Support Vagaries

By Debra Donston  |  Posted 2002-07-08 Print this article Print

Support Vagaries

Another major open-source worry for enterprises is support. Many companies feel comfortable with—if not satisfied by—support they pay for.

However, some would argue that the support provided by the open-source community is better and is provided faster than support through traditional vendor help desks.

For the largest open-source projects, such as Apache and Linux, support is freely and widely available. At and, for example, information is as well-documented and laid out as it is at any major vendors site.

In fact, any organization considering an open-source application should look first at the applications community, making sure the pool of developers and users is large enough and organized enough to provide an even, readily available level of support.

However, its been eWeek Labs experience that even the smallest open-source projects can offer good support.

eWeek Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant said he has signed up for help at many open-source sites and has found support to be generally satisfactory. "For OpenNMS, which falls into that subcategory of less well-known projects, I was surprised at the frequency and thoughtfulness with which questions were answered, as well as by the technical expertise available," said Sturdevant.

Even the Mon system monitoring utility, championed by one person, Jim Trocki, is well-supported, said Sturdevant. "Even the small stuff is supported by the person whos the standard-bearer," he said.

Generally speaking, the first place to look for help is the FAQ section of the projects Web site. The second line of support is the sites mailing list archive, usually rich with information. The third way to get help, and the most challenging, is to post a question to the mailing list itself.

While vendor help desks are (or at least should be) tolerant of even the simplest questions, the people on the other end of the mailing lists are sometimes, shall we say, disdainful of questions asked without a certain level of technical acumen.

eWeek Labs Dyck offers these tips to get your question seen and answered on mailing lists: "Demonstrate that youve done your homework—on a mailing list, you have to both describe your problem very accurately, provide as much supporting information as you can and ask your question in as interesting a way as you can think of."


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