation support incident" (for which Mandrake promises 72-hour response time) unanswered for over a month, and three e-mails to Mandrakesoft got me no more than an e-mail saying "Yup, it's been unanswered for a month. Sorry about that." Finally, a week ago, I got a "support response" saying "Er, we'll look into this." Since then, zip nada nichevo. Over half the 60-day support period wasted with no response, and they won't even extend the coverage period to compensate for their screwup. Gods below, I've gotten better tech support from the Beast of Redmond! Is there something wrong at Mandrakesoft, or are my expectations too high?

Weirdly enough, none of the major Linux news sites will touch this -- apparently it's not news when a major Linux distributor screws its paying customers. Of course, if this had been Microsoft, they'd be all over it like flies on <odious substance of your choice here>.

The chronology:

8 December 2001: I register my brand-new Linux Mandrake 8.1 Boxed Set and post a support query (my sound doesn't work right) on MandrakeExpert. They guarantee 72-hour response on these queries. Incident shows up on their Web site, but no answer...

16 December: I send e-mail to support@mandrakesoft.com th the effect of, "Hey, where's my tech support, why no answer?" But no answer...

3 January 2002: I send irate e-mail to mandrakeexpert@mandrakesoft.com and support@mandrakesoft.com, to the effect of "Hey, where the HELL is my tech support? Answer me or I'll go to the press!". This gets me...

7 January 2002: A response from JeanDominique Lenard, Customer Care Manager, which reads in its entirety: " Hello, Sorry to have been so slow to answer you. I checked upon your incident. It has not received any answer as you stated and I apologize for that. This is naturally unacceptable customer service. I will have the support team answer your question. Sorry about that". BUT, still no answer to my support incident...

10 January 2002: I mail jdlenard@mandrakesoft.com to the effect that "Thanks for the reply, I thought you'd all been downsized. Now, about my support question?..." BUT, no answer yet (and it's now been over half the "paid web support" period for that ONE inquiry).

11 January 2002: I FINALLY get a "response" to my support incident, to the effect that they "will investigate our problem with KDE Media Player." I reply with an inquiry about extending the paid-support period to compensate for the slow response. No answer.

16 January 2002: Five days later, still nothing more from Mandrakesoft. I decide to go public.

Here are copies of the E-mail traffic and the text of my "support incident".

Subject: Total LACK of paid support
Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2001 12:43:15 -0500
From: Stephen Hersey <shersey@world.std.com>
To: support@mandrakesoft.com

Dear Mandrakesoft,
Tell me again why I paid $80 for this Linux Mandrake Powerpack? It was supposed to come with 60 days of installation support, but so far I seem to have a total LACK of the support I have paid for.

I submitted installation support incident #6218 to MandrakeExpert on 8 December 2001; as far as I can tell, this is the ONLY avenue available to me to ask support questions. My registration number is: ***************************, and I have gone through the whole enter-all-your-hardware-details rigamarole as well. The sheet of paper with my customer number claims that the online system "guarantees a rapid and accurate answer." <Expletive deleted.> Eight days have passed since I submitted my question, (and yes, I searched all the online forums for any clues before submitting the question), and I have had NO RESPONSE WHATEVER. Not even a "Gee, we're puzzled by this one." Now, that's what I call "rapid and accurate."

Before starting to use Mandrake, I bought a number of RedHat licenses; on the one or two occasions when I had technical questions, they answered my questions quickly and with some useful information. Perhaps it's time for me to go back to RedHat?

I don't expect instant solutions to complex problems with software you didn't write, nor do I expect personal support for free; that's why I bought the Powerpack instead of just using the downloaded edition. I like to support companies that do great things, and I vote with my wallet. I think that is only reasonable. I ALSO think it is reasonable for a company that guarantees, in writing, "rapid and accurate" answers to paid support inquiries to respond to those inquiries in LESS than 8 days.

I am deeply disappointed by your performance here; it makes me question the wisdom of recommending Mandrake to my friends and associates (one of whom just had a VERY frustrating total installation failure of LM 8.1 on a system identical to my own. I should recommend he try Mandrake again when I cannot get answers myself? I'm certainly NOT going to suggest that he buy a support incident at this point! He has since reinstalled SUSE so that he can get his work done.)

I hope you can improve the performance of your support organization; I await your response.


