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Linux: Tech Support Nightmare

By Miles in Op-Ed
Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 03:52:14 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

There's almost never-ending debate about the chances of success for the Linux OS in relation to Windows but one point I rarely see discussed is the simple fact that Linux, as it stands, is almost unsupportable.

First, let me say this claim is based largely on my limited experiences doing Linux tech support. I found the entire process of supporting Linux users to be very troublesome. In fact, it was probably the hardest tech support experience I ever had. The staggering number of variables made supporting even well known distributions almost impossible. It was so tedious and time consuming, support for non-Windows operating systems was dropped completely. In general problems fall into a few different categories:

    Too many distributions, not enough standards.

The first problem we encountered was the sheer number of Linux distributions. This problem is greatly magnified by the accelerated release cycles of most Linux distributions. In order to offer wide-ranging support you'd have to go back at least 2 major versions for every popular distribution. Consider this simple fact; Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 are still very well supported. In your wildest dreams could you imagine vendors having the money and resources to support all these distributions? My guess would be at least 20-30 individual releases. In our case, we had a hard time supporting even 2 versions of Redhat.

    Too many post install changes

In reality, there's no such thing as a "stock" Linux install. Surprisingly enough most Windows installs, even after extensive rot, were far easier to support than an aged Linux install. Most of the modern Linux software a regular end user would want to run requires updating many parts of your system.

    Not enough qualified people & Budget Issues

Then there's the problem of finding qualified people to provide tech support. We all know most tech support reps follow very detailed pre-set steps to troubleshoot common problems. Can you imagine finding enough people to man a mid-sized support department that could recognize and adapt to the ever changing Linux environment? In any given 12 month period you could be looking at re-training your staff 4-8 times depending on release dates of popular distributions. The total lack of release dates for Linux software also makes creating a budget for re-training very difficult. The budget issues come into play even more because doing Linux tech support is nothing like doing Windows tech support. It's much closer to IS/IT administration work. You can't just read little cards; you have to know your stuff from every angle. These people are hard to find and expensive to hire.


Having gotten my first real world taste of Linux tech support I honestly can't blame companies for laughing at the idea of offering it. It's expensive, troublesome, and almost downright impossible. The worst part of this all is that I think it's actually getting harder. The unity between distributions is slipping away very quickly. Lacking such basic things as a standard package format, standard UI configuration tools, and standards for application support Linux is almost unsupportable. I'm not sure what can be done to fix these problems but I think if something isn't done soon there will be very little chance of Linux getting any 3rd party tech support.

Did I have terrible luck or has someone actually had some Linux tech support success stories?


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Linux Support Is?
o Non-existent 11%
o Impossible 9%
o Comparable to Windows support 4%
o Better than Windows support 22%
o Purple 24%
o Harder, but not impossible 28%

Votes: 98
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by Miles

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Linux: Tech Support Nightmare | 74 comments (70 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
experiences supporting linux (4.00 / 13) (#1)
by khallow on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 08:22:40 PM EST

I've seen good and bad support for linux. For example, one group (math dept at Duke University, Durham, NC) had their act together. One and two halves people could support around 40-50 linux machines (about half were in a single lab and the rest were dual processor machines in professors' offices). Further, the machines were a single Beowulf cluster. Finally, they weren't constantly putting out fires.

OTOH, my experiences with a nearby university (let's say it's close to Duke ;-) indicates that haphazard deployment of linux machines is a really bad idea. We had to support a combination of Win boxes (including the loathsome 3.1), Next machines, RedHat boxes (several versions), and Solaris 2.X machines. The Solaris boxes and the Windows 95 boxes were pretty well behaved. The linux boxes got a bit feisty. ;) And the NT machines were configurable to a pathological degree.

FWIW, there seemed to be a lot more people breaking into linux (and Unix) machines (the Win boxes aren't powerful enough to be interesting ;-). Plus, our school network had some interesting features (like absolutely no firewalls between units of the university and feral linux machines existing on the network) that made the hacking problem a bit worse.

In summary, I'm not surprized that you found the linux admin experience to be unsatisfying.

Hmmmm (2.00 / 3) (#10)
by Ticino on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 04:22:04 AM EST

Let's see, Carolina or NC State? My bet goes with State :)

[ Parent ]
Again, this is a management fault.. (3.66 / 3) (#14)
by mindstrm on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 05:57:05 AM EST

not the OS.
If you are going to deploy and OS as a tool on campus, you should be prepared to properly install & manage it.

Of *COURSE* haphazard deployment will be bad. The only reason it's not as-bad with windows is because we're so used to it.

I can deploy *hundreds* or *thousands* of linux machines and manage them myself, from my desk.

Those who complain about linux admin obviously don't understand real unix admin.

[ Parent ]
Juln (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by juln on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 08:38:18 AM EST

>Those who complain about linux admin obviously don't understand real unix admin. Nope, being a real, sucessful Unix admin takes brains and a lot of experience, which MS could not make a requirement for administrating NT without cutting out most of their target market. AFter 'admin'ing my own system for two years, I know a lot more than a novice but I'm not sure how long it would take to truly know enough to make a big network secure and stable over a long period of time.

[ Parent ]
Nuke Them All, and Let Bill Figure It Out (3.80 / 15) (#2)
by SEWilco on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 08:25:33 PM EST

"Too many post install changes

In reality, there's no such thing as a "stock" Linux install. Surprisingly enough most Windows installs, even after extensive rot, were far easier to support than an aged Linux install. Most of the modern Linux software a regular end user would want to run requires updating many parts of your system. "

Considering that it's standard technique to reload a Windows machine, it's not surprising that Windows machines are "easier" to support. When you use a nuclear bomb to kill bit rot, there's always a smoothly glassed crater which can be cleaned up in a standard way. When people apply recommended Registry changes and similar things, it becomes more difficult to figure out why things are behaving the way they are.

Bit Rot - FUD? (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by dasunt on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:49:05 AM EST

Bit-rot is FUD, pure and simple. Windows install, by itself, will not become more unstable over time. The reason why windows seems to get more unstable over time is that windows is not a robust operating system - it will let programs replace system *.dlls and the like, upgrading drivers will often break it, hardware changes confuse it, and if it undergoes a bad crash, it can "lose" or corrupt a vital system file. (Although, in its defense, only linux has totally trashed a partition on me before).

Now I'm guessing that a majority of windows problems (around 90%) are virus-related. Where I work, most computers that come to us with problems have a virus. The majority could have been prevented by people not opening their attachments, not downloading execuables, and keeping good windows security (no shares that are read/write without passwords). A virus, well not often visible, will cause a system to behave erratically. Almost all networking problems that have been brought in (including dialup/modem) are due to a virus/worm hiding in the computer and mucking with the system files.

So, why a reinstall? For the most part, we try to avoid them. Its less time and effort to try to repair an almost working windows box then to reinstall the OS and main applications after backing up the data. However, when the system has suffered extensive virus damage, or a program/update has destroyed the stability of an OS, its time to reinstall windows and hope for the best. Usually this isn't a "clean" install, but a simple deleting of win.com and the resulting install (messier, but quicker, less data gets lost, drivers are found, and the resulting machine doesn't (often) need programs reinstalled.

Sometimes, however, its better for a clean install. Upgrading versions of windows, or systems with many, many problems are machines that often get a reinstall, as while as any machines where anything big is changed (such as the motherboard, windows likes keeping the same motherboard). If an installation gets so crufty that it no longer has stability, if there are no hardware problems that could be the cause, and a "dirty" reinstall (del win.com) didn't work, then the only thing left to do is deltree windows (or format the hard drive) and hope for the best. This is the worst/last ditch solution, since it means that much time will be spent tracking down drivers and programs, often loading second-rate drivers based on what windows recommends and chipsets on the various boards. In the end, if the system had the proper drivers before the "clean" reinstall, the working-but-not-perfect drivers can result in a serious hit to system performance.

Of course, its relatively easy to make a backup of windows (either by hand, a backup utility, or other utilities like norton ghost), and a lot of small-business windows machine will have some sort of backup system. Home users often won't backup, even though much time/effort could be saved by doing a backup of the system after the first "clean" install when all the updated drivers are loaded (and everything is running stable) and also after they get all their programs installed (again, everything running stable) as well as any important bits of data. (The same advice should go for linux users as well).

