Another point deserves emphasis. Once people get settled in and comfortable with a particular product, software or otherwise, they tend to stay there unless provoked into changing. If they are provoked into switching, they are not likely to return. It is not enough to offer an option that is equally as good as the one that people have now. The new option needs to be noticeably better than what the customer has now, or it will be ignored. This is the reason that the righteously angry people who chant "If you don't like it then go back to Windows you losers!" are shooting Linux in the foot. Because non-technical end users really will go back to Windows, and they will not try Linux again anytime soon.
I ask anyone reading this to please keep this in mind while I continue meandering. I am not attacking any particular distro when I point out a deficiency. I am offering constructive criticism. If these Linux companies are seriously intending to stay afloat long enough to pay off their mortgages, they better pay close attention to every user's complaint. And react ASAP. It is inherently impossible to compare different distros without picking one of the choices as being better than the others in-that-particular-area. So please don't take any of this personally. I am not attacking your friends, I am cynically dissecting a group of commercial products.
Now, returning to the Xandros form letter reply to my request for help. I grant that it was the day after Christmas. I grant that it was a long weekend. I grant all of it. But I also observe that they were running behind schedule and had to hurry up in order to get the shipments out the door before the holiday season. Under such circumstance that should have realized that there would be the possibility of some oversights, and even perhaps a few mistakes being made.
The one thing that a company should not do in such circumstances is to take off on a long weekend and leave their brand new customers high and dry with technical issues. Somebody at Xandros tech support should have been drawing holiday pay to be available for critical need cases at minimum.
I know that Xandros is a small company. All of the Linux vendors except RedHat are small companies. That is not the customer's problem. In fact, giving customers the impression that they are too small to provide prompt tech support simply reinforces the notion (which Microsoft keeps hammering) that switching to Linux is not safe because you cannot depend on a Linux vendor to be there when you need them. Informal suggestions from a crowd of fellow users is *NOT* the kind of customer support that Business customers are looking for.
Xandros is specifically targeting the business market. When they finally release their much anticipated Xandros Business version, will they immediately go on vacation or a long weekend and expect their new corporate customers to wait patiently for them to get back? I hope not.
I have the luxury of two computer systems in my home office. However, many SOHO end users do not have that luxury. Any technical flaw which renders a system unusable for normal work cannot wait until tech support gets back from their holiday. Not when it is the only computer you have. A system that cannot access its only CD-ROM drive is not usuable.
It isn't reasonable to expect a customer in that situation to wait for 5 business days either. When you are a SOHO operator and you have a client who is waiting for the project to be delivered (and calling you twice a day asking "How is it going?") you cannot sit around on your thumbs without doing something about the problem.
Cost is also a consideration. The version that I received, Xandros 2.0 Deluxe, costs approximately $100 when you include shipping. This is the one of the highest prices on a Linux distro that I know of, and is perilously close to what Microsoft charges for system upgrades. Some Linux distros can get away with a few weak points by asking "Well, what do you want for nothing?". Xandros can't do that. They are charging above standard market prices, therefore they need to provide above standard market service.
The best customer service I have received, by far, was from MEPIS. MEPIS is a tiny little startup shoestring operation with a starvation budget and a workaholic founder. MEPIS markets exclusively by word of mouth. MEPIS is free to download, about $10 to register. But I never had to wait very long for a response to get tech support from MEPIS. My first response from MEPIS came approximately 5 hours after I sent my first email.
The next best tech support came from Libranet. Not only do they maintain an extensive and relevant database on their web site that covers almost any problem you can imagine, but they also respond to tech support inquiries promptly. They market by word of mouth also. Otherwise they don't blow their own horn much. Their previous release version is free to download. My first response from Libranet came at the start of the first business day following my weekend email.
