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Linux, OpenBSD, Windows Server Comparison: Support Options

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.

Microsoft Consultants

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 good consultant.

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