Tech Support Nightmares

As a computer consultant, I call tech support hotlines for a number of different commercial software and hardware products; almost universally the level of support is execrable. After waiting on hold for too long, I speak with a person who knows less than I do about the product they are supporting. Their sole job is to prevent callers from bothering the mythical "engineers" who actually know the product. The first-level technician I am speaking with will repeatedly put me on hold, repeat what I've said to an engineer, and return to parrot the engineer's questions or suggestions. This real-life game of telephone can continue on this and subsequent calls over many days until the problem is solved or I give up. This process almost never takes less than an hour unless the problem and solution are extremely simple. (The reason for this is simple. For commercial software companies, support is an expense. They have to do it, but it doesn't make them any money, so they just try to make it good enough that it doesn't drive customers to their competitors. Adding insult to injury, many are now charging for support.)

Contrast this with my experience seeking support with open-source software. I spend 15 minutes carefully writing out exactly what problem I'm experiencing, what I've done to try and fix it, and how my system is set up. I send that problem report to an appropriate mailing list. Sometime between 15 minutes to 10 hours later, I will get a single e-mail from someone in Los Angeles or Amsterdam or anywhere who knows the program very well and will tell me exactly what I'm doing wrong. (Sometimes you'll even get help from the program's author!)

The contrast is striking. Even if I had to pay for the support I get from open-source mailing lists, it would be a better deal than commercial software's poor excuse for support.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: This latest rant inspired by Hewlett Packard. (Slogan: "hp: invent")