User:SwifT/Complete Handbook/Freedom support and finances
Free software has a very active user community, filled with people who are eager to help you install, configure and maintain free software. Help your neighbor has never been as successful as with free software.
Take the #gentoo (webchat) support channel as an example. It has over 1000 users who help any Gentoo user or interested party with whatever question he or she might have. Or the Gentoo Forums which has over 2000 posts per day.
You can and will find support for the free software you want, support given by users of that software, who believe the software is the best in its field and have good experiences with the software. Of course, there is a trade: this support is on a volunteer basis, so don't expect someone to answer your question immediately - if you are not friendly, you will undoubtedly be ignored or even removed from the support channels.
When you have feature requests, or you have found a bug in the software, the developers are always happy to hear from you. Most projects even have public bug tracking systems where you can submit bug reports to or ask for software enhancements.
As a user, you deal with the developers personally and not with some obscure phone number with a robotic voice on the other end, or an automated reply server who thanks you for your submission only to never hear from it again. These developers are devoted in bringing you the best software available and hope that you can help them improve it.
Those developers live all over the world, in all possible time zones, so when you mail a developer or talk with him directly (for instance over IRC), do not expect him to be available all the time. Not only can he be very sleepy because it is 03.00 on his side, he can also be unavailable due to real-life issues, phone calls, etc. Remember, most developers work on the software in their free time.
Free software is timeless. Most projects keep older releases around and some projects even archive free software for various reasons (such as allowing people to find out how old a certain feature is).
You will also find archives of the mailing lists used by the project, sometimes even daily IRC logs. Support channels like the bug tracking system or the forums keep all posts and information around in case you would ever need it.
When a software project "dies" (for instance because the developers are too busy with real-life or just dropped interest in the project), it does not disappear. Such projects are only stalled and ready to be picked up by someone who wants to devote some of his or her time to the project. Nothing of the project gets lost: the software itself remains, documentation remains, ...
This is one of the major advantages of free software: unlike proprietary software which might get dropped by the company, the software does not disappear. If you require long time support for any type of software, you can only trust free software - you can never know when the proprietary software is discontinued. In the worst case with free software, you will need to take on development of the software on your own or hire someone to do it for you.
Because the software is free, you can not kill it. The software can not be taken over by another company. When the project is turned over to an organisation that you do not like, you can just take the software and fork it (a term used to denote that two or more projects develop software based on the same code, but do this independently with their own goals and development accents).
The author of the software can not revoke the rights he has given to you first: once the software is free, it remains free.
If you are not satisfied with the support you receive, you can obtain paid support (contracts with a certain support level attached to it) if you want. In many cases, this paid support isn't given by the project itself but by a third party that has a good knowledge of the software code base.
On certain occasions, you can obtain paid support from the software project itself as well.