Anyways, I believe I started ranting/lecturing awhile ago. I'm sorry. Its just that if we don't want anti-linux fud, we can't spread the anti-windows fud.

[ Parent ]

You are partially correct. (4.33 / 3) (#29)
by tzanger on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 12:31:38 PM EST

Bit-rot is FUD, pure and simple. Windows install, by itself, will not become more unstable over time.

Then please explain to me how it comes to be that a system with Windows 98SE, Office 97 Professional and IE5 becomes slow and unstable over the course of 6-12 months? I would consider that a Windows install, all by itself.

There is no other software installed, no upgrades performed. These are office machines which just chug through Access and Word and Excel all the time.

Bit-rot is real, and it is caused by the OS simply not being hardy enough to properly care for its own damned registry over time.

Now I'm guessing that a majority of windows problems (around 90%) are virus-related.

Again, I must strongly disagree. We have not had a single virus in any of our machines for over 6 years. In fact, I would say that generally speaking, less than 10% of all computer problems are virus related. I did a lot of virus research back in the early '90s and even with DOS, this was the same. Data corruption? Slow computer? Weird activity? Virulent behaviour can be suspected. However for the kind of problems I believe we're talking about viruses are not to blame. If you have virus issues get them cleaned up beforehand.

Of course, its relatively easy to make a backup of windows (either by hand, a backup utility, or other utilities like norton ghost), and a lot of small-business windows machine will have some sort of backup system.

Again, I must call you on this. Windows is a major pain in the ass to back up. Want your documents backed up? C:\WINDOWS\My Documents... Oh wait, all your favourites? They're also in the WINDOWS directory but in Favourites, not My Documents. Some documents are even saved in the \PROGRAM FILES directory. There is no One True Place for everything. Even Microsoft breaks this with Outlook Express, Office and IE!

Program- (or suite-) specific shared libraries are stored in the main system directory instead of in a private/shared location, making the SYSTEM directory a complete mess. Program settings are stewn all over creation too, often in the PROGRAM FILES directory, a C:\INI directory, C:\WINDOWS, C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM and rarely in the registry where they're supposed to be.

But let's talk about backing up the registry! Which keys should stay and which should go when you reinstall? The choice is not always clear and it is exacerbated by clueless software vendors who don't follow protocol. Even the venerable Outlook Express, a Microsoft product, won't let you keep your email and newsgroups unless your GUID is exactly the same and (worse yet) the order in which you enter the newsgroups is identical to the original order they're in! I have an interesting KB article on the very subject. Backing up and restoring with any hope of keeping your data integrity is a major PITA with Windows. All Ghost is go for is to return to a known good setup. While this is a great thing for corporate environments, I do not consider that a backup/restore program any more than I consider VMWare's nonpersistent drives a backup/restore program.

Anyways, I believe I started ranting/lecturing awhile ago. I'm sorry. Its just that if we don't want anti-linux fud, we can't spread the anti-windows fud.

You're entirely correct here. I'm not saying that Unix system administration is easy but it sure is a lot easier than Windows administration.

I can tell exactly what libraries and what versions of libraries applications require and can set up special links to make something work if necessary. Most software is smart enough to put user-specific configuration in the user's home directory and 99% of the configuration files out there are text and thus easy to manipulate. Again, most software also allows for a site-specific configuration file and then selective user overrides. Very handy and very easy to maintain.

Backing up a Linux system is super easy and so is selectively restoring bits and pieces of the installation. Booting from CD or floppy grants me access to the system and the ability to muck with the configuration if anything really goes wrong. The Windows registry has the regedit program but have you ever really tried fixing something with it when you weren't sure of the cause? You can't browse through the configuration with it and even if you knew exactly what you had to do, you have to craft a .reg file for importing.

Unix system logging is totally configurable and remote-writable which helps shed light on the initial problem. and can be turned up and down on a whim to zero-in on problems. Windows Event Viewer is shite in comparision.

Hell even administration of WinNT/2k machines is painful in comparision. Sure you can lock the users out from making dangerous changes and prevent them from getting into things they shouldn't be into, but try restoring a buggered up user session or untangling an installation conflict. And what of installing programs? I'm not sure if all software is as difficult as this but Microsoft Visio 2000 had serious serious issues being installed in a NT/2k environment so I could have a regular user use it. Come to think of it, so did RoboHelp Office 2000. Two very expensive, very powerful programs which (I would have thought) should know how to operate under NT/2k.

So you're right, we need to stop spreading Microsoft FUD if we want to be taken seriously. However I do believe in calling the kettle black when it is so and Windows administration is in no way easier than Unix administration, even if you are an expert in Windows administration. It all comes down to the same thing: know thy system. Seasoned Windows guys and seasoned Unix guys know where the strengths and weaknesses lie and for Windows, one of those weaknesses is management.

Personally I haven't had any trouble managing Unix systems, even those that I did not set up and manage beforehand. Sure there are crappy installations and braindead admins, but it's my opinion that with Linux and Unix in general, it is much easier to sort out and get working.

[ Parent ]
Replies (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by dasunt on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 01:43:59 PM EST

Interesting about the win98SE/IE5/Office97, I had a simular system (win98SE/IE5.5/StarOffice) for a long time without any problems, this was my gaming machine as well, and I could do uptimes with 100% CPU usage for over a week. Did you ever consider hardware failure? (Although it could be Office97, Microsoft Office never impressed me that much).

As for viruses, I suppose it depends on the environment. I work with customers from both the business and the non-business side. This is a more remote area with a lot of large families/friendship groups that love to email jokes to each other, and build up nice virus-friendly address books in outlook. Email viruses are a common threat, one that I see very often, ranging from "yep, this attachment tested positive..." to "this computer is completely borked by something". Viruses often lead customers to us with their personal PC, since it will often break dialup. If you are in IT, and run your offices efficiently (say, updated good antivirus on every machine, and maybe a non-outlook email app), then I would assume you have a low occurance of viruses. (Oh, and viruses range from pretty benign, such as the one I saw last week that just installed dnetc, to pretty nasty ones, such as an email virus I saw this week that goes psycho after a month (and another trigger) and deletes every other file it finds, (it also makes the icons on the desktop "run away" from the mouse).

As for backups, you can do partition/disk backups with a variety of programs (note how I said only backup stable configs in my original post), or actually do a quick&dirty backup of c:/windows (the c:/ini that you speak of is not too common, I believe, at least not in win9x/NT machines, PC's from win3.x/DOS days are different, and often have a mess of directories off of root.) The c:/windows backup might not restore your programs, but if its just a borked windows install, you can deltree windows and restore that, with registry and system files intact. If you have a monotone working environment (such as an office with many working machines running the same program), its not too hard to create a default image to install a machine from, which greatly saves on installing and restoring machines. Data is a mess though, and the only thing I can recommend is to force windows to use only one directory for all files that have to be saved (I tend to use c:/data/, and create subfolders by type/app). This makes backing up and restoring easier, especially since I don't mind (too much) reinstalling the app, but I hate losing my files. I try to force everything that's a program to actually use c:\program files, another trick that helps give the illusion of a cleaner system. Unfortunately, when windows foobar, usually only a complete partition restoration will give a restored system with everything needed in the shorted amount of time.

In conclusion, windows wants to be restored as an entire unit, partial restorations tend to cause it to break. However, a good windows install, properly maintained, with stable programs, doesn't break over time, in my experience.

Anyways, if you believe that I'm missing any valid points, please reply.

[ Parent ]

Keeping a Windows 98 machine running... (none / 0) (#65)
by simon farnz on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:59:54 AM EST

I have found that my Windows registry grows at about 10k/day without me adding new programs. Running scanreg /opt brings the size back down to the original.

My conclusion: the registry is effectively an FS that needs defragging regularly to keep it efficient.
If guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns
[ Parent ]

My take (none / 0) (#72)
by IntlHarvester on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:51:27 PM EST

Is that "bitrot" is real, and your analogy is the closest. Underlying registry problems probably have more to do with the FAT file system than with the somewhat strange database structure of the registry itself or internal problems to Windows.

