Support? What’s that?

By , June 20, 2006 08:41

We all in IT do have a phrase, that’s creating lots of headaches:

Not supported!

Still, no-one really knows, what this implies or means. Or: Everybody has his own interpretation/meaning of this term. So, let’s try and start to define, what the term “supported” means, what it implies, and what we all really want. Because clarification helps communication, and that leads to more relaxed conversations.

Support, as defined (today) in wikipedia:

Support may refer to the following:

  • Support (mathematics)
  • Support (mobile framework), in mobile computing
  • Support (technical analysis), in security trading
  • Military combat support (see combat engineers, anti-tank, artillery)
  • Military service support (see combat medic, military intelligence, military logistics)
  • Sympathy (emotional support)
  • Supports in engineering and construction include arch, beam (structure), column, balcony

From that, we all see, that the thing, we think about, isn’t even mentioned here!

Let’s start with mathematics (because that is the only exact science, right?):

In mathematics, the support of a real-valued function f on a set X is sometimes defined as the subset of X on which f is nonzero. The most common situation occurs when X is a topological space (such as the real line) and f is a continuous function. In this case, the support of f is defined as the smallest closed subset of X outside of which f is zero. The topological support is the closure of the set-theoretic support.

In particular, in probability theory, the support of a probability distribution is the closure of the set of possible values of a random variable having that distribution.

Now, we even know less then when we started, right? So, let’s try and find a different one:

Webster states:

Entry Word: support
Function: noun
Text: 1 something that holds up or serves as a foundation for something else (if you don’t add a couple more supports to that tower of blocks, it’s going to fall down)
Synonyms brace, bulwark, buttress, mount, mounting, shore, stay, underpinning
Related Words column, pedestal, pilaster, pillar; arch, bracket, cantilever; crutch, mainstay, peg, post, stake, stanchion, stand, stilt, truss; base, foundation, frame
2 an act or instance of helping (the team’s victory owes a lot to Joe’s strong support in left field) — see HELP 1
3 something or someone to which one looks for support (Grandfather has long been the extended family’s emotional and financial support in times of trouble) — see DEPENDENCE 2

Entry Word: support
Function: verb
Text: 1 to promote the interests or cause of (my parents support the local schools both by volunteering and by fiercely opposing funding cuts at town meetings)
Synonyms advocate, back, champion, endorse (also indorse), patronize
Related Words adopt, embrace, espouse; abet, aid, assist, prop (up), second; bolster, boost, buttress, reinforce; bail out, deliver, rescue, save
Phrases stand up for
Near Antonyms baffle, foil, frustrate, interfere, oppose, sabotage, thwart; desert, disappoint, fail, let down
2 to pay the living expenses of (a young widow supporting a sick mother as well as two small children on a teacher’s salary)
Synonyms maintain, provide (for)
Related Words finance, fund, stake
Phrases foot the bills for, take care of
3 to hold up or serve as a foundation for (pillars supporting the bridge)
Synonyms bear, bolster, brace, buttress, carry, prop (up), shore (up), stay, underpin, uphold
Related Words steady, truss, underlie
4 to continue to declare to be true or proper despite opposition or objections (we support the students’ right to speak out on local issues that affect them) — see MAINTAIN 2
5 to give evidence or testimony to the truth or factualness of (her grades don’t support her claim that her after-school job isn’t affecting her grades) — see CONFIRM
6 to provide (someone) with what is useful or necessary to achieve an end (sent reinforcements to support the troops already in the thick of battle) — see HELP 1
7 to put up with (something painful or difficult) (he could never support the thought of having to go on living without his beloved wife at his side) — see BEAR 2

So, just for a starter, let’s use definition 6 of webster’s verb:

to provide (someone) with what is useful or necessary to achieve an end (sent reinforcements to support the troops already in the thick of battle) — see HELP

So, it boils down to “help”. Should it be that simple? No, it is not, because there are a few constraints attached to that:

  • In order to help, you need control
  • In order to help, you need ressources

In IT speak, this means: You need to “own” the stuff, otherwise you can not support. You need a contract, because otherwise you can not get ressources.

The most critical part is the “control” part, because here, most mis-understandings occur.

Some (mostly software) companies claim support, if they allow the usage with something, they do not control. That’s clear and good, because otherwise, they would never achieve broad adoption (Example: Microsoft Windows). Some other, more system-oriented companies only claim support, if they control the complete stack (example: Apple MacOS X, runs only on Apple Hardware, they even thought about putting in hardware to PREVENT mis-use).

Still, for the average end-user, these differences are not transparent, because they all use the same word: “support”.

So, we all should be more precise in USING that term. It might be good to replace that phrase appropriately by things like:

  • will (not) work
  • (not) allowed
  • might (not) work
  • (not) tested
  • (not) certified

And always add, which pieces will be covered by a support contract, because these are only the pieces, that are “owned”, and can therefore be “patched” (which opens a different can of worms), or maintained.

With that: Floor open for discussion!

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