Support boundary guidelines

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A recurring question for support technicians of all kinds is "Well, why *don't* you support that?" Often it is phrased more as "Why won't you help me?", which is a bit more poignant and personal. This is a discussion of the why of support boundaries in general and of the specific boundaries we have at Free Geek.

Reasons we have boundaries

The first reason for having support boundaries in the first place is that it is time-consuming and costly to be an expert in all things, so we specialize. You would not come to me with a broken leg to fix, and I would not take my broken computer to a doctor. While it may seem like a computer tech should be able to handle computer problems in general, that is not the case. I have supported Microsoft Windows issues in the past, but can no longer consider myself an expert in it, and so do not support Windows, even for friends and relatives.

Second is the need to limit the range of possible problems and solutions. Think of every computer issue as the camel's nose. Once the nose is in the door, eventually the whole camel is in the door, and we want to limit the possible size of the camel. At Free Geek we work only on our own hardware in part because if a problem is too intractable, we know we can just replace the box with something similar. If we work on someone else's hardware we have no such option. To give an example, suppose someone comes in with a $5000 computer and wants help with it, and it completely fails while in our hands. Whether through our fault or no, we are suddenly responsible for $5000 worth of equipment.

Third is the need for consistency. If an adopter comes in to Tech Support and gets help on his issue from one tech, he will expect support on that same issue from any other tech. He does not think "Elaine helped me", but "Free Geek helped me", and will be frustrated if he comes in again and can't get help from Free Geek on that same issue.

What about Windows?

So why don't we support Windows? Mostly for the first reason above. We like Linux and have chosen to promote and support it and really don't have time or resources to do anything else. We are not trying to block people from putting Windows on their computers. We just think Linux is a better choice.

Why Linux?

Linux has advantages of security, adaptability, and ease of install on a wide variety of hardware. Yes, Windows is in many cases harder to install and configure than Linux on much of the hardware we provide. When a major computer manufacturer puts an operating system on their hardware, they include many hardware drivers that aren't actually part of Windows, which brings up the second reason, the camel's nose. If you install Windows on the hodgepodge of hardware we put together, these drivers have to be installed to make the hardware usable. This is possible to do, but is a potentially long and annoying task which we really don't want to do, especially given that most of the hardware we use "just works" with a standard Ubuntu install. The exceptions (some wireless cards, dialup modems, and printers for example) are few enough that we are willing to live with it.

Warranty and Support, Defined

Warranty basically says:

If hardware is broken, and the customer didn't break it, we'll replace it (for the period of the warranty) If the software is configured poorly before the customer had it or when in our care, we'll fix it for the period of the warranty (180 days for store-bought, 1 year all others). Note: Sometimes we can replace stuff the customer broke (if the part is generally on hand). This will cost $10 plus parts.--Remove from here ...for simpler tasks. ($20 plus parts for complex tasks). Customer is responsible for obtaining parts from the store themselves (for example, motherboards).

Support basically is:

If you get stuck, we'll unstick you. All the other things we'll do to improve a users experience with stuff from Free Geek. Note: Does not include intermediate to advanced application support. Just the basics. Customers should take classes, go to PLUG meetings, Computer Q and A, or pay a professional tutor for that type of help. Adopters and grantees are granted greater leniency as per the Tech Support Supervisor's discretion, especially if the help required is central to how the customer plans to use the device.

Common Loopholes

  • Testing parts is always $10 and will only be tested inside of a customers Free Geek obtained system.
  • Installation of parts is only free if the customer obtained the parts from the thrift store and their system is in warranty. Outside of warranty parts installation costs $10. We do not install hardware in machines that did not come from Free Geek.
  • Out-of-warranty repairs are $10 plus parts. Our ability to work on such units in entirely dependent on having surplus labor.
  • We will never performs repairs to totaled units, that is, repairs costing more than the value of a replacement unit (refer to thrift store).
  • Coordinators reserve the right to deny support to customers who abuse the privilege (i.e., in order to obtain an unreasonable amount of free one on one tutoring. refer to paid techs, classes, etc.)

Regrettable personal circumstances do not affect warranty coverage. For example, lengthy hospitalization does not extend you warranty by the number of days you were sick.

  • "I'm too stupid to know what to buy" You can tell what would work and then they are on there own about getting it. Exception: If we *always* have gobs of the gadget lying about we can get it.