Bitrot appears inevitable on both 9x and NT systems running on FAT. On the otherhand, I have NT/2000 box that's been running on the same installation for 2+ years now, with lots of software installed/uninstalled, no scanreg-type stuff, and not even defragged, with no signs of trouble. It's NTFS and SCSI.

[ Parent ]
Well (none / 0) (#46)
by Wah on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:07:58 PM EST

Then please explain to me how it comes to be that a system with Windows 98SE, Office 97 Professional and IE5 becomes slow and unstable over the course of 6-12 months?

Office 97 has a default configuration to turn on "journaling" or somesuch thing. This keeps track of every document you open, when, where, etc. If you don't turn it off or clean it out, it can get big enough to cause all the problems you mentioned. I believe the setting can be accessed in Outlook. IE5 also has default configurations that store up to hundreds of MB of internet browsing information, and windows dies in creative ways when there is a lack of space on the system partition.

Anyway, I think the modes of admin are different for each setup. With Windows you better do it the Microsoft way (or whichever third party is filling that niche until they get crushed) and with Linux/Unix you can do it pretty much any way you want. An example of this I ran into yesterday adding a new user to our Win2k domain. Copying an existing user account and adjusting the particulars worked fine for logins and such, but creating an Exchange mailbox became a ridiculous chore. But if you create a user from scratch and then set their groups and permissions, part of the "wizard" automatically sets up the Exchange box.

This is all side-effects of the open/closed conundrum, essentially you can learn to fish, or buy one. Since you only really need one fish in this situation, it basically becomes a matter of choice for a personal machine. If you're a business the question becomes whether it is better to have your own boat, or just a deal with the local hatchery (err, the only hatchery).
Some things, bandwidth can't buy. For everything else, there's Real Life | SSP
[ Parent ]

Woah. This is unusual. (none / 0) (#51)
by rakslice on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 08:54:23 PM EST

I'm thinking that it's high time your organisation invested in some anti-virus software.

[ Parent ]
*sigh* (3.14 / 14) (#3)
by regeya on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 08:28:13 PM EST

I'm pretty sure this'll get voted up, mainly because it follows the "why it's dumb to use/support/try to make money off of Linux" thread that's so popular, but really, here's the deal.

There never was that much unity between distributions.
Any management team with half a brain will hire a couple of Linux experts, and will probably be bright enough to if they've relied on Unices in the past.
Along that thread, it's always better to have a local expert, rather than relying on tech support, and IMHO cheaper in the long run.
You seem to imply that if one is interested in doing tech support for Linux, by extension one must be doing tech support for Windows?
And for that matter, talking about unity between distributions, that's mostly garbage because it's almost always possible to whip a retarded distribution into shape. And it's certainly possible to say, "We support Red Hat/SuSE/Slackware exclusively."

If I didn't know better, I'd say you were astroturfing. It reads like marketoid drivel.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

Are you sure you know better? (3.85 / 7) (#12)
by Ian Clelland on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 04:45:54 AM EST

Checking out the Miles link at the top of the story, we've got an article by someone who hasn't ever moderated a comment, or posted a single article, diary entry, or comment (even to this story).

Now maybe we've got here a person who's been a long-time lurker (like myself) or lost their old account and just had to create a new one (also me) or just makes new accounts every day for the fun of it. But we are still dealing with someone with effectively no K5 history.

Can we be so sure that this isn't astroturf?

[ Parent ]

Helluva point. (1.00 / 1) (#49)
by regeya on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 08:14:15 PM EST

And to be blunt, I added the "If I didn't know better" bit because I knew people would rate my comment down for saying it.

I hadn't even checked out Miles's history. Will do so now. I was going solely by the structure of the document. It seems to have been based on the boilerplate astroturf document, then run through the wringer by a lawyer to make sure there wasn't anything libelous in it.

Am I the only one who thought this after reading this? Swear, I'm a Windows, FreeBSD and MacOS user, so I'm not just some weird Linux zealot on a rant. Am I also the only one who's noticed a growing amount of similar anti-Linux drivel? Then again, this year was proclaimed as the year Linux was going down, so it shouldn't be all that surprising, I suppose.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

For those wondering what "astroturf" mea (5.00 / 1) (#57)
by hotcurry on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:30:55 PM EST

The Steve Bartko Incident
Rick Segal is an overt on-line Microsoft representative who is quite active on CompuServe. If you signed onto Will Zachmann's Canopus forum about this time last year, you would have seen him there resolutely trying to improve Microsoft's image. Today Rick is in self-imposed exile from Canopus following an extremely embarrassing episode which has become known as 'The Barkto Incident.'
98-Apr ZDNet: Dvorak on astroturf
"According to the documents, local PR agencies are scheduled to begin submitting opinion pieces to the media next week, followed in the coming months by waves of other materials, including glowing accounts from Microsoft partners, consumer surveys and studies designed to show the company's impact on each region's economy. Letters to the editor are to be solicited from regional business leaders. Opinion pieces are to be written by freelance writers and perhaps a 'national economist, 'according to one document. The writers' fees would be 'billed to Microsoft as an out-of-pocket expense.'
98-Apr Info World: Nick Petreley on astroturf
As an independent Microsoft Windows developer having no knowledge of Edelman Public Relations' program to manufacture a grassroots campaign in support of Microsoft, I want to express my heartfelt and unaffiliated concern over the current effort by the government to stifle innovation in software design. Let me ask your readers and influential legislators this question: Do you really want to interfere with Microsoft's innovation?
99-Feb Wired: Is MS Preening in Public Posts?
A Microsoft spokeswoman denied allegations Thursday afternoon that the company is encouraging its employees to lie in public forums.

A message posted to a discussion forum on computer-trade site ZDNet and purporting to be from a former employee, accuses the company of urging employees to post fake comments supporting the company's side in the ongoing Microsoft antitrust trial.

99-Dec: Deja.com ballot stuffing?
<pre> Rodney Rotifer - Subject: A Smoking Gun ( Jan 1, 2000, 00:28:35 ) This is definately a smoking gun, folks. I have happened to watch this page periodically. And it was consistantly exactly the opposite the last time I looked, as it has been for at least the last year.</pre>
00-Feb: ATL sez 63% like Microsoft
00-Mar EzBoard: MSFT org'n's poll says DoJ money ill spent
A poll under the headline "Most Deem Microsoft Lawsuit Bad Use of Tax Dollars", conducted by Zogby and conducted for Americans for Technology Leadership.
00-Apr SiliconValley: Bill Lockyer's message board bombing
Fishier still, all but a handful of the messages posted Thursday on the California attorney general's site (http://caag.state.ca.us) are not from California at all.

Only 19 of 100 postings by midday listed a California city in the mandatory hometown field, including one from ``Los Angelese,'' which only raises suspicion in my mind.

00-Sep Wired: Windows Outstuffs Linux in Poll
By Friday afternoon, Linux was the leader of the pack and appeared to be heading victoriously across the finish line when a sudden surge of 50,000 votes catapulted Microsoft's Windows 2000/NT well into the lead.
00-Sep TheRegister: Linux Today cries foul over Windows MSNBC poll surge
Strange goings on in an online operating system poll run by Microsoft partner MSNBC have raised the ire of Linux Today, which has questioned the strange way in which Win2k/ME surged into the top slot on Saturday, with a surprise 50,000 votes in favour, or thereabouts. As Kevin Reichard says in an email to MSNBC, "It strains creduility that 50,000 votes were tallied SOLELY for Microsoft 2000/ME on a Saturday morning."

[ Parent ]
perpetual beta (4.14 / 14) (#6)
by Speare on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 08:53:11 PM EST

It's an unpopular view on OSDN, but I think it's fair to say that using Linux is a perpetual beta cycle.

There is never a concerted effort to align the major packages for an upcoming coordinated release. Thus, any distro disk is just a snapshot of all the recent "stable" point-releases. Packages may be individually stable, but they're not particularly coherent with each other.

I'm not defending Windows itself, but the Cathedral scheme of development does tend to orchestrate the features more holistically. All of the major components of WinXP, whether you like it or not, will comply with any new system user interface and interoperability standards.