Steve Hersey

Subject: Why is my Paid Support question unanswered after FOUR WEEKS!?
Date: Thu, 3 Jan 2002 23:02:14 -0500
From: Stephen Hersey <shersey@world.std.com>
To: mandrakeexpert@mandrakesoft.com
Cc: support@mandrakesoft.com

Dear Mandrakesoft,
On 8 December 2001, I registered my new LM 8.1 PowerPack and posted a n installation support incident on the MandrakeExpert system. Your documentation assurs me of a response time of 72 hours on these paid incidents. (Username OmniGeek, incident number 6218, posted 08/12 07:36). I have NEVER GOTTEN ANY RESPONSE to this incident, which still shows up on the MandrakeExpert site exactly as it has every day since I posted it.

Eight days later, on 16 December, I sent an e-mail to support@mandrakesoft.com, inquiring what was going on and expressing my dissatisfactionhe lack of support. that mail has NEVER BEEN ANSWERED EITHER.

It is now 26 days since I first posted the support incident, nearly half of the initial support period, and I have gotten NO support. What the HELL is taking you so long to answer a simple PAID support inquiry, AND an e-mail sent to follow up on it? I am extremely disappointed with Mandrake's support, and I question the wisdom of my trying to support you by buying your product. (For this I paid $80 US?) I must certainly think twice now before recommending Mandrake to my friends and associates.

Gentlemen, I have waited patiently, and after my patience was exhausted I waited quietly. My patience and silence are both at an end now. I expect to receive an answer to this letter (and indeed, an answer to my original inquiry, preferably accompanied by an extension of the support period by that 26-day silence) on or before Monday, 7 January, 2002. If I haven't heard from you by then, I shall be forced to go public with my complaint in the hopes that Slashdot or Linux Today or Linux Weekly News or alt.os.linux.mandrake has weight that a mere customer lacks.

I am deeply disappointed in your company's performance on its support offerings. I hope you can do something to remedy this situation.


Stephen Hersey

Subject: Re: [Fwd: Why is my Paid Support question unanswered after FOUR WEEKS!?]
Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2002 11:37:29 +0100
From: Lenard Jean-Dominique <jdlenard@mandrakesoft.com>
To: shersey@world.std.com


Sorry to have been so slow to answer you.

I checked upon your incident. It has not received any answer as you stated and I apologize for that. This is naturally unacceptable customer service. I will have the support team answer your question.

Sorry about that

[--Original mail contained a copy of my above e-mail to him here. S.H.--]

-- JeanDo Lenard, Mandrakesoft Customer Care Manager,
There has always been a demand for quick and dirty solutions whereas the
offer works on the slow and clean and everybody dreams about quick and

Subject: Re: [Fwd: Why is my Paid Support question unanswered after FOUR WEEKS!?]
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 11:47:59 -0500
From: Stephen Hersey <shersey@world.std.com>
To: jdlenard@mandrakesoft.com

Thanks for your reply. I was beginning to wonder if Mandrake Tech Support had all been "downsized", and there was no one left to turn off the office coffee pot and the Web server... Unfortunately, I have as yet had no response to the support incident (It is now Thursday morning, 1/10/02, 7 days after my latest message), so some small element of doubt remains... Can I assume that you will be extending my initial paid support period by the month during which I have received no support? I really feel that I must insist on this.

An answer to that original support incident would also be most welcome; while your response to my latest plea for help indicates your sincerity, I have so far seen nothing more substantial than that e-mail...

I work in a company with a strong Quality Assurance function, so I frequently find myself looking at this sort of problem from a QA point of view. With that in mind, there are two questions that any good manager will ask in the event of a drastic Customer Service failure like this one so as to make sure that something useful is learned. These questions are: 1) How was it possible for a paid support incident with a guaranteed 72-hour response time to be unanswered for a month, and for the first follow-up e-mail to also be ignored? and, 2) What technical and/or organizational changes are needed to prevent it from happening again?

I am certain that you will be seeking the answers to those questions, and I would very much like to see them myself. Along with getting an actual answer to my long-overdue support incident, this would go some way toward restoring my severely-damaged confidence in Mandrake's technical support competence.

Sincerely, Steve Hersey

COPY OF THE TEXT OF MY SUPPORT INCIDENT AS OF 1-16-2002, 9:30 EST (Mandrake's support system timestamps are very strange; they appear to be 15 hours behind EST, placing the server in the same time zone as Saudi Arabia.)

