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Paid Support Not Critical For Linux Adoption 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-buy-the-milk-when-you-can-get-the-cow-for-free dept.
ruphus13 writes "At the LinuxWorld expo, an analyst for the 451 Group pointed to a growing trend in enterprise — the increase in adoption of community-supported Linux distros. From the article, 'Companies are increasingly choosing free community-driven Linux distributions instead of commercial offerings with conventional support options. Several factors are driving this trend, particularly dissatisfaction with the cost of support services from the major distributors. Companies that use and deploy Linux internally increasingly have enough in-house expertise to handle all of their technical needs and no longer have to rely on Red Hat or Novell.'"
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Paid Support Not Critical For Linux Adoption

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  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Saturday August 09, 2008 @12:25AM (#24535009) Homepage

    We started with RHEL3, especially since we ordered a Dell Server and it could come with the server, thus I knew RH would just work on it. Never seemed to get my money's worth out of support (if you are going to administer it, you might as well learn it, so I answered most questions by myself.) A year or so later, instead of going RHEL4 I went to CentOS 4 next, as it had the same necessary apps and updates, support didn't matter so I had the OS without the bothersome RedHat Network license validation nag screens.

    About a year after that I got tired of CentOS - when I started looking at options for a cross-platform backup solution, CentOS was the low man on the compatible distribution totem pole, sometimes not even there at all, most support requestes ended with some vague problem with dependencies and an 'oh well'.

    Also learned to shy away from SuSE then too, as I noticed around that time any Novell associated projects usually dropped any non-SuSE binaries (i.e. iFolder).

    But Ubuntu had just about everything there, was well updated, and a lot of forums with solutions. Granted, Ubuntu lacked the nice SAMBA admin program (GSAMBAD needs help), but I never have any problems finding apps or resolving installation issues quickly.

  • by VoyagerRadio (669156) <harold.johnson@gmail.com> on Saturday August 09, 2008 @12:33AM (#24535055) Homepage Journal
    How did Ubuntu get such a huge community so quickly? I remember hearing about Ubuntu shortly after I installed Xandros on my system, about three or four years ago. I began looking into Ubuntu, and its community was exploding, and still seems to be. I wouldn't be surprised if alot of enterprises are installing this distro now, based on its community. Yet still: why Ubuntu? Why not one of the other similar distros? Is it the name? The slogan? The color scheme? Mark Shuttleworth? What's the deal?
  • by Jailbrekr (73837) <jailbrekr@digitaladdiction.net> on Saturday August 09, 2008 @12:40AM (#24535095) Homepage

    And while we *do* pay for support and it has come in handy on occasion, I have found that google is a far more valuable tool than their support services. First off, it doesn't take 2 days to get a response when you are using google. Second, you aren't forced to do a sysreport by some 1st tier keyboard jockey in Bangalore before they will even consider thinking about the problem you are reporting.

    Now, having said that, when you manage to escalate your problem to someone high enough up, you do get quality support. you just have to jump through hoops to get there, which really does IMO make the value of the paid support rather questionable.

  • by fyrie (604735) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @12:43AM (#24535109)

    As a professional programmer and hobbiest computer builder, I've found that support is almost always done better by the community except for true core bugs/issues that don't have a work around. When there is no work around, the vendor is becomes the sole source of support in most cases.

  • by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @12:52AM (#24535155) Homepage Journal

    because after installing some other linux distros and having a horrible time getting anything to work right, i gave ubuntu a shot, and everything just worked right away.

    why ubuntu?
    because it works.

    i want my time on the computer to be wasted reading slashdot, not wasted by pointless driver/hardware issues.

  • Re:Support is Better (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @01:04AM (#24535209) Journal

    Can I add a bit to that? ok, sure I will.

    Businesses like to have 24/7 support so they can point fingers at someone else. Anyone who has supported Solaris for the last 10 years knows that supporting Linux is a walk in the park. Having forums and "The Google" is a bonus.