The Emacs team is closer to a Cathedral than a Bazaar, too: it won't release the code to outsiders until it has been thoroughly tested to its own standards. Once released, the code is available for review, but the team goes off into seclusion to design the next release in detail.

[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
Debian (4.21 / 14) (#7)
by thedward on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 09:47:03 PM EST

Debian is actually much better at release engineering than the average Linux distro. You can ride the bleeding edge of unstable or testing if you want to, but if you are running a mission critical server you can just track the security fixes. Not all Linux distributions are created equal. Redhat turns a lot of people off of Linux who might otherwise find its use a rewarding experience.

[ Parent ]
IRC (4.11 / 9) (#8)
by nexex on Wed Jul 18, 2001 at 10:07:07 PM EST

They only useful Linux support that I have been able to garner (as far as free goes) is on IRC. HOWTO's give you a nice overview on how to do something, but they aren't updated enough, are sometimes to vague - or too much enough information, and rarely work. We aren't in a perfect world, in all the support information available, there is never a, "What to do if that doesn't work". It is just assumed that you have no dependencies, your system config is 100% perfect, and you know how do to everything else in Linux, except what you are getting help for. In IRC, you can ask a question, almost always get an instant response for someone who has been there, or is right now, and you can work together. Plus with 20+ lurking, they can chime with any helpful hints as you go along. You get the human interaction, without a cramp in your neck from the phone ;)

HOWTOs (4.00 / 3) (#11)
by Ubiq on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 04:43:56 AM EST

HOWTO's always give you a very generic explanation of how to do stuff even though most distro's have tools of their own. For example, the PPP howto explained how to mess with /etc/ppp/options, ip-up and ip-down scripts. All the while I could have just entered pppconfig and have a working system in a few minutes.

I suppose that's why support should always be distro centric, much like bug reports are also sent to debian (and possibly relayed by debian to the original author).

[ Parent ]
Don't forget the miscellaneous third party (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by yankeehack on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 09:18:21 AM EST

utilities either. Funny you should mention ppp though. I was recently setting it up on my box and ran into a conundrum of sorts, I kept on working with the pppconfig program and it was seemingly not changing my configuration. I kept working on it and working on it. For goodness sake, I couldn't get a pon or poff to work. Out of sheer frustration late at night I started typing in commands for other 3rd party dialers that I might've placed on the system (I was a victim of a Debian-what-the-hell-install-this-you-might-need-it install) and quickly found out that yes, I placed a dialer on the system which by the way, works beautifully, but isn't tied to the ip-up or ip-down scripts.

So it must be said, even the best how-tos or technical support people can't anticipate what you might have on your system--be it distro specific or not.

Perhaps what we really need is a new feminism...It will focus on something that liberal feminism has failed to do--instill a sense of dignity, honor and s
[ Parent ]

comp.os.linux.questions (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by ForceOfWill on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 08:22:40 AM EST

This lets your question stay around for awhile on the chance that someone will come along who knows the answer. Instead of a bunch of people on IRC who happen to be on while you are, who might or might not know the answer, you get the most knowledgeable of whoever come by the newsgroup in the next week or two. I think it's better.

Seeing is believing; you wouldn't have seen it if you didn't believe it.
[ Parent ]
Usenet, 'nuff said. (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by danceswithcrows on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 02:25:15 PM EST

Linux support is not as hard as the author would have us believe. I'd say the worst part of supporting Linux is getting the user to cough up more information than "It doesn't work! Fix it!".

I've been on Usenet doing informal Linux support for 1.5 years, and I've been able to help a lot of people, often with minimal information supplied by them. The key to being able to give good support in ANY technical environment is experience, and you only get experience by working with a product and making every mistake in the book at least once. Following a script doesn't cut it, but you can pay monkeys minimum wage and have them read scripts to people on the phone....

Obviously, every distro is different, but there is always a common base somewhere. If a user doesn't have YaST or Linuxconf or gnorpm, use "rpm -Uvh" from the command line. User doesn't know anything about their hardware? "cat /proc/pci". I always tell people to use the non-distro specific tools because many seekers after knowledge forget to mention which distro they're running (sometimes, they forget to mention which architecture...) and those who search groups.google.com also deserve answers.

When I was unemployed last year, I looked for a job doing Linux support. Nobody was hiring, not even at the usual starvation wages for tech support. I guess there are a bunch of people who would be very capable of doing Linux support, but usually they have better employment prospects than tech support.

(ForceOfWill: comp.os.linux.questions is OK, but people should try to be more specific if they can. col.networking, col.hardware, col.misc, col.setup, etcetera. Insert standard rant about how people crosspost too much and can't write decent subject lines.)
Matt G (aka Dances With Crows) There is no Darkness in Eternity/But only Light too dim for us to see
[ Parent ]

A comp.os.linux.question typical answer (none / 0) (#53)
by duffbeer703 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:03:15 PM EST

Hey lamer asshole!

You obviously didn't read Question #5431 of the FAQ which is posted on comp.answers I am adding you to my killfile, even though I use google groups and don't have a killfile.


Joe Fuckface
3733t linux h4x0r

[ Parent ]
Astroturf too? (3.66 / 3) (#24)
by jeremiah2 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:17:59 AM EST

Here's another account for whom this is the very first post ever.
Change isn't necessarily progress - Wesley J. Smith, Forced Exit
[ Parent ]
Enterprise support. (3.83 / 6) (#13)
by mindstrm on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 05:54:21 AM EST

A team of windows admins will have a hell of a time administering linux; and I'm not implying they are dumb. The methodology used to administer it is just quite different. If they approach linux (even if they understand how to use it and do what they need) with a windows-like attitude, they will have problems. Of COURSE it will be more difficult.

The model for administering and supporting a network of unix workstations is very different than that used for windows.

One savvy admin can administer a great many boxen from his desk.

Now... I realize that's not exactly what you were talking about. You're talking about, I think, supporting your linux-compatable product; having your customers call you up and ask for help.
The statements you make are really really generic. It would help us to know what kind of product this was and what kind of customers these were.

There are some shops that rely heavily on outside tech support. There are others that do not. We do not purchase anything if we are not confident we can handle it ourselves; tech support is almost *always* a nightmare, unless you're paying BIG BUCKS for highly trained people.

As for linux tech support stories, I can sum up a great many of them: The big benefit is I don't *NEED* as much tech support. I can track down problems myself; I don't just get friggin BSOD's. If somethign goes wonky, I can, with a bit of effort, trace down *exactly* what went wrong.

Windows is supported ? (3.90 / 10) (#15)
by chbm on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:09:51 AM EST

You're ignoring the fact Windows is not supported in the Wild.

Windows is supported by Microsoft (if you're lucky) up untill the point you install *drivers*. If Windows is a OEM version, then MS will send you to the OEM support line. The OEM in turn will blame Windows and tell you to bring the PeCe over so they can just pop the OEM Windows cd in the drive and wipe your disk.

As for NT/2000/whatever is businessware the situation is nearly the same. You either buy Microsoft support and they will blow you off as soon as you try to install something you don't have a MS support contract for, or you have OEM and you again get support from your OEM. If you buy Compaq you get Windows support from Compaq (your hardware vendor) not from MS.

Then you can buy support from Unisys or the likes and your millage may vary.

This seems pretty much like what happens with Linux. If you buy a RedHat Enterprise and keep it pristine, you get support from them. If you buy a VALinux box and keep it pristine you can buy support from VALinux.

And then you can buy supoprt from LinuxCare or somesuch and your millage may vary.

All in all, the only diference is the number of vendors out there.

(trademarks are held by their holders)

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
Absolutely (none / 0) (#71)
by IntlHarvester on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:44:06 PM EST

And this is one reason that Microsoft products are as popular as they are. IBM/Sun/Oracle/RedHat/etc will gladly sell you a product, but their real goal is to sell you a recurring service and support contract (and will often steeply discount the core product to get it). Microsoft, on the other hand, is not directly in the support business at all. Their consulting arm supposedly runs as a break-even operation and acts more like members of the sales force than strict product consultants.