Detailed Guidelines, with notes

Supported Software

  • LTS release and included applications (basic)
    • Appearance and theme, open office apps, mail client, rhythmbox etc. Steer new users to classes as much as possible. Can also provide support for some very common applications that are not included in the base install.
  • Non-LTS Ubuntu releases we know about (recent)
    • Mainly the most current non-LTS
  • Reimaging to bring back to original spec, e.g. Windows to Ubuntu ($10)

==> This costs $10. If the customer does not like that, they can buy a disk in the store (we do not support distro CDs).

  • Driver installation of network devices (if available)

==> We'll do it. Costs $10 for store customers and is limited by the availability of drivers.

  • Software that allows movies and web media to work

==> well do it. Free unless out of warranty.

  • Other kinds of data recovery (if we are able, $10 + cost of any media used.)

==> from flash drives, floppies, etc. Use discretion on trivial tasks.

  • Wireless Devices w/ no native driver

==> we'll give it a shot w/ndiswrapper for an adopter, $10 for store customers

Supported Hardware and Peripherals

  • Add memory, optical drives, wifi cards (from the store)

==>Easy to install stuff is free for both store and adopters. Testing untested devices costs $10. *People pay less for untested parts in the store b/c its assumed that they are testing it. Always always charge for this!

  • Add second hard drive

==> Includes formatting and configuration, if required.

  • Enable floppy drives

==> w/automount.

  • Make printers from store work with Linux

==> We will try with printers from elsewhere but offer no guarantees

  • Other linux distributions (if we know about them, may cost money)

==> Entirely limited to who is available at the time of the request. Walk-in only. Always $10.

  • Make random printers work with Ubuntu (if a driver is avail)

==> Always first check that there is driver!

  • 3G and WiMax adapters that require a hack

==> Don't bother if it works only so-so when done

  • Other peripherals

==> In general no

Not supported

  • Windows application support, installation, configuration, drivers, etc.

==> No. Sorry. And no assistance in obtaining COAs or anything like that.

  • WINE

==> Most stuff is buggy or does not work at all. Avoid (steer towards Q and A and PLUG)

  • Information about Dual-Booting beyond refering to Ubuntu maintained docs

==> Best to not even talk to someone about this. Refer to documentation, if they don't get what's in that document, *strongly* encourage them to just pick an operating system.

  • OS-X application support, installation, configuration, drivers, etc.

==> No.

  • Home networking

==> Just see if their computer can connect. After that, its on them.

  • Consultation

==> What should I buy? What's a good solution to problem X? No. We can advise customers about included or common (but not included) applications that may help to perform a task, but that's about it. Refer to paid techs.

  • Replacement of a laptop battery

==> Condition of battery is noted at time of sale. Exception: Grantees may get another battery if one is available and enhanced battery life is central to how they intend to use the unit.

  • Replacement of laptop keyboard

==> If we have a parts unit, its $25 (10+ 15 for the part).

  • Someone brings in a computer part without a Free Geek obtained computer

==> We test parts with Freekboxen and Storeboxen for $10. "Does this RAM work" ... "Can you test this xxxx?" ... "Can you format my hard drive" ... No. If it really get someone out of a bind, you can charge $10 after completing all other tasks

  • Anything that is physically damaged outside of Free Geek

==> For example, liquid spills

  • Hardware without drivers for Ubuntu

==> Encourage them to get stuff and

  • Adding a motherboard (or any other complex installation)

==> This is a classic way for someone to back there way into warranty coverage for a non-FG computer or one that is out of warranty. Most of the time the value of the board plus service fees will make obtaining another computer from the store a better option.

  • Replacement of laptop internal components other than hard drive and optical drives

==> Usually much easier to replace entire unit. Please do not work on laptops if you are inexperienced and/or not careful.

  • Home networking

==> We have no idea the condition of the networking peripherals they have in there homes. If the person has never configured a wireless router, point them to google: "model number + configuration"

  • Parts installation into machines running windows

==> This will usually back you into providing Windows driver support. Okay for RAM and stuff that does not depend on drivers if the computer and part(s) were obtained in the thrift store.

  • Data recovery from damaged hard drives

==> Its broken! Offer to play taps on the harmonica.

  • Router configuration

==> If the person has never configured a wireless router, point them to google: "model number + configuration"

  • Aesthetic concerns (ugly, fan too loud, smells funny, etc)

==> If simple and will make them happy, its $10 plus parts. Otherwise no.

  • Testing a part without a Free Geek obtained computer

==> No. Just no.

  • Acts of gross negligence on the customers part

==> Even if they are nice or attractive or both, no.