    In my current day-time job, they are adopting F/OSS based on cost. After the initial 2-4 year honeymoon the PHBs have finally realized that the knowledge base in-house is as good as what they can pay for, and community support is often faster than a phone call, things have worked out smoothly. We pay for minimum support to ensure timely patches, that's it. Some systems that are not 100% mission critical fall to Fedora or CentOS and in-house admins to manage it.

    We have 40-75% of hardware hitting end-of-life and the choice to move to commodity hardware with Linux OS is becoming very easy, almost expected. Its a point where is seems a no-brainer, just whack in a blade server with a LAMP stack and configure.. what's the hold up? what do you mean it will be 3 weeks? Seriously. Now that they see the competence of F/OSS on commodity hardware it is the go-to configuration because of in-house knowledge and skill and the fact that owning the skills makes it a true zero cost option compared to others.

  • by oakgrove (845019) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @01:44AM (#24535349)
    I can't speak for anyone else but the reasons I went with and remain with Ubuntu are pretty simple. I wanted to use Debian because of their stance on freedom and open source but a. the learning curve was a bit steep for a newb and b. etch was a bit out-dated. I tried Knoppix but for some strange reason, various bits of my hardware didn't work. I was turned off of Mandriva because of my experiences with RedHat and RPM's way back in the day when I first dabbled in Linux.

    I had heard nothing but good things about apt-get and dpkg so the next distro out of the pile for me to try was Ubuntu. And the rest has been history. It worked perfectly out of the box first time. Not cheesy like Linspire or PCLinuxOS and not too hard either. I think it's what you could call the Goldilocks distro. Not too tough but not condescending either. Whatever IT is, Ubuntu has it and its popularity attests to that.

  • by nschubach (922175) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @01:48AM (#24535359) Journal

    I just bought a Lenovo Thinkpad T61 with SLED10 ($50) and I wiped it for Ubuntu. Why? I use Gnome. I didn't like the "XP/Vista like" application menu. I didn't like the package manager... I tried using it for a few days, but went back to Ubuntu figuring that I just spent $50 to give Linux one more OEM sale instead of Windows. Sure, I had to tweak the Thinkpad buttons a bit, but after that everything just worked.

  • by rtb61 (674572) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @02:13AM (#24535453) Homepage
    It really was a combination of factors.The slogan? So Mark Shuttleworth choices in establishing the principles of Ubuntu certainly had a lot to do with it. The logo, the slogan and the principles behind them had a lot to do with it. The friendliness of the support forums had a lot to do with it. The quality of the distribution had a lot to do with it. The variants possible within the distribution Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edbuntu, Xubuntu and now Gobuntu had a lot to do with it.

    It all really points to the choice that open source provides and the principles of sharing the effort. Once any open source product gains a bit of a lead and of course adheres to the principles upon which it is founded, it gains additional users, which provides greater numbers for support, development and distribution, which gains additional users, which naturally enough creates greater numbers for support, development and distribution , etc. What tends to disrupt that cycle is a change in principles of the founders of that particular open source product and this happens because a variant can so readily be created which does adhere to the preferred principles of the majority of actual end users.

    So redhat went a bit corporate, SuSe via Novell went a bit M$ ie. nucking futs, mandrake was struggling with finances, Sun was struggling to get a handle on it, IBM like a millipede is pretty smartly keeping a foot in every door possible and most of the others were not really seeking a broad Linux market, so Ubuntu, right principles at the right time and a very good job they done of it indeed.

  • by symbolset (646467) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @02:15AM (#24535461) Journal

    Why? It's easy to install. It's easy to administer. It's Open, available and Free. It's secure by default (no open ports). It has repositories for thousands of useful and free apps that you can get from their repositories instead of downloading them from random Internet sites. It supports nearly all the hardware you've ever heard of. Server is free. Client is free. Thin client with servers is free. Clustering is free. Did I mention that client licenses are free? You can boot it from nearly any readable media. Boot time is swift even in ways you wouldn't expect it to be (pen?). It's easy to upgrade and paths are easy too -- and free. With Open Office it reads all the common Office formats, for free. It's extensible, adoptable, and free. The BSA will not be beating your door down over this one because they want you to use it.