Instead, Microsoft will point you at a list of "Solution Providers" which are 3rd parties lined up to provide MS support. The result is very uneven, but it has engendered a large number of independent companies and people who are sucking at the teat of MS and see them as a partner instead of a competition. This creates a very broad base of Microsoft advocates that enormously helps them move their products. Throw in MS "Premium" Support (bug reporting line, essentially) and OEM support and maybe you have something that kinda works at a price people seem to want to pay.

It's important not to forget that MS has been very successful with this somewhat unique business model of only selling software. How this will hold up during a transition to subscription pricing (read "maintenance fees") and far more complex products will be interesting.

[ Parent ]
What sort of support do you mean? (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by enterfornone on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:23:18 AM EST

I used to work doing on site Linux support. Generally we would handle everything from installation onwards so we could do things consistantly. But even if someone has an obscure distro you could still deal with it because there aren't that many differences and you are getting paid well to deal with it.

On the other hand if you are talking about ISP etc phone support, supporting Linux is close to impossible. But it could be made possible by specifying exactly what you support (eg browsers, dialers etc). After all, most ISPs don't support every piece of software you can run under Windows. But given the amount of people using Linux, and the number of those who need support, it's not really worth doing.

Supporting Linux if you aren't being paid for it (in the ISP situation) is probably a waste of time. But if you are being paid enough it's certainly possible.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.

Sort of funny (4.60 / 5) (#18)
by CaptainZapp on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:54:49 AM EST

On the other hand if you are talking about ISP etc phone support, supporting Linux is close to impossible.

When I signed up for my current ISP, I got three options to complete the client side setup. Those where Windoze, MacOS & Linux.

While the first two performed some more or less transparent tweaking of your internet settings, the linux option just displayed Tux and a brief text:

Always laugh at the face of danger (Linus Torvalds)

Uuuups, wrong quote. We meant: Do it yourself...

I thought it was pretty funny...

[ Parent ]

Quite the opposite at a linux shop in Honolulu (4.16 / 6) (#17)
by gengis on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:40:37 AM EST

I work for an ASP in Honolulu where 90% of the desktop computers are running linux (Mac/Windows account for the other 10%). Certainly supporting multiple distributions would be a nightmare. In the IT department, we've frequently argued about whether or not support multiple desktop environments, let alone multiple distributions. At our place, we only support our own tweaked Mandrake distribution. We store a few different images, each tweaked to a particular configuration, such as DualHead or VPN boxes, with VA SystemImager. If the employee want support, they've gotta use that. We're very much in favor of the "No Foreign Software" mantra which seems to tear the IT field. I think you'd find that if you took a similar approach, supporting Linux would be a great deal simpler than supporting even a single version of Windows would be. We frequently wrestle with Windows machines getting on the domain and whatnot, but once a Linux box is mounted to NFS, it stays mounted:)

Just a matter of perspective? (3.42 / 7) (#21)
by minusp on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 09:09:35 AM EST

It could be that what provokes the "Linux tech support nightmare" reaction amongst the Bobs is that the *average* Linux user is fairly knowledeable and relatively competent, computer-wise. All the easier problems get sorted out rather readily, leaving the truly arcane problems (often specific hardware related, am I right?) as the ones that show up on the tickets. It would not be different for Windoze, if a similar percentage of users had a similar level of expertise.

I know that I (as a person uncomfortably familiar with NT and W2K) can and do sort out most everything, but when I do need to make a call, things get "impossible" pretty quickly for the techs... lots of "did you try... ummm... well, try this..." stuff. Not questions about "th' innernet," but things like "how do I get this &&#&#$#@%$ HAL not to barf on this on-board NIC?"

Remember, regime change begins at home.
The real reason Linux tech support is harder. (3.33 / 9) (#23)
by jeremiah2 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:15:55 AM EST

Linux users won't let you get away with saying "try rebooting your machine" and then hanging up.
Change isn't necessarily progress - Wesley J. Smith, Forced Exit
Re" The real reason Linux....I'm tired of typ (3.50 / 2) (#28)
by sopwath on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 12:12:07 PM EST

That is rarely the solution to any Windows problem. So called tech support that recommends that action needs to go and take another A+ class. It is the easy way out very often. Usually 1st level techs don't have access to anything that can actually fix the problem. (like where I work in case you couldn't tell)

Graduation, Sleep, Life: Pick Two
[ Parent ]
Linux support is hard, but not impossible (2.25 / 4) (#26)
by Orion Blastar on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:35:26 AM EST

compared to Windows or MacOS, Linux is much harder to support. To support Linux, you have to know how a computer works and what each part of the OS does. To support MacOS or Windows, all you have to do is talk the user through the GUI, which removes the user from the knowledge of how the computer works.

The solution is simple, design a GUI system for Linux that can do installs and configuration via the GUI by just selecting gadgets instead of editing text files. Make this system standard for all Linux distributions so it always works the same. Make it so easy that even a Hampster with brain-damage or someone with an IQ of 40 can use it. Have it edit the text files and other parts of Linux for the user. Make it open source so it becomes part of all Linux distributions. Call it Linux Druid or Linux Master or something.
*** Anonymized by intolerant editors at K5 and also IWETHEY who are biased against the mentally ill ***

No, it's not hard ... (4.60 / 5) (#27)
by drhyde on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:49:22 AM EST

... or at least, no harder than supporting any other OS.

Any sensible corporation will do with its Linux desktops what my current employer does with its Solaris desktops.

* Standardise on one version of one distribution. Anything else is verboten;
* Pre-install *lots* of common apps with sensible configs and make sure the user can't dick with them;
* Use NIS or similar for login, and NFS-mount home directories;
* Users *never* get root;
* Test test test before rolling out any upgrades.

Of course, if a user wants to run an extra application, he can compile it and install it in his home directory, but those applications are strictly unsupported. And because the workstations were set up sensibly in the first place, there are not a huge number of support calls in the first place.

And, unsurprisingly, that's exactly the same as we do with Windows desktops.

Fine for internal IT support... (none / 0) (#38)
by magney on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 03:14:57 PM EST

...but I think the article writer was talking about end-user support, which is a whole different animal.

Do I look like I speak for my employer?
[ Parent ]

What kind of Tech Support? (2.00 / 2) (#39)
by Ruidh on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 03:57:00 PM EST

It certainly wasn't clear what kind of Linus tech support he was providing. WHat are the alternatives? Corporate in-house support: Standardize. The issue is the same with Windows. There are just too many options to do anything else. Denying users local root is a big start here. ISP tech support: Could this be what he's talking about? How do you set up a PPP connection in Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian, SuSE, Slackware, etc? It could be. I suspect an ISP would suggest one or two distros that they'll agree to support and keep and install around. Additional support could be via newsgroup. My ISP has local newsgroups for exactly this kind of support. Aftermarket tech support: Providing support on contract, this situation must be a contractor's dream -- lots of billable hours. He's got to support whatever's out there and the client will probably pay through the nose. University Tech Support: They need to go the standards route as well. They can't deny local root to users, that won't fly. But I imagine tech support in a university setting is difficult no matter what OS they are trying to support. In brief, we can't tell exactly what kind of tech support he's talking about.
"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
[ Parent ]
Corporate support != consumer support (none / 0) (#44)
by msphil on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:46:45 PM EST

(I had written up a nice post on this, but it seems to have gotten eaten. sigh)

Whether or not the article is discussing corporate internal support or end-user/consumer support is mostly irrelevant. The responses so far seem to be very 'corporate IT'-centric. Not unexpected, but it has a completely different set of assumptions...

If you are standardizing an organization, you can impose a distribution (or even customize one to your needs), and mirror the security updates as necessary. It removes a whole block of problems from the issues of supporting Linux.

If you are supporting the end-user (say, doing Linux games), you have a completely different set of problems. People frequently don't upgrade, or some subsystem they require is very library/kernel-sensitive (e.g. DRI for 3D drivers), and it gets very ugly, very quickly. Not only is it incredibly difficult to support that varied of a range, the "solutions" are frequently to replace large chunks of a working system.

This is OK for Helen Hacker, but for Neville Newbie, who doesn't even know what a text prompt is, updating the kernel, X, and several libraries from source is not much of an option.

At least under Windows, you can brush it off as a driver issue, and the manufacturer is (halfway) able and (halfway) willing to help the end-user get their drivers working. Under Linux, chances are the tech support for the product is the only support they have contact with.