The third best is Lindows. That is painful to admit after Lindows took 6 days to respond to my email, but it is true. The email tech support system with Lindows is pitiful. But the Lindows customer service reps keep a close eye on the visitor forums. If you go to the visitor forum, identify yourself as a registered user, and announce that you have a problem they will repond almost instantly. On the other hand, if you go to the member forums where visitors seldom bother to look, you will get swift response from other users but not necessarily from Lindows.
Overall, it is possible to get fast and effective tech support from Lindows if you know where to look and who to harass. They market by every method possible and a few that are amazingly improbable. Lindows has so many pricing plans, membership options, and package versions that it is impossible to keep them all straight. Prices range from $30-$100. My first forum response from Lindows came about ten minutes after I posted a seething rant on their public boards where the prospective new customers could see it. The email response took 6 days.
When new software is released, there are always last minute bugs that slip through the cracks. Always. Doesn't matter if you are selling an OS, or a new Multiplayer game, or an Office program. There are always going to be installation issues, hardware conflicts, and so on with a new release. Invariably. The time when you need to be most alert, and most ready to respond to user complaints, is immediately after release.
Yet despite this, Xandros shut down for the holidays and left their newest customers high and dry. Not a good idea. And never forget the importance of first impressions. Xandros markets through word of mouth, advertising, trade shows, etc. and is currently engaged on a marketing blitz to convince the world that they will soon be offering the definitive solution for Business users. This is not the time to drop the ball on customer support.
I even saw one post on the Xandros forums, on the Sunday after Christmas, from a new purchaser who had bought the downloadable version but had not received access to the servers to download his copy yet. This poor forlorn person was apparently sent an email with all of the information he needed *except* the links to his downloadable copy. He was trying to figure out how to work through this difficulty but "no one is answering at Xandros right now" so he was pretty well stuck.
This is the kind of mistake that a young company makes while they are learning their way around. If they don't learn quickly enough, they never get to become an old company. We will see what happens. I am not trying to hurt Xandros. I am not trying to persuade people away from them. But I am criticizing their tech support, and I make no apology for this.
For comparison, I browsed the Lindows Visitor forums and saw several posts from the Lindows customer service rep that had been made on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Lindows personnel that posted over the holidays were very apologetic (while posting on Christmas Day) that they were running behind since they had just released some new versions (Xandros take note) and as a consequence Lindows was-bracing-for-extra-tech-support-needs.
Live and learn. The Xandros forums however, are excellent. I have found the forums and community for all of these distros to be wide open and helpful. I hope sincerely that this aspect of using a Linux OS will continue after the grim realities of the open market has knocked the gleam off some of these companies. Effectively, Windows doesn't have a community to speak of. I wonder sometimes how long Linux can hold onto theirs?
By the way, I eventually fixed the problem with my secondary system myself. It was similar to the problem that I had with MEPIS so I took the info from Warren (founder of MEPIS) along with copies of my config files from both Libranet and Knoppix, and managed to work backward into a configuration that operated properly. How many typical Windows end users (Xandros target customer) could have done that? How many of them would have had previous technical support information from a Linux distro plus configuration files from two other linux distros, all for the same hardware? Without this combined information for reference, my secondary system would still be unusable. Because I am not a programmer you see, therefore I had to interpolate what Xandros was doing and then trace it backwards. Whereas a Xandros tech could probably have solved my problem in five minutes because they would already have known where to start.
You can't tell an impatient client that he will have to wait, explaining that your new operating system isn't working and you have to wait for tech support to come back from their holiday vacation. Sorry folks, but that doesn't get it.
At the time of this writing, it has been 8 days total, 4 business days, since I sent an email to tech support at Xandros. No response from Xandros to my email at this point. And no official response to my forum post either.
After I fixed the problem myself, I sent an email to Warren at MEPIS describing how I had fixed it. I thought he might be interested for future reference. He sent a reply New Year's Eve thanking me cordially for reporting the information. Late at night. New Year's Eve.
Ratings for this section:
Installation - No clear winner. They all work more or less, none of them work perfectly.
Technical support from best to worst -