Another blogger here at TechRepublic.com recently asked if it was reasonable to keep providing free support just because we know how.
VERY interesting question! You've done it. I've done it. (Heck, I've done it in the last week, TWICE!) (OK, once for a CPA, once for an M.D.. If the Mayor calls I'll help him too, but....)
Once in a Blue Moon this free support leads to some paid work or even a moderate expression of gratitude, but more often it is just a matter of giving away the expertise we have worked so hard to develop and, you know as well as I do, that if you touch someone's computer and anything goes wrong in the next five years (as, of course, it always does) you will be blamed. You are FAR more likely to end up at the Defendant side on Judge Judy than getting sincere, long-term graritude from your neighbor, friend, brother-in-law, etc.
So, in your heart-of-hearts you already know that giving free advice is considered worth every penny (i.e., NOTHING!!!) to the people we help (at least not until AFTER they have spent $300 and five hours trying to get help from their vendor's support line in New Delhi) AND we learn little or nothing from their problems.
You mean you DIDN'T ALREADY KNOW USERS ACT AS IF THEY WERE MORONS?? WHAT ROCK WERE YOU LIVING UNDER FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS?
But I see a much more insidious threat from providing anything more than just the most basic neighborhood support (Yes, that's a floppy. No, your new computer doesn't have any way to use them. Yes, I can add a floppy drive for about $10 as long as you don't expect me to support it for the next 50 years for free, etc. Or, a REAL example from an M.D. last week - Yes, take the memory card out of the camera and plug it into the slot on your PC's media reader port - then a new program will show up on your screen and offer to help you do something with it! (actual support e-mail in the past week to a 54-year-old surgeon!!!))
The real problem is that if we geeks/IT professionals are always willing and ready to fix virus infections or help people secure their e-mail and their NEW computers, WILL the average person EVER get fed up enough with Windows to demand that Microsoft sell software that works correctly right out of the box or give refunds if it isn't simple enough for the average college graduate to operate?
20 years+ of providing free security advice and security tech support for friends and even small businesses has taught me that as long as I am willing to fix it for free they will NEVER complain to Microsoft or Dell, or HP, or whoever's product won't work. ONLY when I tell people my phone is acting up, or I am on vacation, or some such, do they spend actual $$ on support and discover that I really SHOULD be charging them my enterprise consulting rate of $300/hr and that it would be a LOT cheaper if they called me first (on contract!).
So, when you complain about how bad software is, whip out a mirror and take a good LOOK, because YOU, the friendly neighborhood GEEK who fixes Microsoft's problems for free, IS THE ONE TO BLAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Of course, cynic and crass commercial creature that I am, I am almost gleeful when Microsoft introduces some new bug-filled product - I see Microsoft as a guarantee of lifetime employment (Y2K ALONE easily covered the downpayment on our ranch!) - I can even foresee getting a big discount in some retirement villiage if I agree to provide limited free support and lessons to the other residents.
That will also give me a great opportunity to laugh at all the football jocks with their bad knees! Of course my knees are bad too, but I came by it honestly - racing cars and crashing hang gliders, not making money for some high school coach or a fortune for some university by risking my precious cranium in a flimsy helmet!
I can't wait! I will quickly identify the "jocks" (just the jerks that is. After all, I myself earned a black belt in 9 weeks and trained for marathons) and I will be sure to humiliate them as often as possible.
But, even with the incredible profit motive on the other side, I would still prefer to see Microsoft and other vendors do a better job providing software that works - there would still be enough work for real geeks.
Just consider for a minute, not the way hardware cost per Meg of RAM or CPU cycle has plunged, but the fact that computers are actually LESS secure today for the average user than they were 20 years ago!
What other industry could get away with that for so many product cycles? Sure, Detroit did it for decades, but now Japan, Korea, and soon enough even China, are eating their lunch! (Did you know that China is about to enter the U.S. car market and the reason GM and Ford have trouble selling in China is because DETROIT CAN'T MEET CHINESE MILEAGE AND POLLUTION STANDARDS?????????)
If you want to see U.S. companies have their feet held to the fire and REALLY start producing decent software, STOP SUPPORTING EVERYONE YOU KNOW AND PUT THE REAL SUPPORT BURDEN WHERE IT BELONGS - ALL RIGHT!!! ENOUGH!!! 25 YEARS OF GIGANTIC PROFITS IS LONG ENOUGH!!! Can you hear me, MR. Gates? Or, are you too busy giving away the profits you got from the software WE support????????????????????????????????
That's OUR money you are giving away and, as nobel as your goals are, never forget that you got that money by overcharging people for BAD, sometimes REALLY BAD software!!!
What do YOU think??
Good, or BAD, I want to hear your opinion, am I completely off my rocker?
Or, did most of this make complete sense? I'm certainly NOT against the Gates Foundation's charities, but if I hadn't been getting FREE Microsoft review software for the past 25 years I'd kinda be wondering just WHOSE money is being given away AND whether my free support had contributed to the awful state of software security today!
Before you blame Microsoft, take a look in the mirror! WHY should ANY corporation improve their software when GEEKS will support if for FREE
Locksmith, John McCormick