[ Parent ]

Who Cares? (3.80 / 5) (#30)
by pauldamer on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 12:55:52 PM EST

Why does everyone whine so much about Linux never being ready for "mainstream" users. Users who do not contribute to Linux (non programmers) really dont add anything to the community. Why should I care if they are able to use Linux or not? If they are unable to solve their problems using thing _many_ resources available I really am not bothered by them using some other system.

All clueless users ever do is complain that such and such feature doesn't work and waste intelligent people's time with FAQs. For such users it is often easier to shell out a few hundred dollars and use a less powerful system that they feel more comfortable with.

I refuse to be bothered by the fact that Linux is hard for people who dont know computers and aren't willing to learn.

That was an elitist remark (3.50 / 2) (#31)
by mind21_98 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 01:08:08 PM EST

That remark seemed like it was elitist to me. Not everyone codes (probably only like 5% of the users maximum or something around there), so it wouldn't be worth it to restrict usage to just developers. It would just cause the demise of the Linux operating system.

Don't tell me that this is necessary; people in other technical hobbies (like ham radio) try to help new people for the most part and are paitent with them. And not all Linux users are elitist geeks, but in general that's how people seem to think.

mind21_98 - http://www.translator.cx/
"Ask not if the article is utter BS, but what BS can be exposed in said article."
[ Parent ]

Is it really a problem? (none / 0) (#40)
by sto0 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 05:21:02 PM EST

Although it may have been an elitist remark, there was a lot of truth in the statement. The Linux Kernel and many, many Linux applications were written by the users, for the users. There's a big difference between that and commercial companies. Why should those users have to concern themselves with the worries of commericial software houses? Linux itself may well be difficult to support, but i don't care. The reason why i don't care is because Linux comes with no stupid warranties. No nets. It's just you and the OS, really, and you must take care of yourself. I think that this is a strength in some ways because it puts off those people who want to just use a computer as a means to an end. I recognise that many people don't want to know any more than the surface detail, and for them, there are the commercial software companies. But for those people with more of a passion for computing, Linux and other free OSes exist.

That's the way things are, and i personally would be sad to see people adopting Linux purely on the basis of support options.

[ Parent ]
I don't think so (none / 0) (#59)
by reflective recursion on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:13:31 PM EST

Numerous Linux programmers help new people out. I think the original author was meaning those irritating people who ask questions covered in documentation. Free software is a hobby (and community to some). It is by no means a corporate product.

I believe this has more to do with the "on-demand" society America (and other countries) has become. "Have it your way, right away!" People need to grasp the concept that this is charity, not a product. I think the likes of Red Hat, etc. make this confusion worse (but that's a whole other story).

On the other hand..
Most programmers will be there as friendly, _human_ support. Not some corporate Support Associate who reads you advice out of your own user's manual. Free software hackers are a rare and perfectionate breed. If there is a bug with a program 9 out of 10 times they will not stop till it's fixed. I myself code with -pedantic =]

[ Parent ]
I must disagree (none / 0) (#41)
by jcolter on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:01:13 PM EST

I would love for my family to be able to use a GNU/Linux system. I of course recognize that at the present time it really offers them very little (price being a notable exception). If we are so smart, why can't we offer a great "free software" distribution that rivals Microsoft's? That to me seems like a very important goal!

If we abandon the average user we marginalize ourselves and I think the overall health of the project. It would be fantastic if we could get some OEM to install Linux by default, or if my parents would shell out $70 for a RH disc. If we could get some cash and enthustiasm in the project from average users, I think this thing would really take off.

[ Parent ]
Caveat non-emptor (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by Sunir on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:12:28 PM EST

If we are so smart, why can't we offer a great "free software" distribution that rivals Microsoft's?

Well, that's exactly the problem. Creeping featuritis by a bunch of disconnected developers who have no real reason to make software that works for anyone except themselves.

Think of this way. Commercial software is essentially customers buying the time and expertise of developers to make software the customers want. But, if the customers prefer to pay nothing, they cannot complain that what they get is worth nothing.

You get what you pay for. Customer-driven products will be better for customers. Developer-driven products will be masturbatory explorations of programming prowess. This is all well and good, and the right balance for things. Developers get to play and non-developers get to play.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r
[ Parent ]

You do have a point (none / 0) (#43)
by jcolter on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 06:29:15 PM EST

I agree that there is no way that I would toss my non technical friends into Linux at this time. What I think would be a positive thing would be for a commercial distribution to trim the fat so to speak. Shouldn't Mandrake Soft or Red Hat be able to slap together a distribution that speaks to fairly novice end users?

I certainly do not mean to suggest that people should have install Debian (although IMO a fine operating system). I think an "average person" distribution should be created and sold. Tear out most of the shells, KDE or GNOME but not both, and relax some of the permissions that require a super user.

This is obviously not a solution for everyone (we would probably hate it), but I think it could go a long way in helping effectively role this out on the desktop.

[ Parent ]
contributing to community... (none / 0) (#62)
by Frigido on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:15:39 AM EST

I've been using Linux for a year now. I don't code (b/c I haven't learned yet). I hate to think that I offer nothing to the Linux community just b/c I'm not making improvements on the kernel or releasing some new software. Since I've switched to Linux, my friend (who does code) and I have got 3 new people introduced to the world of Linux. I like to think of that as a contributiion to the Linux community. I'm apart of a few mailing lists and I help when I can. I like to think of that as a contribution to the Linux community.

"Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence."
-Albert Einstein
[ Parent ]

"Mainstream" (none / 0) (#67)
by thejeff on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 07:04:59 AM EST

Mainstream users may not add to the code base, but having raw numbers of users increases your pull with the business world. This means, most importantly, that hardware companies are more likely to support Linux, or at least release specs. Having a larger base of people familiar with Linux would also make it an easier sell for use in the corporate world, which means I'm more likely to be able to use it at work.
While I don't really care if Linux 'beats' Windows or whatever I do want more choice in hardware, and I would prefer to use some form of Unix at work. (We're currently on Suns, but the 'corporate direction' is to go to NT. Joy.)

[ Parent ]
Linux is a sound choice for business... (3.71 / 7) (#32)
by WombatControl on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 01:43:04 PM EST

Multiple distributions? There's Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows NT 3, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000, soon Windows XP, not to mention the service packs and updates for all of them. (Even worse if you've got Macs in the mix!) Dealing with multiple platforms comes with the IT territory, with or without Linux.

Post-install changes? Once again, Windows has far more problems with this - from a business standpoint Windows add-ons, many of which contain spyware or other potentially malicious code is a major support headache. Updating systems is even more critical in Windows, unless you enjoy users systems being hacked into on a regular basis, file security problems, and other results of running an operating system that is fundamentally insecure.

Qualified support personnel? That's a problem in IT regardless of OS. Once again, standardizing on one distribution eliminates many of these support headaches.

Here's why Linux is *easier* to support

Security Windows is a fundamentally insecure operating system - especially 95 and 98. Things like virii, spyware, Trojans, hostile macros, all cause *severe* support headaches on a routine basis. This alone helps make the total cost of ownership for Linux less than that for Windows.

Administration With work on remote administration tools in Linux, administrating a Linux-based system is oftentimes easier than a Windows-based system. Updates can be sent via automatic updates that can be installed on a user's system without the user needing to reboot or do anything. Already automatic updates in Linux are very easy, unlike Windows, which often require user intervention or removing a machine from service to upgrade software.

Stability Need I say more? How much productivity is lost to system crashes, DLL problems, or the other flaws in Windows? Provided you're not running cutting edge software, Linux is an extremely stable platform for business applications.

Cost of Ownership You can't beat an operating system that give you unlimited site licenses and permission to access and modify the source code for free. Even with increased costs for retraining, Linux still has an smaller cost of ownership than does Windows. Furthermore, with Microsoft moving to a subscription software model, the ability to know that you can upgrade on your own schedule and terms is more than worth the costs of switching over to an open platform.

If a company standardizes on one distribution and desktop, Linux is not only an attractive choice for a corporate environment, it is the logical choice. Linux offers business environments a lower cost of ownership, better reliability and scalibility, and increased freedom. Even with whatever additional support costs are incured, Linux is still a sound business choice.

