Open Source

The Linux consultant: The Maytag repairman of the IT world

The Linux IT consultant is the Maytag Repairman in the IT world. Jack Wallen reminds us why there is more money to be made as a Windows IT consultant.

I was enjoying football Sunday with a few fellow IT friends over the weekend. Naturally, between plays, the topics tended to veer towards that of IT. I was the lone Linux guy in the crowd, so my opinion was not the norm (I'm used to that, of course). During the course of the day I pieced a few bits of conversation together and was able to finally draw a conclusion to that age old question, "Why don't more consultants roll out Linux?" The answer should have been obvious to me all along as I long had all of the information I needed. But after hearing what I heard from the collective mouths of an IT group with years of experience and a metro city's worth of clients, it became all too clear why Windows is always rolled out.


Now understand the people I was with were all self-employed consultants who depend upon their client's needed support for income. Needed support. That's the key. My freelance clients...they rarely need me. Oh sure I secure shell in to some of the boxes now and then to check security logs and update. But other than that - those machines just run and run. Of all my IT consultant friends, I am the Maytag repair man. If you don't get the reference, I will explain.

Years ago, the Maytag company had a wonderful advertising campaign (that was mostly successful due to the casting of a rather charming Gordon Jump of TVs WKRP in Cincinnati) that illustrated how dependable the Maytag washers and dryers were. The old repairman grew bored and lonely because those machines never needed his assistance. His lack of work helped define the reliability of a line of machines.

And so it goes for the Linux consultant. You land a client, you work with them to meet their needs, and then you part ways only to once in a great while hear from them (and that is usually to add a service or resolve an issue that has come about due to a third-party source). To that end, there is little money to be made from Linux clients.

Windows clients? Bread and butter. Why? Because when Windows machines are rolled out, they need constant care and attention. Maybe not daily or even weekly, in most instances, but they need your help. And without Superman there to solve the problems that Windows (or end users) have caused, those machines would simply cease to work.

I realize there are so many out there that would scoff at what they have just read. But it's the industry's dirty little secret. One of the reasons consultants stay so busy is because the Windows operating system is so prone to need help. Linux? Not so much.

If I weren't concerned for security or updates I could set up a LAMP server or even a Linux desktop for a client and walk away knowing I may not hear from them again. What is that sound? It's a satisfied customer for sure. But it's not the sound of my bank account filling to the rim.

But then - shouldn't that really be what the job is all about? Satisfied customers? One of the benefits of rolling out Linux installations is you know your client is going to recommend you to other people (that assumes you succeed in your job in the first place). When you have a client that sees you once and might not ever need see you again (unless they want updates or more installations) you can be sure that clients' satisfaction is going to infect others. Word of mouth is a very powerful marketing tool, one which the Linux consultant needs to make up for the reliability of the operating system.

Now, I may very well catch a lot of flack for this entry. A lot of people bank on clients not knowing there is a more reliable solution that will, in the long run, cost them much less money. You see, as one of my dear friends will happily say, the real world is not Fortune 500 clients. There are, after all, only 500 of those. The real world is Mom and Pop shops and small businesses, sans IT departments, who depend upon consultants to keep their workflow flowing. Those Mom and Pop shops could greatly benefit from the uptime of a Linux desktop and/or server combination.

I have, over the years, considered starting a Linux-only IT consulting firm. The problem is, like open source software, how do you make money? You roll out a system and that's that until that client needs an upgrade or something disastrous happens.

A lot of IT pros want to argue that the reason Linux isn't rolled out is because it's not ready. It is. Anyone that has used a modern Linux distribution knows it is. If you don't think Linux is ready for the desktop or the business market, you've been hiding in a cave for about five years. No. The real truth is there is little money to be made as a Linux consultant because it's as close to "set it and forget it" as you can get.

And now, I don my flame-retardant mithral suit so to survive the onslaught.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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