Ubuntu Support: How to Get Help

Monday Jun 17th 2013 by Matt Hartley
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The Ubuntu Forums can be a great resource -- but don't forget good 'ol Google search.

For those of us Linux users who are more adventurous, switching to a new operating system can be pretty exciting. Unfortunately, problems tend to crop up when a new user seeking help isn't familiar with the best practices for finding support.

In this article, I'll share my tips for seeking Ubuntu support, where to find it, and which support path is best for your situation.

Ubuntu Help (Hint: Ubuntu Forums)

The Ubuntu forums can be both a tremendous support tool and an immense source of newbie frustration. Which direction the user experience happens to take usually depends on the following factors/attitudes among users and experts the forum.

Ubuntu members aren't mind readers – For folks trying to offer Ubuntu support in the forums, nothing is more irritating that someone asking for help, yet completely lacking any useful detail as to what the problem is and what kind of PC is in use. Later in this article, I'll provide you with a template that will ensure any Ubuntu support you receive, will be more likely positively received by the community.

Google is not a four letter word – Nine times out of ten, the most common problems with Ubuntu can be solved with a Google query. To be clear, I realize there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, Google can answer the question for you faster than asking the question in the Ubuntu forums.

Be wary of complicated solutions– Even when a newbie is asking the right questions, sometimes the solutions provided are entirely overkill.

My favorite example of this is: "Having problems getting Skype to work with Pulse Audio." Which is followed up by solutions like: "Uninstall Pulse Audio, then setup the follow ALSA setup...." This is just wrong, awful, lazy advice and it makes me livid.

The correct solution is to make Pulse Audio work; ie, install/run pavucontrol, start Skype, make a test call, visit Playback tab and select the correct device. The lesson here: if the advice is to "not use something," consider that you may need to look elsewhere for more effective advice. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but I've found them to be rare.

Be grateful to those trying to help– It's easy to come off short tempered and frustrated by the time you've decided to seek out Ubuntu support. One of the biggest mistakes a newbie can make is to either come off with an attitude when asking for help and/or not thanking those who gave advice for their time.

Even if the Ubuntu support wasn't helpful, it's polite to thank those who volunteered their time to help someone they didn't even know.

Effective solutions via a search engine

Let me repeat the point above – because it’s so essential: Based on my experience, 98% of the questions I receive or have seen asked elsewhere, can be found with one or two Google queries. This may sound amazingly insensitive, but it's simply a matter of reality.

The reason why most people aren't able to connect with Google or any other search engine when seeking out Ubuntu support: they're asking the wrong questions.

All too often, I have been told by those seeking support that before they asked me for help, they used queries like "Ubuntu wireless won't work" or something else equally as vague.

When performing a Google query, you need to be as specific as possible. Try ______ (model) wireless Ubuntu or _______ (chipset) wireless Ubuntu in Google. Odds are fantastic, you're going to end up with far greater results in the long haul.

The point to remember here is that more specific information will deliver more specific results in your search queries. Chances are excellent that the problem you're running into can indeed be answered with a bit of Google searching. You simply need to keep at it, try varied (specific) target words and you'll do just fine.

Paid Ubuntu support

If you're seeking Ubuntu support for a small, medium or large business, odds are that paid support will be the most sought after option. The trick here, however, is determining who to get paid support from? Logically, the first place to consider would be Canonical, since they're the corporate sponsor and maintainer of the Ubuntu project.

But what most people may not realize is that you can also find Ubuntu support from other Linux support vendors. Sometimes this can even happen locally, from local Linux support firms. In other examples, support may be provided by national firms that offer assistance with a wide variety of distributions. Finding the right solution for you will depend largely on your budget and preference.

On the flip side of this, finding paid support for casual Ubuntu users who aren't part of a business isn't always an attractive option. Unless you need ongoing assistance, you may find paid support to be cost prohibitive. In cases like this, it's recommended you seek out a local Linux user group for assistance, since they'll be able to offer you help at no cost.

Ubuntu support tools

When it comes to seeking or offering Ubuntu support, most of us may not have any idea what software we'd use to offer remote assistance. While Windows has made their option readily accessible, even across the Internet, Ubuntu only offers a remote tool best suited for LAN work.

Now this isn't to say that a method using VNC over SSHisn't possible for remote access over the Web, rather that Ubuntu users would be better suited to use applications not provided by default to tackle this task.

If you do opt to go this route, I'd recommend utilizing something such as DynDNS to make connecting to remote computers over the Web a lot easier.

For someone wishing to use an easy to use out-of-the-box remote support solution, I'd recommend looking to Team Viewer or Chrome Remote Desktop. Either of these two options will make cross platform remote support incredibly simple, bypassing NAT through routers and anything else you throw at it.

If instead, you'd prefer to lean on an enterprise Ubuntu support, you might consider a Bomgar appliance, which will make enterprise level Ubuntu support simple and reliable. The other enterprise remote support tool I'd recommend is called iTivity. It's cost effective, secure and easy enough for your IT manager to get running quickly.

Ubuntu Support: How Much Do You Need?

You may have noticed I completely glossed over IRC support in this article. The reason for this is because the same practices for forums apply to the IRC as well. It’s as simple as that.

Going forward, finding the best Ubuntu support for your needs, really comes down to how much support you're looking for. For the casual Ubuntu enthusiast, using the advice given above for support will generally yield good results. Just remember to use Google first, then ask your question in the forums if no helpful answer is found.

And for enterprise Ubuntu support, make sure you consider each of your options. Sticking with Canonical does seem like the most obvious answer here, but as you learned in this article, don't discount other Linux support specialists as they, too, can provide you with enterprise grade support that can still meet your IT department's budget.

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