We in the Community that we call Open are already able to identify the variety of ways in which we can locate application support for our favourite distribution. Most users of open source are familiar with accessing support via Websites, Internet Relay Chat, Email and User Groups. Open Source software which was born out of the connectivity of the Internet and with it the support mechanisms. Access to not only the original source code but the project websites, developers and contributors is second nature to many long term Linux users. What is remarkable about this structure is that it sustains, moderates and breeds itself without any apparent governance or financial input.
Meanwhile our fellow computers users whom have chosen ( or had a choice made for them ) to use Microsoft Windows have appear not to have developed a similar infrastructure. There are those “hard core” computer enthusiasts whom to a certain extent have developed an infrastructure to discuss and support each other though it does not seemed to have generated the same levels of community awareness. To achieve much in Windows requires an awareness that you will eventually have to pay some sort of subscription, one off payment or on going upgrade cost towards software that most users simply dont wish to make. As I mentioned before , the barrier to involvement for many a “traditional” commercial software user is the concept that the application developers and community is a closed members club which will require a cost to enter. Never more is this more evident than when visitors to the Slug BCF stand at Worthing ask , “so how much is it to join the club ?”. Its not an unexpected or unwarranted question but it is clear that if they expect a cost and are surprised or suspicious when there is not a fee.
What I have found though is that many of those Windows users have developed their own “support” environments wherein they rely on the special knowledge of their nephews, cousins, uncles, brothers, sons , the chap across the road or the guy down the pub and in certain cases the local computer shop. The Windows community has developed a support environment based on a local community accessible in the real world since they understand that they will not be able to talk directly to the developers and the developer community. These users are already familiar with the idea of a support network and the concepts of seeking help from someone more knowledgeable and they are used to the idea of not really paying a entry fee for such local support. They dont expect a wider and more indepth support environment to exist without a cost being associated to it.
Its not surprising then when many new users join the community that their expectations are to be able to meet someone or have them “come look” at their computer. The dependence on external agents to help with actually looking at their computers or giving them software ( sometimes pirated ) is ingrained in the mindset of the new user. We need to realise that for many of these new users the concept of mail-lists, irc and forums for support for their computers is alien and to them. Many new users will have been introduced to Linux by a friend or relative having preinstalled the system on their computer. However the desire to be the in-family support individual of this is usually the factor in discouraging the community from introducing new users.
So it may be necessary in talking about open source software and software freedom to also re-educate the new users in how open the support and community really is. Now some in the community would argue that this learning should be a part of the curve of acceptance and responsibility of using the software. Usually these members who expound this view are letting their own egos override the view of the developers, whom are most likely keen to ensure that there are few barriers to using the software .
I have no direct answers to how to change the message of open source to incorporate open support and open communities except to highlight and discuss it in this blog. I will however be attending the Ubuntu UK Team meet at the London Olympia for the Linux World Expo and will be talking about this some more. So go book a ticket and come down to the .ORG village and visit the Ubuntu stand.
Thanks for reading.