Message Of The Day

Wed, 17 Mar 2004

22:37 [zork(~/mrbad/software)] cat bugreport.txt

Bug Report Idiocy

So, I've been thinking about bug reports in the context of Free Software.

I had an experience recently with <a href="">Yahoo! Groups</a>. I had experienced a bug (some incorrect instructions in a form email message), and being a good citizen I had sent a bug report to the listed bug report email address. I got back a form mail telling me to look on their support FAQ pages for "my" bug. Unable to find the bug, I found the closest one, and at the point where the page said, "Did this answer your question? Click here to contact us.", I clicked, filled in another form, and sent off the report.

I got back an automated email message with a copy of the FAQ I had just said didn't answer my message. This time, however, I had a tracking number on the email they sent me, so I responded with the actual information for the bug -- the third time I'd filed the report. This time around, I got a human being, who said someone would look into it.

I filed this bug <b>three times</b>, in three different ways, before a human being looked at it. It was a righteous bug. It was a real bug. It was well-defined and easy to fix. But, most of all, it was an <i>altruistic</i> bug report. I had nothing to gain from seeing this bug fixed: after all, I had already figured out that the text was incorrect. I just wanted to let someone know so they could improve their software and serve other customers better.

The whole thing kind of brought home how hostile Free Software developers are to bug reports. We tend to treat people who make bug reports as whinging babies asking for free tech support and more Zwieback crackers. But really bug reporters should be treated as what they are: good citizens of Freedonia, doing their small part to improve software quality and everybody's computer experience. They're not <b>asking</b> for help -- they're <b>offering</b> help.

When you think about it, a bug report is the culmination of quite a long bit of work. Anyone giving a shit enough to file a bug report is impressive indeed -- after all, they could just throw out the software and use something else. Instead, they figure out the email address or Web page or what have you to make the report, they isolate the bug and try to describe it -- a difficult task, ask any tester -- and try to follow it and advocate for it.

And what do FLOSS developers do to reward this initiative? We make <a href="">horrendous</a> bug reporting interfaces. We write <a href="">supercilious claptrap</a> about how bug reports have to come in "the right way". We insult bug reporters. We close bug reports if we don't understand them or can't replicate them. We're dickheads and jerks to people who are trying to help <b>us</b> make better software.

We should knock it off.

[zork(~)] cal
[zork(~)] tree
[zork(~)] cat README