Getting support

Support comes in various forms and is a vital part of an open source project. If people can’t get enough support there is a high possibility they will quit using your product and switch to something else – maybe even something closed source. In the article I’ll briefly cover the support methods Xubuntu offers. These methods are also listed on the “Help & Support” -page of Xubuntu website.

Instant support methods

Instant support methods like IRC are most wanted and effective. The caveat in instant support is that people expect to get their answer quicker than with any traditional method. And not just slightly quicker, but really fast. They assume that they will get an answer to their question in less than five minutes regardless of how complex their problem actually is. Five minutes is so little time that in many cases nobody will even arrive and read the question before the question author is gone.

I’ve also noted that even in the case people wait for somebody to appear, they want the answer right away once the other person has said a word. This is also not always possible. It’s really sad to see people go if they don’t get an answer immediately. It would be totally justified if we were talking about paid support but as we are talking about open source software and community support, it just feels people have accustomed to something too good.

Types of people asking for support at #xubuntu

  1. “I will tell my problem once and I want the answer in five minutes or I will go.”
    There is nothing we can do. Even if we were available immediately but couldn’t offer (an easy) solution, they are gone. This type also gets angry quite quickly. The questions are most of the time easy and by browsing the Ubuntu forums, searching Google or just thinking sanely for a few minutes they would have got their answer. Maybe they sometimes even do realize this themselves.
  2. “I will repeat and repeat my problem until somebody can answer it.
    These people can lurk around for a long time in the channel, repeating their question every time somebody says something. Pointing them to the forums sometimes lead into better results.
  3. “I’ll lurk here and ask my question once somebody pops in.”
    Like the previous type, these people might lurk at the channel for a long time. These guys and gals usually get an answer sooner or later, but usually could’ve done better by reading the forums or searching Google.
  4. “I’ll paste any information I have into the channel even if I don’t know if it relates to my problem.”
    This is not a truly bad solution, as long as the user remembers to use Pastebin. These users rarely have the characteristics of type 1; “as I’ve told you this much about my problem, you should have solved it already”. The complexity of problems varies a lot. Even if the user did not get a solution for his problem, they should be pointed to the forums, as they will most possibly get some results sooner or later. This type is also the users who are asked to file bug reports more often than the other types. At least they can provide lots of information.
  5. “Hello. Can I ask my question? Please?”
    These people need a lot of attention and sometimes a lot of patience. Once they get to ask their question, they behave well and answer any questions and provide needed information.
  6. “I will ask my question and wait patiently for an answer. If I don’t get one, I will try somewhere else.”
    I like you. Like type 5, the people in this type are usually well-behaving and know how to interact with the supporter.

The most important thing for anybody, including people who ask and answer the questions, is to remember that people giving the support are volunteers. Even if they might be professionals in the area, they might not know the answer. And you have to live with it. Answering may take a long time which I think is something that neither of the sides want. People giving support should not get too cocky. You are helping an open source project and your attitude should also reflect that. As always, anybody doing this work should not work too much. Burnout, frustration and lack of enthusiasm is not unusual. Do whatever you can and learn to say no if you can’t.

The correct way of asking for support at #xubuntu

Common information about general topics can be found by querying ubottu. If you feel you only need a pointing finger, ask her (/msg ubottu !topic). Once you are sure the answer for your question is not a frequently asked question in the forums and you have done some searching there and on Google, you should keep these steps to success in your mind:

  1. Ask your question. Include as much of information you know relates your problem. If you don’t know what to tell, wait for somebody to ask you for more details.
  2. Wait. The most important step. People are not always available. Please do not repeat your question more than maybe once a day. If you don’t seem to get any help, see step 4.
  3. Answer any questions you are asked, be polite and patient.
  4. Search the Ubuntu forums, Google or ask #ubuntu. In many cases, questions are not Xubuntu-specific (if it’s anything about Xfce on Ubuntu, it’s something you want to ask at #xubuntu). Asking #ubuntu might be your way to success.

Non-live support methods

  • Documentation. For the simple questions, there are simple answers. Many of these can be found in the documentation. The offline documentation can be found at /usr/share/xubuntu-docs/ (simply navigate there with your web browser). As Xubuntu shares the Ubuntu base, answers can also be found in the Official Ubuntu Documentation, which also includes community contributed documentation.
  • Forums. The Ubuntu forums are a great place to start your search for answers online. If you don’t find an existing (solved) thread about your issue, you can start your own. If you do, please remember to check the thread and mark as solved once you don’t have the problem anymore.
  • Answers. You can answer questions on Launchpad Answers. Once you add a question, please remember to come back and look at the solutions that have been offered. If your problem is solved, please remember to mark the answer as solved.
  • Mailing lists. Xubuntu has a mailing lists for support; xubuntu-users.

Not good at English?

Please remember that Ubuntu has LoCo teams, which usually offer support in your language. The LoCo teams are usually able to help you also on Xubuntu-specific issues.

This article is part of the article series .

Discussion

  1. ethana2
    May 28, 2009

    Users should be able to get to their local community irc channel from ubuntu.com via mibbit.

    There, they will have people that probably share their sleep schedule as well as their language, and will be close enough to provide hands on support.

    Let me tell you, that is the easiest kind– when they can just drive over, get help, go home. Very simple. That’s how I get most of my converts, ’cause Windows doesn’t come with a torrent client or irc burner and people don’t want to wait for shipit.

  2. Pasi Lallinaho
    May 28, 2009

    Oh yeah, you are right.

    Even if I did mention the LoCo teams, I missed the offline part completely. However, inviting a totally strange person to assist you with installing or using Ubuntu… Might work sometimes, but people have very strong attitudes. For many, the local random Linux geek is not just so credible than the local computer store/company tech support.

    Talking about offline “support” there is also Ubuntu training which I think is a fantastic way to get people know Ubuntu and Linux in general.