Omnigeek : 08/12 07:36 : Incident created
I have installed LM8.1 on my system with KDE as my default desktop, and while the sound drivers installed out-of-the-box just fine (the KDE system sounds work, xmms plays sound files, and running HardDrake yields a reassuring "your sound card has been successfully configured by Sounddrake" message), the KDE Media Player just gives a pair of plaintive "clicks" when I try to play a .wav file or MP3. It does not even display the length of the sound clip being not-played. I have tried messing around with the aRts server and KDE Sound Server, to no avail; I have also searched the dead-tree and online Mandrake docs (and MandrakeForum) for relevant notes without success. Suggestions?

Omnigeek : 10/12 01:03 : More info provided
I also have a nearly-identical installation of LM8.1 at work (from the 2-CD set this time) on a PIII-333 on an Intel AL440LX mobo with a Voodoo 3 2000 and a Yamaha DS-XG sound card, on which the KDE Media Player works fine...

padbol : 11/01 09:41 : Reply received

You can play MP3 with XMMS ?
Our Problem is only on KDE Media Player ?

I will investigate our problem with KDE Media Player .

Omnigeek : 11/01 03:15 : More info provided
Yes, it is as I have stated above.

BTW, since y'all have taken MUCH more than the guaranteed 72 hours to answer my question, I assume Mandrakesoft will be extending my Web support period by the 34 days you've taken to respond to the incident.

Thanks, Steve Hersey


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Linux Mandrake Tech Support Nightmare | 24 comments (17 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
RedHat did this to me long ago (4.00 / 2) (#3)
by Blarney on Thu Jan 17, 2002 at 05:31:54 PM EST

A long time ago, I decided that I would start using Linux. Went out and bought RedHat Linux 5.0 . Although my University had available, for student use, a network-connected computer with a CD burner and I could have made my own RedHat disk, I bought the official box so that I could get the free 30-day tech support! I was just starting, and it sounded like just the thing to help me out.

Naturally, I was a stupid newbie and couldn't even get the darned thing to boot. Furthermore, I had a Packard Bell with a known buggy BIOS just to make things even more fun! After a couple days of staring at "LI", I wrote a full description of my boot problems and all the things I'd tried and sent it off to RedHat Tech Support.

Anyhow, 25 days later, I get a reply apologizing for the long delay and stating that RedHat would like more information (not anything specific, just asking if I had anymore to say in general). As my time period was almost over, I just gave up and it was another year and many computer upgrades before I even tried Linux again.

Well, I have a dual-boot Mandrake/Win98 setup now, and I've installed Linux-Mandrake and RedHat Linux both on various computers, and the process is much easier these days. Still, I wonder if the tech support has improved as much as the software itself. As I no longer purchase boxed sets of Linux, I don't know.

LI? (none / 0) (#9)
by J'raxis on Thu Jan 17, 2002 at 10:13:09 PM EST

I don’t know your setup enough for this to be authoritative, but I believe your problem may have been extremely simple: the exact same thing happened to me recently while trying to install RedHat/7.1 on a rather old 486 — seems the BIOS settings got wiped and it had simply turned off Large-Block Access for the HD. LI is all that would appear on the screen as it started LILO but crapped out because it couldn’t read the drive right.

[This was one of many, many, many problems I’ve had installing RedHat/7.[12] on this machine; I plan to write up an entire record of the whole (so far) four-day fiasco whenever I get it completed. Funny thing is it had RedHat/7.1 on it before which installed fine.]

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

486? (none / 0) (#16)
by wiredog on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 11:03:48 AM EST

I think Red Hat 7.x , along with the recent Mandrake and SuSe, are compiled for the Pentium and later processors. That could cause all sorts of headaches.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
i386 (none / 0) (#19)
by J'raxis on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 03:35:42 PM EST

That’s the i586 RPMs. I was using the i386 ones, naturally. RedHat/7.1 actually worked in September, the first time I installed it, it just wants to keep breaking now. Installer crashes, network module failures (a wonderfully intelligent error: “Error -2147483630 reading header: cpio: failed - Success₝), FTP problems, all kinds of shit.

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

They can't or won't fix it (4.00 / 7) (#4)
by greenrd on Thu Jan 17, 2002 at 06:18:13 PM EST

That was always a risk. Deal. You pays your money, you takes your risks.

Sure, they should have ack'ed within the promised time period, but that's primarily a matter of politeness. Whether they reply or not, if they can't or won't fix it, a reply doesn't do much except tell you your email hasn't been lost. (And it doesn't really even guarantee that.) They could say "we're looking into it" but what practical difference would it make, apart from making you feel better?

1 bad incident like this does not constitute an indictment of a company. For that you need what's known as a trend. Let's see if anyone else has had similar bad experiences with MandrakeSoft support.

