Professional support can range from a quick answer to a problem posted on a mailing list or Open Source business model consultation for proprietary GIS vendors. In short: It is highly divers.
Most support is given by people. These can be highly, qualified and seasoned individuals who have worked on one software package for years and know it inside out. They can also be newbies who have stumbled across exactly the same problem a few days back, got help from the list or found out themselves and are thrilled to be able to give back some help. Either way - if it helps to solve your problem it was good.
Whether people are employed by a large corporation that is involved in multi million dollar projects or whether they sit in a park with their notebook on the knees does not necessarily mean that one is more "professional" (better?, more expensive?) than the other. Surprisingly the continuity of involvement in FOSS Projects is higher with individuals than with corporations (they tend to sell, buy, get sold, lose interest, etc.).
Agile students and small companies use FOSS mailing lists as a market place to advertize their proficiency and are a good place to look for competence.
- Maybe make it a subtitle
- taken from IRC... People who give help and support in their non-paid time sometimes call themselves moonlighter as opposed to a full timer who will do the job for pay.
- ([User:Arnulf Christl | I] suggest to just call them "daywalker" as the notion "full timer" suggests that people in that position always spend more time than the "hobbyist" which from my experience is not true...)
Companies and Enterprises
Moonlighters will not be able to bundle enough resources to address every problem and less so will they be able to dedicate several hundred days worth of work within a limited time to a certain solution. In these cases a company can help that is able to provide contractual bulk work and efficiently organize the related resources. This is the basis on which many of the companies and individuals listed in the Service Provider Directory make their Business.
Read this IRC thread for some opinion: http://logs.qgis.org/osgeo/%23osgeo.2007-04-30.log