The very versatility of computers makes it next to impossible to create programs that are guaranteed to work under all circumstances. Just the Joomla! CMS itself, for instance, requires a software stack that has at least an OS, a Web server, an SQL server and PHP. Each ‘layer’ of the stack has 3-4 different alternatives, and each alternative comes in many different versions, each version being just different enough from the others that there is no guarantee that if Joomla runs on one specific combination of the stack, Joomla will run on all combinations of that particular stack. (Incidentally, successive Joomla versions do throw away the ability to run on older versions of the stack components).

When you add the bewildering number of platforms to code for, interference due to other software, and user ignorance, the costs of providing technical support to help every user soon balloons. In a 2000 report, the Association of Software Professionals stated that the average cost of support was 8% of revenues, and in some cases were as high as 20%, especially for smaller software companies. Of course, larger companies gain from economies of scale. But if even a giant like Microsoft does not provide ongoing phone or email support for its users without a payment contract, then one surely cannot expect Joomla developers to do the same.

A Difficult Decision

So much for support costs for traditional software vendors, who can build them into their pricing models. For vendors of free and open source software (FOSS), which – like Joomla – is usually downloadable at zero-cost, providing the same level of support to everyone can be prohibitive, if not downright impossible. Alas, TANSTAAFL. Certainly, we at Digital Peak have found it so. Because you don’t pay for the software itself, FOSS vendors are essentially paring down your TCO to support costs. This is as true for Red Hat as it is for Joomla developers like us.

Technical support also incurs opportunity costs. The simplest of all free support methods are user forums – but for every hour we spend on the forums answering questions that likely have been answered before, we lose an hour of programming, designing new features, testing or bug fixing – things which our paying subscribers have every right to expect from us. The inexorable laws of economics at work (sigh).

Because of this, we have decided to reprioritise our scarce human resources (all four of us!) towards quality programming and not free technical support. It was not a simple thing to arrive at this choice; but if we were to be true to our paying clients, we had to put their best interests first. Also, better to have good software that doesn’t require much support than mediocre software that does.

What is our support?

We have a case management tool where every subscriber can file bugs, rise questions or or ask for a new feature for our extensions. Every case will have a staff member assigned, which is responsible to solve that case. The status of the case reflects the progress of it. Means the customer does always know in which state of the processing the case is. Additionally, our issues are organized per release in the same case management tool, to have a transparent software development cycle for our customers. All solved cases which are identified bugs or new implemented features for a shipped release are categorized.

Support Alternatives

Does this mean that unless you pay us, you will get no help? By no means! We are in the process of revamping our online documentation on all of our Joomla extensions, as well as providing instructional videos on YouTube. When we’re done, you will have access to a knowledge base that will take care of maybe 80% of all the issues you probably will face when using our extensions.

You will also get top-notch support from the Stack Exchange forums (yes, we’re here), not to mention the forums (we’re here too). In a sense, we are outsourcing our forum support to these venues, which are far, far more popular and give you access to vastly greater resources than before. These will solve around 99% of the other problems you might encounter outside of our knowledgebase.

Of course, we remain contactable for issues such as bug reports and feature requests. Making our Joomla extensions more usable and more secure is always high on our list of priorities. But what happens if you need more than that? Well, purchase a subscription. Not only will you get personal support, but you will also be supporting the FOSS business model.

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