Now, as to your problem. KDE media player doesn't work for me either. Try, for example: xmms, xine, mtv, crossover, aviplay. They just about cover all the bases for me. If you can't get sound to work properly on any application, not even xmms, try a proprietary driver, e.g. from 4front.com. WFM.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes

Oops (none / 0) (#5)
by greenrd on Thu Jan 17, 2002 at 06:22:45 PM EST

The 4front I was talking about is actually at opensound.com not 4front.com. I always mix that up.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

KDE Media player (5.00 / 3) (#11)
by rusty on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 02:02:19 AM EST

Does the exact same thing for me as his support request describes.

Nonetheless, I don't see this as a "your pays your money and takes your chances" situation at all. I run this site, and in the course of a normal day get three or four emails asking for help with one thing or another. Most of them are the same few issues, but sometimes there's something that I either can't or won't fix. But do I ignore it? Hell no! I reply promptly saying why I can't or won't fix their problem. I can see why Mandrake would not want to put a lot of effort into fixing this issue for real, but even just an email listing alternatives, and describing how to update KDE media player if and when there's a new bugfixed version, or perhaps referring him to the KDE media player dev team. There's a lot of ways they could have made this problem better without actually fixing the code.

But that didn't happen here. Ok, I screw up sometimes too -- put off a message for a few minutes that accidentally turns into a few days, or whatever. It happens. So, given that Mandrake has realized it happened, why aren't the falling over themselves to credit his support term for the massive failure? Christ, I get better service than this from Time-Warner Cable! Seriously, I have cable internet service with them, and it's been out for 8 days now, and they've already comped me a full month of service.

It's not the failure itself. It's the failure, and lack of any interest in making it better that's irksome. I'm irritated by this story (not the story, but the events described therein) from the opposite direction as OmniGeek. As someone who does support, it pisses me off when people do it this badly. And none (or virtually none) of the people I support are even paying me for it.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

how about mplayer? (none / 0) (#15)
by Ender Ryan on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 09:45:52 AM EST

I find that mplayer is one of the best performing media players I have ever used in Linux, or Windows for that matter.

Try it out, you'll probably be impressed, most people are.

Exposing vast conspiracies! Experts at everything even outside our expertise! Liberators of the world from the oppression of the evil USian Empire!

We are Kuro5hin!

[ Parent ]

Questions (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by wiredog on Thu Jan 17, 2002 at 07:47:05 PM EST

  • What is the problem?
  • Is it one app that doesn't do sound, or all of them?
  • What sound card are you using?
  • Is it on the motherboard, pci, or ( long shot here) isa?
  • Does /dev/audio exist?

I started with RedHat 4.5,(IIRC, it was before 5.0) and remember how much fun that one was to get going. But I was stubborn, and had O'Reilly books.

I'm currently using RH 7.3 on a P-III, 256Mb ram, with a soundblaster live, ATI Radeon, and hp 7200i cd burner. Easiest install I've ever had. Put the disk in, rebooted, told it which disk to install to. The only other thing I had to do was swap in disk 2 and set up networking. It was easier than Windows 98.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"

/dev/audio? (none / 0) (#14)
by Cloaked User on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 06:17:14 AM EST

I'm running Mandrake 8.1 on the machine that I'm typing this on, and I have working sound and no /dev/audio. What I *do* have is as follows:

timc@timc ~ $ ls -l /dev/dsp
lr-xr-xr-x 1 root root 9 Jan 14 13:40 /dev/dsp -> sound/dsp

timc@timc ~ $ ls -l /dev/sound/*
crw------- 1 timc audio 14, 3 Jan 7 10:48 /dev/sound/dsp
crw------- 1 timc audio 14, 0 Jan 7 10:48 /dev/sound/mixer

I forget what soundcard this machine has in it, but I get comparable results at home with an Audigy Player (more stuff in /dev/sound though, of course). Unless KDE's media player does things differently (which is possible, of course) a missing /dev/audio probably isn't a problem.

