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Linux/OSS support, part 3: A firsthand story

A senior system administrator provides a firsthand account of his success with open-source software support services.

Stevn Bartley is senior system administrator for Integrated Services Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based management and point-of-sale systems provider for the quick lube and car wash markets. He has administered Microsoft, Unix and Linux systems for the last 10, six and four years, respectively. When contacted about's Linux/OSS support series, he submitted this article. -- Jan Stafford, Site Editor.

As a senior system administrator, it is mission-critical that I be able to obtain the support I need when I need it. With that criteria in mind, I will take open-source software (OSS) support over any other form of support that can be offered. You could not pay me to go about business any other way.

What's my reasoning behind this? Well, here's an example. When I have a problem with a proprietary piece of software that has a support "contract," what do I have to do when I have a problem?:

I have to call a number that may or may not be toll free;

When the phone is answered, I have to deal with an automated phone system to attempt to navigate through a complex series of menus in an attempt to reach a live body who is willing, able and qualified to answer my question;

When I do reach a warm-bodied individual, I have to provide licensing information as well as purchase, warranty, first born's identity, along with several credit card numbers, before the individual feels that they can then help me;

When the individual finally does decide to help, I find that he/she usually does not have the necessary expertise to answer the question;

The individual then puts me on hold to go ask his/her supervisor for the answer;

I am left very frustrated.

Compare this instead with my ability to obtain support for OSS products. In my position, I use approximately 50 to 100 open-source applications. If there is ever a problem or a question with them, I know right where to go: the Open Source Community Center, better known as IIRC.

I tend to start with The number of projects that are open-source and are being supported through the free-node pages is amazing, [especially considering] how much help can be obtained.

I usually work with an open-source project called LTSP (Linux Terminal Service Project). This project has a page on called #ltsp.

When was the last time you needed to obtain support on an issue? Read on to see if it was this easy.

I needed to set up my laptop as an LTSP Server, but I wanted to do so in an odd way. I wanted to do so using Linux as the server and I wanted a Win98 client, loaded under VMWare, to be connected to the Linux Server. I wanted both operating systems to be run on the one laptop. This presented me with a problem in binding DHCP to the correct network device under Linux.

Where to go? Well, to, of course. Who to talk to? To Jim McQuillan, of course. Who is Jim, you might ask? He is the Father of LTSP. He designed the project and provides support -- along with several dedicated users -- through the #ltsp page.

So I contacted Jim and asked for his assistance. He readily agreed to help and proceeded to spend the next nine hours working with me to resolve my issue. Oh, and did I mention that we started 7 p.m. Pacific time? We did not finish until a little after 4 a.m. Pacific time the next day. Oops, I also forgot to mention that Jim lives in Michigan. This means that Jim was up from 9 p.m. till 6 a.m. helping me with the issues I was having.

How much did this support cost me? Not one red cent.

So, you ask which support would I prefer? Hands down, without a doubt, it would be open-source support. The example I have provided is one of many I have had the privilege and opportunity to experience since starting to work with open-source products.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: news exclusive: "Ten reasons to turn to open-source support services" news exclusive: "Does free equal shoddy?"

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