    The better question is: "Why not Ubuntu?"

  • Re:Support is Better (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spandex_panda (1168381) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @02:38AM (#24535525)
    The Ubuntu forums are very helpful. I resent them being referred to as 'kiddie' forums. I do agree that there is a difference between these busy forums and those more edgy, maybe hardcore forums though.

    One example from my experience as a new less than 3 years Linux user is that I started on debian and their IRC was fantastic, folks in there would walk me through "read the man page"! but they have no forum that I know of (maybe a mailing list). Ubuntu IRC is clogged up most of the time, but you can get questions answered there too, its just that the help isn't always as fast/good. I now pretend to be using debian and ask them for help and they are very helpful 'till they discover that I use Ubuntu and then they go all dark and silent on me!!!!

    Having said that, in Ubuntuforums there are fantastic walkthroughs, howtos and other folks with the same problem who found a solution all over the place and I highly recommend it. Its not just full of kiddies.

  • by SleepyHappyDoc (813919) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @02:42AM (#24535537)

    You hit an interesting nail, there. I wonder how much of Ubuntu's community came around looking for something a bit more up-to-date than Woody, which was getting long in the tooth when Ubuntu first came around (and didn't get a new release for more than a year after that).

  • Why pay? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by br00tus (528477) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @04:03AM (#24535747)

    My shop has several hundred Red Hat boxes. What do we do with the money we pay Red Hat? Primarily it is to have access to their web site and get the ISOs for different Red Hat versions, as well as individual packages if needed. Or we use up2date/yum on the machine itself to grab packages.

    One thing I can say in favor of Red Hat. I used to use Debian at home (now I use Gnewsense, a knockoff of Ubuntu, which is a knockoff of Debian). For many months, the "search the contents of a package" feature was disabled on Debian's website. So if I wanted the program "sftp" but didn't know it was in package openssh-client, I could search there and discover that. But Debian just decided to take it down for a few months. Red Hat would not do that for so long, if at all, and if they did I could call and complain.

    One problem with Red Hat versus Sun is if a kernel panics or whatever with Solaris, I can send the core dump to Sun and that's it - the control the OS, they control the architecture (except for Host Bus Adapters and the like), and that not only makes core dumps easier (netdump seems to be preferred on Red Hat, which I think blows), but makes them easier to diagnose - it is all coming from one source. With Red Hat you don't know if is Red Hat that did something, or your hardware vendor (Dell/HP/etc.) Which means they can point fingers at one another, with Sun can not do as it is all coming from one source. OS and hardware all from one source has its advantages. Also, the usual answer from Red Hat and the hardware vendors is we should have everything patched to the latest version, which we never do, so reporting it is pointless. Even if we had everything patched, since unlike Solaris it won't be dumping core to a local disk, we would have to go through the effort of a project where all machines could netdump somewhere. As we only have a few systems go out a year, and do not have the resources to keep all machines up to the latest patch levels, system crashes are often a mystery, which irks me, but due to our limited resources and the shortcomings of the Red Hat model, is just how it is.

    The altruistic comments mentioned are silly I think. My boss is not going to shell out money to Red Hat because it goes to "the greater good". If I could get my company to send money somewhere, it would be to the Free Software Foundation.

    One thought that occurred to me is companies like Red Hat might be transitional in some ways. Companies wanting to move to something open want hand holding at first. I can think of many examples like this in my career. I worked at a company where we hired Java developers and started using a professional Java application server, which we became unhappy with and then began using Tomcat. The developers said their confidence with being able to develop for the professional server is what let them try Tomcat, which worked out very well for us. The move from Solaris to Red Hat to free as in beer Linux is another example. I see another example with MySQL recently - looking to save money, a division is going to use MySQL for a new project as opposed to Oracle, which they traditionally use. After a few years, might the DBAs drop professional MySQL and go with a non-supported MySQL? Who knows?