As for the specific problem at hand, I'd love to help out but I'm afraid I can't, as I don't use KDE's media player. At work I use xmms, and at home I just use the hi-fi behind me :-)


"What the fuck do you mean 'Are you inspired to come to work'? Of course I'm not 'inspired'. It's a job for God's sake! The money's enough and the work's not so crap that I leave."
[ Parent ]
Noatun (5.00 / 2) (#17)
by PresJPolk on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 11:12:04 AM EST

Hi, second name on the Noatun about box here. Obviously your point is to warn about your poor experience with Mandrake, but I can't help but take a crack at the Noatun problem expressed. :-)

If you were in #kde-users on OPN ( http://www.openprojects.net/ ) I would:

1) Ask you to verify that KDE system sounds actually are working
2) Ask you if artsd is running
3) Ask you to go into the sound server control module (k menu -> preferences -> sound -> sound server) and see if the Test button works there.
4) Check if your mp3 files play with the command line tool mpeglibartsplay or with kaboodle ( http://www.freekde.org/neil/kaboodle/ )

If the answers to the first four are yes, then your problem is with Noatun, not with your aRts setup. Otherwise, your aRts or aRts mpeglib (mp3, wav) playobjects install is faulty.

From here, I'd really have to have the answers to proceed. :-)

OK, I'll try it. (none / 0) (#22)
by OmniGeek on Mon Jan 21, 2002 at 03:44:58 PM EST

I've not used IRC for a dog's age, but I'll get answers to your questions ASAP, and will post 'em here and try to connect to #kde-users on OPN as a parallel track.

The best possible outcome here would be for the solution to this problem to propagate to a fix for whatever's busted, and this looks like a great opportunity to achieve that. I'll do whatever I can to contribute to that.

Best Regards, Steve

P.S. Mandrake is beginning to respond to my communications in a useful way; at least, they extended the support period and started asking the right questions. We'll see what happens, and I'll keep all informed. -Steve

[ Parent ]
Specific answers to your questions here... (none / 0) (#23)
by OmniGeek on Mon Jan 21, 2002 at 09:58:13 PM EST

OK, PresJPolk (you're the "Standards and usability complainer" if I understand your post properly?), here's what I've found:

1. KDE system sounds work.
2. ps -aef says artsd is running.
3. Test button on arts sound server plays beyootiful music.
4. MP3 files play with mpeglibartsplay.

Over to you. What should I try next?

Regards, Steve

[ Parent ]
2 cents (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by Bob Abooey on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 01:22:06 PM EST

For what it's worth I used Mandrake 7.1 and 7.2 and I'm now running RadHat 7.2 and I've had to disable the aRts sound server on all three distros to get my sound working properly. I use the eSound driver and I have had no trouble with any apps WRT sound since I started using it.

I can't comment on Mandrakes tech support as I always use the net or for support (that's where I got the suggestion to turn off aRts in Mandrake 7.0) but it seems to me that aRts is just broken.

America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about ki

Why Support? (none / 0) (#20)
by keymonkey on Fri Jan 18, 2002 at 06:02:48 PM EST

I'm currently running ML 8.1, and having only just celebrated 1 year with Linux, I still consider myself a newbie. I switched to Mandrake from RedHat, and had a few config confusions using the very nice KDE interfaces (i.e. not used to it being this easy). Anyway, I downloaded 8.1 and have been using the discussion groups on the MandrakeUser site for support. All issues were resolved, or minimally, responded to, within a day. The reason the open source community is such a great idea is partly because you have the resources of that community at your fingertips. You don't have to rely on a couple guys crammed into a cube farm. I can't say enough about the Linux forums, and the people moderating them. Check them out next time, and save yourself a huge headache.

This is not the point (none / 0) (#24)
by xrayspx on Mon Jan 28, 2002 at 01:05:16 PM EST

This comment, while technically correct, misses the point of the article. Say you buy Win2k Advanced Server, and you have a problem installing it. So you pay Microsoft Tech support to walk you through the config. They don't respond for a month, all the while keeping your money. You go off and find the answer in about 4 seconds in a Knowledge Base article. Would you not be pissed at Microsoft?

He paid for the boxed version of Mandrake, he paid for a support incident. He didn't recieve a single reply to email in nearly a month. That is unacceptable. While it is true that the answer could have been answered promptly and correctly in forums, the idea is that he's supporting MandrakeSoft by BUYING the distro, BUYING the support, and when he needs it, that support was not there.

"I see one maggot, it all gets thrown away" -- My Wife
[ Parent ]
Linux resources (none / 0) (#21)
by juju2112 on Sun Jan 20, 2002 at 08:37:09 PM EST

The two best resources i've found for Linux problems are groups.google.com and irc.openprojects.net.

Once you get a little basic unix experience under your belt, the Linux HOWTOs are also an excellent resource. If the problem is some bug or default misconfiguration, then chances are thousands of other people have experienced it and you can find the answer on usenet. If you're just doing it wrong, then the folks on irc can straighten you out. :)

Linux Mandrake Tech Support Nightmare | 24 comments (17 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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