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LinuxCare ramps up service

The company provides technical support, for a fee, for the Linux operating system and then posts its technical support knowledge on a public database.

A San Francisco company that provides technical support for the Linux operating system has launched a business plan that merges some of the altruistic incentives that have drawn people to contribute to the Linux effort with the crass, yet ever popular, profit motive.

LinuxCare will charge for its services, which are aimed at the corporate market, Chief Executive Arthur Tyde said today.

But the company also will give something back to the Linux community. Specifically, LinuxCare will post whatever it learns through its technical support on a public database. Searching the technical support database will also be free, he said.

"We have to be part of the Linux community. We have to give back, to make sure Linux keeps developing," Tyde said.

LinuxCare got its start about eight months ago providing Linux support, and on March 1 the company will begin offering 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week service, he said.

The company offers support, either as contracts or on a per-incident basis. People may submit problems by email, the Web, or telephone. "With the big commercial outfits, people deploying Linux in mission-critical applications demand [fast] response time and a toll-free number they can call that's accountable," said Dave Sifry, the company's chief technical officer.

The company expects a deluge of new interest after the LinuxWorld conference March 1 to 4 in San Jose, California. "We're pushing like hell to get everything scaled up so we can meet that," Tyde said.

For most tasks, LinuxCare will rely on its in-house staff, presently about 20 people but soon to reach 30. To supplement this, the company likely will sometimes call upon qualified outside expertise for answering some questions, he said.

The idea came from the deluge of resumes the company received when the Slashdot discussion group posted the news that LinuxCare was looking for new hires. The company received more than 200 resumes, Tyde said.

Already, the company has an agreement with SuSE, a Linux distributor based in Germany, to help provide some technical support for SuSE's products.

Rosy future for Linux?
Tyde, who also is a president and cofounder of the Bay Area Linux Users' Group, has been using Linux for about five years. And he sees a rosy future for the operating system.

Open source operating systems, for which the software blueprints are freely available to anyone, could make proprietary operating systems such as Windows an "obsolete concept," he said, because it reduces many of the administrative and technical issues that come with adopting or maintaining operating systems.

The open source nature of Linux means that a technical support shop can drill down to the deepest layers in their efforts to uncover people's computer problems. With proprietary operating systems, technical support people with tough enough problems eventually have to "go back to the mountain peak for whatever tidbits of wisdom they can get." In other words, they have to call on the company that originally developed the system.

Not so with Linux. LinuxCare will be able to go back to the source code, Tyde said, noting that labor won't come cheap for a company. "Anything we develop, we contribute back to the open source community," he said.

"I see Microsoft as a prime acquisition target," he joked.

Debian, TurboLinux, Slackware, Red Hat, or Caldera Systems.

As today's crop of Linux experts graduate out of schools and take jobs in business, they've begun spreading Linux onto new systems. But in a few years, when those people get promoted to more influential positions, Tyde foresees a "secondary Linux explosion."