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Linux/OSS support, part 4: Step-by-step guide to getting it

An IT manager describes his step-by-step process for finding free Linux or open-source software support.

How does an IT manager go about getting free Linux or open source software support? posed that question to a dozen IT managers. Rick Segeberg, IT department site manager at The Waterford Institute inProvo, Utah, responded with a step-by-step description of his support search process.

"Researching solutions to technical problems is really an art," said Segeberg. "You have to be creative in what you search for, as people will describe things differently. You really have to work your mental thesaurus!"

Step 1: "RTFM, as the saying goes," Segeberg said. (Translation: Read the "fine" manual.)

Step 2: Read any materials on hand, particularly books.

Step 3: Go online to the product team's or vendor's page. Read the information there. "I search hard and long for postings by others who have had similar issues," said Segeberg. This provides answers or hints to get going in the right direction.

Step 4: It's time to Google. Check out the results to a query on your problem. Many sites maintain forums, how-tos and/or articles about problems and solutions to them.

Step 5: Found nothing yet? Post a request to the appropriate list. "In my request, I make sure to show that I've done my homework," Segeberg said. Give as much information as possible, such as a complete description of your configuration, log files and environment; what the problem is; what you've already tried; and where you've looked for help. "The more you put into it, the more you'll get out," he said.

Step 6: Wait for an answer. "But this is not a passive wait," Segeberg said. "I continue to scour the Web and lists for something I might have missed." Response times vary, but Segeberg has often gotten answers within minutes or hours. If you've got something pretty complex, it may take up to a day for the right person to see your request and answer.

Step 7: The answer arrives. Now, it's time to figure out how to implement it. "Replies to help requests are not usually step-by-step instructions solving your exact problem," said Segeberg. Usually, the inquirer receives information, clues or suggestions to put him on the right track.

Step 8: The proffered solution didn't work. Respond to the person who supplied the answer. Also, go back to step five.

Step 9: You've gotten the answer and fixed the problem. Now, it's time to share. Post your story on the appropriate lists and in your reply to your helpmate. You'll be helping others who might have the same problem. "This contributes back to the community that took time to help me," Segeberg said.


Read part 1 of's series on Linux/OSS support.

Read part 2 of's series on Linux/OSS support.

Read part 3 of's series on Linux/OSS support

Best Web Links on support

Rick Segeberg's personal site

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