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What happened to MassLinux?

Dec 23, 1999, 08:05 (52 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Emmett Plant)

By Emmett Plant
Editor, Linux Today

Linux and Open Source software are changing the software industry, but solid tools are only one part of the business equation. The story of MassLinux may act as a testament to the fact that the best hardware and software in the world isn't completely fail-safe in the universe of corporate billing and clerical error.

With over eight hundred sites hosted, MassLinux had made a name for itself in the web hosting business. Using Linux and Apache, MassLinux offered the opportunity to host your website on a dependable server with top-notch administration. While the systems chugged along as promised, they never counted on one thing: a billing problem that would pull the plug on the operation forever.

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with Todd Lauder, who was MassLinux's primary systems administrator and billing guy. Todd is extremely disappointed about the entire situation and would love to continue MassLinux. Unfortunately, despite community letdown and hysteria, MassLinux will most likely be gone forever. Todd seems to be a really nice guy that just happens to be in the middle of a bad situation. With any luck, the interview I conducted today will help ameliorate the effects of the network outage for MassLinux and give their former customers some insight into the situation.

A lot of people are extremely upset with MassLinux, especially people who had their websites hosted there. What happened?

"We had sent in three payments to our Internet service provider, and they claimed they never got them. The checks were cashed. After going through numerous days of trying to figure out what happened, they couldn't figure it out, so we got our lawyer involved. Basically, what has happened is that they were deposited into an account that didn't belong to our Internet service provider, and our lawyer is currently working that out. In the meantine, the problem is that we've gotten such negative feedback, most of our customers have left, and we won't be coming back."

I know a lot of the MassLinux customers have tapped their news sources for information on MassLinux, and Linux Today was no exception. If I were a MassLinux customer, I would want to know how I can get my pages back. What will happen to the pages created by your customers, and is there anything they can do to recover their data?

"We are going to be putting the server up on a cable modem so our customers can download their files. We will be sending out an E-mail letting our customers know how they can go about doing this."

I'm sure I'm not the only one with the $64,000 question: What was the name of the Internet service provider?

"I'd rather not mention who it is, because we're in the middle of that legal situation."

Have you had any lawsuit threats from former customers?

"None that I've heard about."

Were you hosting Domain Name Service for these domains, as well?

"We did Domain Name Service for all of the domains we hosted."

What's going to happen with that?

"There's nothing we can do. When they process the domain move, they're going to need to put in new Domain Name Service."

Do you plan to take legal action against the Internet service provider?

"That's undisclosed at the moment. That's going on between the investors and the lawyers."

Who should customers contact?

"That's hard to say. I guess me, but I really don't really feel comfortable giving out my E-mail address and getting flame mail. I wish I had a hotmail account or something to deal with it."

Maybe you should set one up; it would only take a few seconds, and I know that a lot of your former customers would appreciate a point of contact.

"That's true. Let me do that." [Typing]

How long have you been with MassLinux?

"A year and a half to two years."

Being a visible Linux-based business puts you smack-dab in the middle of a vocal community. Is there anything you'd like to share with fellow Linux users and enthusiasts?

"We really are sorry about the inconvenience. It was not planned. The Internet service provider didn't give us any warning before they shut us off. If anyone needs a system administrator, please give me a call. In reference to the mailbox, if anyone needs to contact MassLinux, they can E-mail me at t_lauder@hotmail.com."

How many domains were you hosting?

"Roughly eight hundred."

It seems as though a lot of your customers are rather angry, and I'm surprised to find you at the head of the line.

"I wish we could continue, but with all the negative feedback, it's just not possible."

How many E-mails have you gotten in regard to this situation?

"A minimal amount, due to the fact that the servers were inaccessible."

Will people get their money back?

"Yearly accounts will be refunded pro-rated to the outage."

What about everybody else?

"Most of them were monthly accounts that were paid up to the time of the outage. If they were paid up further along, we will refund that amount."

The MassLinux team may be able to recoup some of its financial losses in court, but their reputation as a reliable webhosting company is beyond repair. It's a big world and mistakes do happen, but it's not often that the repercussions echo so deeply within the Linux and Open Source communities.