    I think the companies like Red Hat and MySQL, if they are adaptive and fine tune their business strategies, can survive this transitional stuff. The more traditional companies, the Microsofts and Oracles and Suns are who should be worried.

  • by Lennie (16154) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @04:30AM (#24535831) Homepage

    That's why I think some company should offer a per-issue support for Debian/Ubuntu. Not cheap, but good. Not just per phone, but by e-mail too. Maybe a webbased-ticked-system with e-mail updates ?

  • If linux is used by someone like me that likes to make my own decisions and research problems paid support isnt critical in most cases. I do like the possibility to get support if i should get stuck but that has only happened with commercial code so far. Linux transparency makes it possible to solve almost any problem by myself.

    But, most shops i know is consultant based. When you need a solution, toss out a hook towards some consultants and when someone bites you buy their solution. Support is a must since you dont know much about the systems you have. Theese people are the ones that need readymade nice packages with turnkey solutions. You dont sell them Linux, you sell them specific solutions to specific problems.

    If you want to make money the people who rather pay than think are the ones to sell support to.

  • by superskippy (772852) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @06:00AM (#24536087)
    I remember talking to a Solaris lover about Linux support once, and how he thought it sucked. This was in the City of London.

    The difference between an old-skool Solaris, or even Windows, is that if you have a bug, if you've got enough money you can persuade the company to get the guy who wrote the code to stop what (s)he was doing, and fix it, right now. Or in other words, most of the code is written by someone who works for Sun/HP/Microsoft/whatever.

    A Linux distribution, as we all know, is software pieced together from all over the place. Fair enough, RedHat do employ a lot of programmers, but most of what comes on that RHEL DVD is written elsewhere. So if you go to RedHat and say "there is a bug in X", they can't often help- they have to go to a third party project and try and persuade them to deal with it. Or they can get a generic programmer, try and get them to look at the code and work out what is wrong. That really doesn't help you above and beyond what you could do yourself.

    What I am trying to say is the "Linux" support (where Linux is a distribution) is not really a thing that is possible in the traditional sense.

  • by rs232 (849320) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @06:28AM (#24536181)
    "if you've got enough money you can persuade the company to get the guy who wrote the code to stop what (s)he was doing, and fix it, right now .. What I am trying to say is the "Linux" support (where Linux is a distribution) is not really a thing that is possible in the traditional sense"

    Speaking from personal experience, I have contacted a lead programmer directly and got back a reply within a day. I've even had a response from Linus Torvalds, didn't cost me a penny. Can't say I've ever had the same response in WindowsLand.
  • by subreality (157447) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @06:38AM (#24536219)

    I was a Debian user for a very long time at home, and on my personal servers, and I supported Red Hat Enterprise at work, which was a necessary compromise. I experimented with other distros many times, but always kept coming back to Debian, because in the long run, it ran smoothest. Setting it up as a desktop (or laptop!) required a lot of work, but when done, it was bulletproof.

    One day I tried Ubuntu in my usual spirit of checking out what the competition was up to... And I was blown away. Everything Just Worked even on my balky laptop. And yet, under the hood, it is just a refined Debian system, and when I need to change something (rare, due to the attention to detail in the base install) it could be done easily without breaking things, or fighting against a configuration system... Fully easy and refined, yet fully hackable.

    There's no going back, the same as I would never go back to Red Hat from Debian, or to Slackware from Red Hat.

