Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison:
Will help be readily available when you reach the point that you
need to ask for it? Some personal background is relevant here.
I don't like to make a phone call or post a message until I've
researched a problem fairly thoroughly. Because of the expense
of customer support and the availability of automated voice
response systems, the quality of customer support in many
industries has declined significantly in recent years. Some
airlines make it clear that they simply don't want to talk to you
even if their automated voice response system can't handle your
query. How many menu layers and how much standard account
information do you have to listen to before you can talk to a
human customer service representative about a problem with a
credit card? The amount of time spent on hold, waiting to talk
to customer service at many companies is appalling.
For years however, the computer industry has made most other
industries look good by comparison. A few years ago I bought
a major brand computer from a company that I
now believe is leading in PC sales. I had a hardware problem and
they lived up to their excellent reputation in fixing the problem.
I bought the computer with Windows NT, rather than the standard
Windows 98 on a home computer, and had some slightly unusual set
up issues. The amount of answers that amounted to "I don't know"
or "we can't help you" or "we assure you, you can do this safely"
when you could not, was staggering. The tech support was worse
than worthless, as they led me into multiple dead ends. I
finally solved all problems by disregarding all their advice and
doing a complete fresh, standard Windows NT install from the
floppies and CD and ignoring the vendor specific install that ran
from the hard disk.
This was one more confirmation of my generalization, that if I
can't solve a computer problem myself, tech support won't be able
to help me. There are a few exceptions. When I was responsible
for a large AIX system, the organization that I worked for paid
IBM for 7 by 24 hour tech support services. I used these
services frequently as the wait times were small and IBM could
nearly always route a support call, so that the first technical
person you spoke to could give useful advice. Calls always
started with a non technical person whose job was to ascertain
the level of seriousness of the problem (from information request
to system down) and the correct technical response unit. Once
you had a technical support person, on those infrequent instances
when you needed a different technical unit or multiple technical
units or to escalate to a higher level technical support staff,
this was not an issue. I only recall getting incorrect
information from IBM technical support, once.
In 18 years, I've never encountered anything remotely like this
from any PC oriented or shrink wrap software manufacturer except
perhaps WordPerfect in the late 80's / early 90's. With my
experience and the degree to which I research a problem before
calling for assistance, I nearly always need to talk to a third
(occasionally second) level technical support person before
having a reasonable chance of getting useful assistance. The way
that most technical support operations are set up, this is either
not possible or takes so long that it's simply not worth the
effort. For an experienced user with strong troubleshooting
skills, most PC computer industry tech support simply isn't worth
the bother of attempting to contact them.
Based on reading, I'd assume that Sun, Hewlett-Packard and a few
other vendors with years of experience with corporate clients and
important service offerings are able to provide support roughly
comparable to that provided by IBM.
Microsoft Non Support
Regarding Microsoft, the first place to look for help with
specific problems is in their knowledge base via their web site.
If however, this produces no results, I'd waste no further time
with any attempt to contact Microsoft in any way. The last time
I called Microsoft, was related to upgrading an NT 3.51 server to
4. I believe there was a phone number provided for assistance
with this. I do know that I called, that it was long and
frustrating and that absolutely no assistance was ever provided
that helped me with the install problem. Subsequently, I solved
the problem myself. It was one of these incredibly stupid
things. I was trying to follow the instructions which called for
a floppy disk to be inserted into the A: drive. The problem was
there was no such floppy included with the upgrade media.
Actually there was, it's just that the label on the floppy in no
way matched what the instructions said was needed. After
realizing there was no correspondence between the instructions
and the actual floppy labels except the numbers 1, 2 and 3, the
upgrade was uneventful.
The more I see in the trade press regarding the arrogance of
Microsoft and the contempt with which they treat their customers
and "partners" the less I want any contact of any kind with that
company. This recent behavior regarding software audits, is
trivial compared to their behavior as described in Judge
Jackson's Nov. 1999 Findings of Fact.
If you need help with Microsoft products, there are certainly
technically knowledgeable people available. The really good ones
can solve seemingly very difficult problems, with ease. The
problem is, how to find the consultants that have the right
expertise for your set of problems. Unless you are highly
technical yourself, it's almost impossible to distinguish between
someone who really knows what they are doing and an accomplished
jargon slinger. A skilled jargon slinger with some con artist
skills, will always be selected over a skilled technician, unless
there is an unusually grueling technical selection process. Even
if the persons making the selection are very technical, if
someone is being hired to solve a specific problem or set of
problems, those doing the hiring need to hire someone who has
skills they lack or presumably they would have already been able
to solve the problem(s). Good consultants will be expensive.
Cheap consultants will do cheap work or you'll be paying them to
learn on your job. Unfortunately, high fees do not guarantee a
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