% fortune -ae paul murphy

Rx for Linux: Part 4 - Community Support

A few years ago I suggested to an American colleague that we start a new business using the Telearb name I'd invented for a potential client in the call center business who didn't follow through. The new business would focus, I suggested, on providing Linux community support.

He didn't want to play, and I haven't pursued it since, but someone, or many somebodies, should should act on this idea now - so here's the 4-1-1:

Telearb means "work at a distance", the goal would be to combine some of the best practices in the temporary staffing industry with some of the best ideas applied by ebay to grow, serve, and police a market for local, person to person, Linux support.

From a customer perspective here's how it would work: contact the Telearb dispatch center and get whatever level of help is needed - from finding documentation to having a person arrive at your door with the expertise, tools, and backing needed to help. The fine print says you pay Telearb $5.00 for fielding the question, Telearb bills you for the service at the rate applicable to the provider, keeps a small percentage of it, and passes the rest to the provider. You then grade the service you receive and Telearb makes that rating available to others on the ebay community model and also uses it to determine the hourly rate paid the provider - with more effective people getting higher rates.

There's a bit more to it - Telearb provides some professional insurance coverage, takes responsibility for botched jobs, maintains suggested billings schedules, uses auctions to staff jobs, reports to the tax man, and provides training and related community opportunities for staffers- but that's the essense of the customer deal: the customer pays, Telearb gets a living, breathing, person with proven credentials in place to help.

Telearb responds to the basic problem Joe average has with systems support - it's never there when you need it, and you pretty much have to understand the problem well enough to fix it yourself before you can communicate it clearly enough to get actual help from a call center support geek.

The single most important factor in explaining why Windows has it all over Linux for home and small business adoption is the public's belief that there's always somebody willing to take a few bucks per hour to futz with Windows - and whether that's competent support or not matters less than the idea that a few bucks can make their problem someone else's.

With Telearb we can develop a community of user rated Linux specialists who show up, charge a fair rate, fix the problem, and go away - no fuss, no contracts, no accounts, no miscommunication: a clear, simple, person to person deal whose risks are underwritten by a national organization.

Oh yeah, and in that process we put working with Linux on a commercially competitive basis with working on Windows, reduce the customer's perception of the support risk he undertakes by stepping out from under the Microsoft umbrella, and raise the ante for the unskilled ninny willing to take ten bucks an hour to futz with Windows.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.