Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How to ask me for technical support

Note: If I sent you a link to this post, please please please don't take is personally. It is just my way of trying to keep up with things I do. Please read this post through and follow the instructions displayed here.

As some of my readers (why do I bother with plural form?) know, I manage several free software projects. Most notable of these are PgOleDb and rsyncrypto. These are the project that have actual users, but there are several other pieces of code I decided to post up on the net for everyone to use, or just projects managed by others that I have contributed to.

As you may also know, I am also founder and CEO of a small open source consulting company called Lingnu Open Source Consulting. This company makes money from providing services, such as support, for open source projects. These include general FOSS projects, such as Linux or Wine, but this also includes the FOSS projects written by me, on company time, mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Every once in a while, someone will send me an email, to a personal email address, with a question or a request for support for one of the projects I manage. This page is up mainly so I can explain how (and when) I answer such support requests.

In a nutshell, there are two types of support requests I will take.
  1. Each and every project I manage has a mailing list. The list is pointed to from the project's home page. Community based support (including by myself) is available, free of charge or commitment, on the lists.

  2. Current or prospective customers of Lingnu are free to approach me in private for specific requests for my time.

If I sent you a reply pointing you to this page, it usually means that you contacted me, in private, asking for support without offering to pay for my time. Such requests will simply not be answered. Either re-send your request to the mailing list (and, yes, most of the mailing lists I manage require you to be a subscriber, for spam filtering reasons), or specify that you are looking for commercial support.

One common mistake people make is to reply to me, in private, to emails with information I send in reply to emails sent to the mailing list. In other words, people ask a question on the mailing list, I answer on the list, and people hit "reply" and ask a follow up in private. When you answer emails I send to a mailing list, please be sure to hit "reply to all", so that the list will have a copy of your email. Failing to do so will cause me not to answer your email.

I hope this makes things clearer.

And Now the Why....

I know that this policy may seem arrogant. Alternatively, it may seem that my intention is to "dry out" the community support for my FOSS projects, so that people find themselves compelled to pay for my time. I am really truly sorry about that. Please allow me to assure you all that neither of these are my intention.

I would very much like for a community to develop around all of the FOSS projects I started, and thus, I do not wish to discourage using the community channel to get free of charge support. However, when a question is asked on the public mailing list, two things happen:
  1. All people subscribed to the list see the question, and get a chance to answer

  2. The question, and answer, get public recoding in the list's archive, and will subsequently get picked up by search engines

The above two are crucial for the development of a community that rely on more than my (very limited) time for support. Since asking me a question in private effectively prevents both from happening, I refuse to spend time on questions sent in private.

What Should You Do if You Were Directed Here?

The answer to that is very simple. Simply open your original email for editing, set the "to" to that of the relevant mailing list (please do NOT CC me personally), and hit "send". That's all. I promise you that I do my best to answer all questions arriving on the mailing lists for all of my projects.

If the email you originally sent was a reply to an email from me sent to the list, it's ok for you to CC me. Just make sure that the mailing list address is in there, and make sure to hit "reply to all" the next time you want to reply to my public emails regarding community support.

If you feel that you need me to dedicate time to your problem, and you are willing to pay for this time, and you still got a reply pointing you here, then allow me first to apologize. Please re-send the email stating, at the start of it, that you are seeking commercial support, and ask for a quote.

I'm hoping that this page serve to create better communication.



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11:08 PM  

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