    Other important factors are:

    • Fast release cycle to keep apps up to date (Gentoo does well here, RHEL was fair, Debian was failing miserably)
    • Good QA before release (Debian's has always been excellent, RHEL fair, Gentoo fair)
    • A good security update process (Debian's excellent, RHEL usually worked OK in exchange for money, Gentoo... should not be used on a server.)
    • It Just Works (RHEL fair, Debian poor, Gentoo is aimed at a different market, so I won't say they failed, but it certainly doesn't Just Work)
    • A pragmatic approach to handling non-free components (RHEL and Debian make you deal with Nvidia drivers yourself, and when they upgrade the kernel and it breaks X, and you need to work... you go deal with it yourself. Again. And again. Fail. Debian is all about Free, so their lack of codecs is understandable, but if you want it to Just Work, Debian doesn't. Ubuntu struck a good balance, nagging you that you were using non-free software, but happily installing and maintaining it for you if that was your choice.)
    • Commercial support (RHEL is obviously a leader here, support for Debian is only fair since it requires third parties, and Gentoo is simply not aimed at people who want support)
    • Available software (RHEL's pretty good with a number of people producing RPMs, especially if you need closed-source software; Debian's good with an extremely large package selection; most other distros have a fairly small package base, and few people interested in supplying third-party packages, so poor. Ubuntu shares Debian's excellent pre-built selection, and most third-party packages for Debian install smoothly.)
    • Putting the user's interests first (Debian puts Freedom first - many people value this, but Ubuntu gives the option to prioritize Just Works, while maintaining a general commitment to software freedom. RHEL made me waste a lot of time managing licenses so I could update; while understandable, they're putting their profits ahead of my interests.)

    So in my view, it's no one thing - they've just managed to do well in many areas, without screwing up any major aspect.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @08:53AM (#24536651) Journal

    If you've got enough money you can usually persuade the author of a piece of Free Software to fix it too (I'd certainly be very happy for people to pay me for bug fixes and new features). Often the amount you need to pay them is low, or even nothing (although an offer of payment is likely to increase the priority of your fix).

    The difference is that for traditional UNIX, you don't have to talk to the programmer. You have one phone number and the person on the other end is responsible for finding whoever wrote the code. You don't have to work out whose fault the issue is, locate the developer, offer them money, and so on. You have a single point of contact and a flat rate for fixes.

    There's nothing stopping a Linux (or BSD or OpenSolaris) distribution from only including packages where the developers have signed a contract with them agreeing to fix bugs in exchange for a fixed hourly rate.

  • Re:Support is Better (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @10:08AM (#24537039)
    Where I work Linux adoption mainly comes through 3rd parties. The idea of having someone to blame, I suppose but to me that was always an odd argument. So many justify using Microsoft for this but Microsoft specifically obfuscates itself from harm in it's EULA's. Sure they'll help troubleshoot a situation and support you through the issue but you have no recourse through them at all. If a MS-SQL bug costs your company millions, they won't take responsibility.
  • Not so good... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LVSlushdat (854194) on Saturday August 09, 2008 @11:35AM (#24537475)

    I'm a recent convert to Ubuntu, but have been in the trenches with Linux since 1994. I've asked several questions on the Ubuntu community forum, questions which were Ubuntu-specific, gave plenty of info, was very polite, and as of yesterday, one question had been there two weeks, and the other, one week, with zip answers.. I'm in the process of weaning my employer off RedHat, in favor of CentOS, on several new servers.
    The CentOS forums are what I'd expect of excellent community support.. Several questions were answered almost before I completed posting the question :-> I love Ubuntu for desktop systems and especially for laptops, but I'd be leery of it for server use, unless I bought a support subscription from Canonical..

  • Re:Support is Better (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jay Lyman (1341993) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @10:22AM (#24545289)
    There is no question that for the vast majority of IT organizations, they need the commercial Linux subscription, regardless of their Linux skills. It boils down to having an insurance policy, a place to call when things go terribly wrong and a place to point the finger. Things is, with Linux, most organizations become more self-sufficient, so the appeal of community distros becomes even greater. We simply see the successful community distros growing along with RHEL and SUSE, and that's a good thing. JL

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