Software and Hardware Support

Software Support

To provide an environment supportive of research and educational exploration, the Computer Science Department provides access to a wide selection of software products. There is much more software available than the technical staff can reasonably support. So users can expect varying levels of support for the software they use. This page explains how to determine that level of support.

Software Support Levels

We define three levels of support. All software on our systems falls under one of these categories. Read them carefully; there are some subtle distinctions. For instance, unsupported does not necessarily mean that tstaff will not help you with your problems.


Supported software is maintained by the technical staff. We ensure that the software is installed and works properly. We respond to bug reports. In some cases we may also be able to help with questions about usage, with the understanding that the staff cannot be experts in all supported applications. In some cases help requirements will go beyond the capabilities of the staff and other resources will need to be explored.

Support Means:
Support Does Not Mean

Supported software comes in various flavors, as follows:

Commercial Software

Supported commercial software is installed and kept up to date by the technical staff. Bug reports are referred to the vendor. If the software is provided by CIS, then bugs are referred to them. Bug fixes, provided by the vendor, will be managed by the staff.

Open Source Software

Free software must have available source to be supported by the technical staff. This is a matter of trust more than access; the technical staff will rarely fix bugs in free software. Bugs are usually referred to the current maintainers of the software outside the university. But if there is no active support for the software, or if a bug impedes a critical department function, the technical staff has the option of debugging and fixing our copy.

Local Software

Supported software developed at Brown is maintained by the technical staff. We deal directly with bug reports.

Unsupported But Important

These are projects which are not directly supported by the technical staff, but which we recognize are used by a large percentage of the community, or that are mission-critical for some department functions. The technical staff shepherds these projects, ensuring that they receive some support and maintenance, usually from students. In the event that one of these becomes orphaned or a request is made to remove it, the technical staff will seek a new project owner, consider supporting it or help users make the transition to other software with similar capabilities.


All other software is unsupported. The technical staff ensures that unsupported software can easily be installed and shared by the user community. However we make no guarantees about what unsupported software is available or that individual projects work properly or are up to date. Those support functions are entirely up to the users who install and maintain them.

Which Software Is Supported?

Supported Software

Full support is provided for the Operating System.

On Linux, all programs in /bin, /usr/bin, /usr/local/bin, and /local/bin are supported.

On MacOS, all tstaff-installed software is supported.

Unsupported But Important

This varies over time. In general, unsupported software that is useful to a great many people, or that fills some critical role in the department can be counted on to stay around. The only way to know for sure is to ask the technical staff.

Software in this category sometimes becomes supported if support becomes a problem, or if it becomes obvious that it is essential for many users.

Unsupported software, under UNIX, is generally made available as contrib projects.

Hardware Support

Supported Hardware

All hardware administered by the technical staff is supported. That includes most servers, most desktop machines, printers, networking equipment, etc. Support means we will fix or replace it when it breaks.

Unsupported Hardware

Unsupported hardware is anything not owned by the University, or not administered by the technical staff. That includes hardware administered by research groups.

The technical staff will assist in attaching unsupported computer systems to the network, but all other maintenance, system administration, backups, etc., are the responsiblity of the machine's owner.