Don't whitewash "Multiple distributions" (4.60 / 5) (#34)
by IntlHarvester on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 02:19:12 PM EST

Yes, everyone knows that Microsoft has caused confusion and increased IT costs by having two seperate OSes aimed at the business desktop market. However, keep in mind that it's just that -- 2 OSes, each with their own upgrade cycle.

Basically, you are trying to take a *real* problem in Linux land (non-standardized userspaces and vendor-specific administration) and trying to FUD over the issue. Deploying Linux will likely take more IT resolve and planning.

Security/Administration/Stability -- if most IT shops have passed on the obvious 9x-to-NT upgrade and aren't utilizing most of the administrative features shipped with Windows, how are you going to convince them to switch to an incompatible pie-in-the-sky? (BTW, I wouldn't call Netscape 'cutting-edge' software either.)

Cost Of Ownership -- I think you need to have real numbers to back up your claim. Software cost is a drop in the IT bucket. On the otherhand, transition/conversion costs can take years and years before they've paid for themselves.

[ Parent ]
Keeping Linux stable vs Windows (none / 0) (#66)
by simon farnz on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:12:31 AM EST

One problem with Windows NT for support purposes is that many programs are written such that they do not run unless the user has root equivalence; of course a root equivalent user can balls up the machine quite easily.

Under Unix/Linux, very few apps need root equivalence, giving users less opportunity to ruin things; I can wreck my account, but not my machine.
If guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns
[ Parent ]

Windows issues (none / 0) (#70)
by IntlHarvester on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 11:22:07 AM EST

Yes, there are costs associated with running 9x programs on NT. However if MIS is going to 'solve' these very solvable issues by throwing up their hands and just granting Administrator to the end user, it's going to be tough to convince them to invest the effort to create a standard Linux platform.

I think the problem with the discussion is that you guys are saying "[What I've got] is better/great/cheaper!" Which AOK, except nobody's really asking you. The question on IT's mind is "Great! Now, is there anything wrong with [what I've got] that can't be fixed without getting rid of [what I've got]?"

My argument is that there is a reserve of cost of ownership measures that haven't yet been taken on the average Windows network, including refusing to subscribe to new Microsoft pricing schemes and holding at model year 2000 products. Meaning it will be a while before transitioning to Linux is considered as a cost of ownership move on the desktop.

[ Parent ]
Sieg Heil Pal (1.29 / 17) (#36)
by Jack Wagner on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 02:47:39 PM EST

Ja, so you can just take your little nazi-like speech, and you can march right back to the homeland, and you can tell the fuhrer that it didn't work. Just because this is a discussion site doesn't mean that we are all rubes, ripe for the picking, and looking to join up with the third reich. Nein, instead we are quite capable of making our own decissions. Unless it deals with a Congressman obstructing justice.

Why don't you try your campaign over at www.betanews.com, there seems to be lots of "junior nazi's in the making" over there.

Wagner LLC Consulting - Getting it right the first time
To whom it may concern, (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by misterluke on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 03:12:15 PM EST

the K5 cabal has determined that your trolls are sub-optimal. Please go back to the development phase and add more varied flame-bait. Most anti-trolls here are quite aware of the "you're a nazi" tactic, so we suggest you come up with something mildly original, after which we welcome you to troll again. Thank you.

Also, please learn how to spell. Or make your intentional misspellings more subtle and humourous. Or mod-storm me and get rid of my pox-ridden trusted user status, so I don't have to worry about breaking out the 0 rating and explaining, through a tired attempt at dry humour, why I did it ( twice - Jesus, man. At least come up with a different title, I mean ... fuck! ) ever again

[ Parent ]
A few things: (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:47:36 PM EST

A: You do not talk about the K5 Cabal.

B: You do NOT talk about the K5 Cabal.

C: They can mod-storm one, or five of us, but never enough of us to count. Their problem.

Have a nice day :-)

When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
[ Parent ]

Linux is overrated (1.75 / 4) (#45)
by mattc on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:04:34 PM EST

Just use FreeBSD or a commercial unix like Solaris and you won't have to deal with all that crap. It is sooooooo much easier to do support when you don't have to support the buggy patchwork of 1000 incompatible applications and distributions that is Linux, each with its own unique security holes.

I used to work at a Unix help desk for a large corporation so I know what I'm talking about here.... I'd take a user with a Sun workstation over a Linux user any day. Fortunately, Linux wasn't officially supported so we could just tell them that it is not supported and goodbye.

I've got nothing agsainst BSD or Solaris. (none / 0) (#55)
by hotcurry on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:19:32 PM EST

In fact, I once used a Sun workstation, and liked it. But the point here is Linux vs Windows, with what appears to be a Microsoft shill badmouthing Linux relative to Windows.

[ Parent ]
mmmmm FreeBSD (none / 0) (#61)
by odaiwai on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:59:09 PM EST

I've got one FreeBSD box on my home network. Going back to the Linux boxen after using it is like "Why the f### is that file in there?" and "what a shite interface for rpm! What's wrong with /stand/sysinstall?"

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]
Support (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by John Thompson on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:18:26 PM EST

Miles wrote:

> In general problems fall into a few different categories:
> Too many distributions, not enough standards.

> Too many post install changes


> Not enough qualified people & Budget Issues

I can see this being a problem with ISV's but for a corporation
helpdesk wouldn't it be more likely that the Company settles on a
particular distribution/version to use internally and if a user wants
to change from this then they're on their own as far as provided

My experience with this (admittedly not vast and only as an end-user)
is that companies tend to stay with what they have intil a compelling
reason to change comes along. My employer is still standardized on
Win95 for the desktop. Not 98 (although a couple machines with 98 on
them have appeared in the last coule months) not ME, NT or 2000 (at
least on the typical desktop; there are a few users with more
specialized requirements that have NT/2000). Why Win95 after all
these years and all the warts and blemishes? Because we have the
licenses, we have the trained tech support (heh...) trained users
(double heh...) and no compelling reason to change yet. If/when we
ever migrate off of Win95 I imagine that we'll be sticking with
whatever replaces it for a similarly long time.

I did Linux tech support for a living... (5.00 / 2) (#48)
by truthsayer on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 07:40:24 PM EST

... and it was way more fun than Windows support.

From an outsider's view, what with all the many distros, configs, custom kernels, rigs, etc., it would seem like an ungodly mess. But, what it comes down to is experience of the support engineer.

I supported a very popular commercial "emulator" that ran Windows 9x applications under Linux (No, not VMWare, the other one). So, we got our fair share of phonecalls and e-mails for support from people who were pretty darn new to linux and didn't want to lose their "legacy" app support (IE, quickbooks, even Visual C++, etc.) The common need amongst all of these users was:

  • patience
  • patience
  • patience
  • a lot of Linux experience to guide them
Since the software actually has to make (GPL'd) modifications to the KERNEL itself in order to realize its performance superiority over competitive offerings, us support techs had to REALLY be on top of our stuff, from kernel source tree (2.2.x and 2.4.x) to gnome panel icons. We had test machines with removeable drive cages, multi-boot workstations running several distros, etc. Preparation and anticipation is key in Linux support, but it's way cooler than saying that the three finger salute is the answer to every computer malady under the freakin' sun.

Diagnosing a linux problem is an order of magnitude more concrete and straightforward (therefore, easier to create "troubleshooting paths" for) than Windows, which can be an abstract ballet of looking in this and that, defragging and scanning this, rebooting, then trying this and that before rebooting.

Perhaps this kid posting just likes Windows better? No problem, just don't disparage Linux because you may or may not know enough about it to support it professionally.

You missed the authors point (none / 0) (#52)
by duffbeer703 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 09:52:37 PM EST

Finding people who are capable of debugging Linux issues is very difficult. Even a level-1 support person has a base knowledge of Windows and a certain comfort level that they have reached over the years. Linux/Unix is a new and strange world to most people.

(Which is why Unix admins generally make more than NT dorks)

[ Parent ]
what about the diagnostic tools? (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by blintz on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 08:27:04 PM EST

Most linux distros ship with tons of diagnostic tools, most can be run from the Command Line. Also, almost all the latest distros use the 2.4 kernel. Add to this the recent LSB standardization.

