(This is part of a series of posts on Why Linux?)
This is probably a non-obvious reason to run Linux to most people. One of the complaints I’ve heard in the past is the lack of support for Linux. It’s not really relevant to running it on a work desktop (where support is presumably from some central IT organisation), but I believe it’s a red herring. Support in the Free software world can exceed that in the proprietary by an impressive margin. And that can turn out to be useful at work, even if you do suppose the existence of central IT.
The support I’ve received for Linux and applications under it has been, on numerous occasions, excellent in a way I feel I could never expect from the commercial software world. And when it isn’t, I have the choice of whomever I want to try and fix my problems, rather than being stuck with no options.
I have found that if I am polite, and provide useful information, and patient, I can talk directly to the developers who make the software I use. If I have a patch they will often take it from me, or use it as a basis for the final fix. If they are no longer available, or too busy, then because I have the source I can find someone else to look at the problem, or do so myself.
The chances of most large proprietary software companies giving me the time of day is low. I don’t understand why small businesses think that Windows is a safer choice due to being able to get support from Microsoft.
Again using experience gained at Black Cat, at one point we had a problem with IPv6 routes being updated. Signs pointed to Quagga, Simon collected relevant information and got in contact with the Quagga devs. They investigated, realised it wasn’t a problem with their code, and then proceeded to find the issue in the Linux kernel, produce the fix and pass it upstream. Within hours of us reporting the problem. I’ll accept that’s an exceptional response that can be matched within the proprietary software world, but not without a hefty support contract and I doubt you would have got a response other than “Not our fault, talk to the other supplier”, or maybe a workaround at best.
More recently, I had a conversation about Linux and discard support, with one of the people who’d worked on it. Very interesting from my PoV, useful to my work (I ended up fixing something in our code base that led to the Linux support Just Working with our product) and I believe was useful to that developer too, in terms of providing some insight to the other side of the problem. I don’t get that kind of access to proprietary software developers - while it could be argued that I know a lot of Free software people, I also know a lot of other programmers and they’re just not able to be so open about things, so both sides lose out.
Or my new laptop’s ethernet wasn’t supported by the kernel in squeeze. I filed a bug requesting the driver be added (and pointing to the patch). The week I wrote the first draft of this article I saw confirmation that this had been done, and will be part of the final squeeze release. I think that’s pretty impressive. (Thanks, Ben.)