Support for Open Source Software: Where To Find It
I forget that I’ve been at this a while, and that finding support for open source software is something I do without even really thinking about it. For those of you who aren’t as used to the process, here’s my take on how to get support.
December 30, 2017
So, you’ve gone through the process of finding an application that will work for you. You’ve done all the research, discovered what you’ll need to run it, maybe even gotten it running, and you hit a snag. Now where do you find support for open source software?
Support for Open Source vs. Proprietary Software
Proprietary Software Support
Before we get going too far, let’s compare a bit between two worlds. With most proprietary software, you get support from the company that makes it. There may also be a user community. Having worked for a company peddling a proprietary ERP, I’ve seen this end of things. It can get ugly for an end user. It could also be great, depending on the company providing the software. To me, so far, it looks like the bigger the software company, the worse the support is. Without going on too much of a rant about Corporate America, when there are shareholders involved the focus seems to be more on new streams of revenue than taking care of the revenue they’ve got.
The ERPs I supported each had only a skeleton development crew. And toward the end, the support crews were pretty sparse as well. The company’s newest ERP (that of a competitor they’d bought) was the “go forward” product, so customers on the older stuff were kind of left to either pay loads more and switch, or hang out to dry. Not all companies are that bad though.
On the other hand, the lone fellow who provided a construction estimating program would bend over backwards whenever I called if I hit a snag with his proprietary software.
Open Source Software Support
In the open source world, I’ve found support to usually be in the form of a community. There are nearly always mailing lists an end user can join. Sometimes there’s just one big list, and sometimes applications have several lists, like for users, for developers, for testers, etc.
There may also be some sort of message board. The precursor to social media, message boards were where people went to talk about something before MySpace and Facebook came out.
In addition, lots of applications also have an irc chat room, and the majority of those are on the freenode network.
One last place one might find open source software support is through a private vendor. These are people or companies that offer, for a fee, support for whatever application they’re familiar with.
Examples of Open Source software support
Let’s say you’ve had enough with Microsoft Office, and you’re bailing. You’re going to start using LibreOffice. But you’re so used to Microsoft’s new interface already, and have all sorts of Excel macros, that you need a hand making the transition. Now what? Well, start with their community support gateway.
There are a boat load of mailing lists you can join, but you’re probably going to want to get onto the user list. There’s a site called nabble where you can read what everyone is saying, and this looks like a message board.
There’s an “Ask LibreOffice” section that takes you to the equivalent of a message board. It looks a little different than I’m used to, but it works fine. Ask a question, someone will answer.
Many open source software support practices include a wiki. LibreOffice does as well. It’s sort of like documentation, but there’s more there, like Frequently Asked Questions.
LibreOffice has an irc chat room for nearly instant help. I actually popped into it while writing this to clarify some of what I saw on the main help page. To join this, you’ll need an irc client. In Windows, I remember using Chatzilla, but there are scores of clients out there. Just make sure to join irc.freenode.net, and head into #libreoffice (all chat room names are prefaced by a hash tag) for help
These are the people and companies that will provide support for a fee. Many of these folks are active community members, and go through a certification process before they can get listed on the site.
Fossfolks is rather like these people, just not for LibreOffice in particular. The motto “We’ll help you switch,” means just that. We help people ditch their proprietary software in favor of open source alternatives.
So, before you get worried about being left out in the cold, remember that open source software support is out there, and there are people to help you along when you make the move.