So, if a company sets minimum standards (doesn't have to rule out distros), they should be able to use the power of linux to diagnose and heal itself.

Linux seems to be the most well documented OS out there if you include pages people put up explaining how they got specific hardware working with linux. As long as the tech support person has access to google. . .

I've never needed any Linux tech support. (none / 0) (#56)
by hotcurry on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 10:23:08 PM EST

I've been running Linux for a couple of years now, and I've yet to run across a problem I couldn't figure out myself. In fact, I haven't run into very many problems of any sort. It just chugs along.

Top that, Microsoft.

Sure...*cough* (none / 0) (#63)
by dnos on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:28:03 AM EST

Well, not everyone is a God that can solve EVERYTHING by themselves...nor do they have unlimited time to spend wading through newsgroups or in chatrooms to fix a problem.

Linux is a 'quirky', hacked together os (not totally by itself, but especially with all the added software and window managers). If ran by a 'normal' user, they will not know how to fix every little problem that arises, nor even bother trying. heh, and no a 'normal' user that runs Windows will not know how to fix everything on their hacked together os either. but, its universal. i.e. companies can give good tech support for it.

[ Parent ]
simple solution (none / 0) (#58)
by steeef on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:02:36 PM EST

google's newsgroup search. regardless of distribution (or operating system, for that matter), i can always find answers to problems im having by searching for it there.

Supporting a Linux network (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by richieb on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:14:06 PM EST

I provide support for Linux for a small group of developers. I do this part time, as I am one of the developers.

To make the set up easier all our machines are configured the same (Penguins, RH 6.2, NIS, NFS etc).

We have very few problems that take more than 3 minutes to fix. The worst problems occured due to the problems with the office network (at first too many hubs etc). Since we have one machine that serves /usr/local to everyone else and NIS for logins etc, if the network gets screwed up everyone is out. Ouch!

The worst problem I had (which took me over 4 hours to solve), was when someone added static route on the NIS and /usr/local server so that packets got to it, but then went to la-la land.

I could not login on any machine, even though I could ping every machine from the server...

Anyway, the bottom line is that if you want to use and support Linux within an organization, you're best defining a standard configuration and sticking to it. But perhaps this is really obvious.

It is a good day to code.

Too much "Thinking Inside the Cage" (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by redelm on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:58:16 AM EST

The OP was a bit of a flame, so I will return the favor. The OP follows the MS-Windows model of tech support: drones stepping lusers through flowcharts that start with `reboot` and end with `reinstall Windows`[swap boxen]. This isn't true tech support, and even the lusers know it. [Bennigan's radio ad]

*IX boxen are not more difficult to admin than Windows boxen, but you do need to understand what you're doing and not step through a recipe. That skill defines a sysadmin, not a drone.

On a practical basis, our *IX users are either on a "supported" subnet where they have user accounts on AIX|Slowlaris|... boxen run by IT sysadmins. Or they are running Linux|*BSD on the "nonsupport" subnet where they have the root passwds. The only IT support they get is static IPs, gateways and their machine name in the DNS.

There's a very simple rule to tech support: whoever has the root passwd does it -- and no-one else. If the user has root, then they're on their own. If IT has it, they ssh into the box and fix it. No long phone calls trying to describe eclectic menu choices. That's the big problem with MS-Windows.

For the future, I'm thinking of contingency plans in the event for technical or legal reasons the corp becomes unable or unwilling to run MS software. On the desktop, this will be a standard install after some distro has been locally customised. `cp -ax` from CDROM or ether to install. `hostname` and `adduser` to config. The big decisions around software center on MS-file-format compatibility. The config decisions are around daemons to run (certainly less than any distro default). The distro hardly matters although SysV[RedHat et al] vs BSD [Slackware] /etc/rc.d modifiability should be investigated.

For user support under this scenario, the tech will ssh into box & fix it. User does not have root. There's actually very little to go wrong so long as the luser doesn't hit the power switch. Still no problem -- anybody calls about the fsck, and they get `sync` added to their /etc/fstab :> after the lecture about proper shutdown.

Is knowledge a bad thing? (none / 0) (#68)
by tommasz on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 08:37:32 AM EST

I have had the (mis)fortune of being thought of as the "computer guy" at work, the one that gets called before the real support people because I'm usually faster to respond. Most of what I do is try to figure out what someone has mucked up in Windows. Most of the time, that's impossible, because you never know where the settings might be (an .ini file? the god-forsaken hell-hole known as the registry? a location to be named later?). So you re-install, it's the easiest thing to do.

That's not the case in Linux, because it is actually possible to diagnose and correct some misconfiguration. But that requires the "tech support" person to actually know enough to look and understand. Linux has two major package formats, .deb and .rpm. Easy to use, and you can always fall back to gzipped tar files. Windows has, let's see, .exe's, .zip's, .smi's, and probably a few more. Hmmm, I'd call that a wash. The Linux kernel has a regular, frequent releases, but the distributions come out a much slower pace. Windows has regular, frequent Service Packs, Hot Fixes, and secret patches that you only hear about if you're a big customer with a problem. Hmmmm, another wash. I could go on, but I'm just rehashing old arguments. That leaves us with the key to your argument:

...Linux tech support is nothing like doing Windows tech support. It's much closer to IS/IT administration work. You can't just read little cards; you have to know your stuff from every angle. These people are hard to find and expensive to hire.
Can't argue with you there, untrained poorly paid people probably can't handle Linux. Thank God.

Linux may be more difficult overall... (none / 0) (#69)
by otis wildflower on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 10:39:45 AM EST

... but you can fairly easily consolidate and/or distribute the administration/support in an organization thanks to superior (comparing defaults) unix permissions, multiuser, and remote administration capabilities.

For example, configuring a particular frame buffer for X may be a PITA, but if your IT department standardizes on a particular framebuffer, you only need to master _IT_ (processwise, I assume a Linux pro would seek to learn as much as possible). In addition, if you have 100 linux PCs to support, and you want to update a piece of software, it's easier to do for less $$$.

You can declare a standard supported set of appliications, anything deviating from that would be supported only at the discretion of the tech. It's pretty standard operating procedure in any IT shop I've been in.

Don't forget that often, particularly in the case of Windows, users can (if the system is setup badly) install all kinds of apps with all kinds of DLL CONFLICTS which leave you basically reinstalling Windows.

Linux may be difficult, but only to the extent that it gives you many times more options to recover your install than windows: the threshold of 'fuck it, just reinstall' is much higher. Also, it's kind of like complaining about the difference (Thanks Neil) between the controls of a SUV and those of an M1 tank. The SUV may have easier controls, and you may be used to them, but the M1 controls manage much greater capabilities than the SUV, and you can do a lot more with an M1, thus necessitating more complex controls.

Then again, I may be biased, but I'd rather pay for competent people to work with my computers and get the OS for free than pay lots of $$$ for the software and subsidize drooling M$IE idiots. When shit goes REALLY pear shaped, I'd rather have more options than less, as long as I know what those options are...

The question finally begs: is there a market for a 'UNIX for the masses'? Apple will provide the naswer. OSX 10.1 looks really juicy, and I anticipate it fervently.
[root@usmc.mil /]# chmod a+x /bin/laden
Mac OS 10 may kill Linux (none / 0) (#74)
by gbrown on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 09:24:37 PM EST

Hello, My first post, hope I behave well! I am responding to Otis' comment because I have just seen MAC OS 10, the college I work for is about to install it in a Mac lab, and I must say, WOW! I know there are still problems with it, slowness and driver support and all, but: what an impressive interface. Much superior to the Linux GUIs I've seen. I have no idea how easy it will be to support, but if it can be done as well as Mac-OS systems of the past - "run-Norton-against-it," and you don't have to dig down to the command line, then perhaps Unix can have a semi-home on the desktop in this fashion. Purer forms of Unix/Linux really have no hope of ever being a corporate standard or home user desktop OS. There are many strong arguments against it, and all the arguments in favor of U/L that I have seen are by technical folks. You would never find a regular user who would want to use it.

[ Parent ]
Linux: Tech Support Nightmare | 74 comments (70 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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