Well, the U2 mail lists are up and running again. It appears that a technical issue brought the mail server down while the moderator was on vacation.

OK. Fair enough. The mail lists are a voluntary run service sponsored by the U2UG. But, this got me thinking about where you go for U2 support and also the type of questions that are being asked within the lists and forums.

There are two mail lists/forums for U2. The U2UG mail lists (available also in a forum style at nabble and other places) and the IBM forums. The U2UG mail lists are extremely active (hundreds per week) and the IBM U2 forums have 58 entries since July 2007. There are even questions going back as far as Jan 2008 with no responses. Not much happening there…

The type of questions within the U2UG mail lists are very diverse and interesting and they can also be very technical. Two things amaze me regarding this; why are these very technical questions being asked within a voluntary, community-based mail list, and that they are answered so well by the same community.

The U2 product range from IBM is marketed and sold via a VAR network. A VAR or Value Added Reseller is normally a software house who use U2 in their development of the end product or application. This can be as diverse as your local plumbers office/job system to a complete banking system. IBM refer to these applications or systems as having U2 embedded. Therefore, IBM actually have NO direct contact or relationship with the end-user of a U2 application. Everything goes through the VAR.

So, why are these questions within the forums not being asked of the VAR? The VAR has a direct relationship with IBM, or if small, may have to go through a MASTER VAR; normally country or region based. They have access to support as they pass on the license fees. To me, it indicates a number of major problems.

A VAR, if a software house, are normally experts on their own applications (one hopes) and will have a adequate but focused knowledge of the products and tools they develop with. They rarely have good in depth knowledge of these tools (U2 included). A MASTER VAR is a selling organization. They seem to exists to support the software houses/VAR’s with licenses and smaller technical issues. Their income comes from a commission on selling product and yearly license fees (they may also develop applications, sell hardware and additional software). Again, there is no source of indepth technical knowledge and it appears that it is not really financially encouraged by IBM. There are always exceptions to the rule and quite knowledgeable people exist, but then why are there so many technical questions within the U2 mail lists?

I believe that there are a large number of end-users who are using U2 products in development projects. They may have or may not have started out with purchasing a software application, and are now using U2 to extend or develop additional functionality. From a support perspective, this is outside the area of expertise of the original software supplier; if they still exist and the end-user is still talking to them.

So, the U2 community has a large base of orphans; users who have no direct contact with IBM and no ongoing relationship with a VAR. And the only source of ready technical support is a community-run mail list…

Is this really healthy? Comments?

Disclaimer:

I hate the VAR network. I think that it is old fashioned, encourages a proprietary nature of a great product range and eventually will kill the mv market.