Making reporting bugs harder: desirable?

When I started writing this post, the latest bug report on Launchpad was bug #820459. That’s right, since the start of the Ubuntu project there have been 820,459 bugs reported on Launchpad and its Ubuntu Bugzilla predecessor. Though it includes bugs reported against other projects on Launchpad, the majority of those bug reports are related to Ubuntu.

The number of bugs reported every day is huge. It’s a continuous flow of problem reports, Apport crash reports, wrongly placed support requests, trolling, feature requests and distress. Heroically fighting to stem the flood is Ubuntu Bug Squad. Together with specialised bug triage teams for certain packages, like the kernel, they try to process as many useful bug reports as they can. However, there are too little triagers for too many bugs.

The current situation is not good for the people who work so hard to process all the reports; many leave the team soon after joining. It also causes relevant bugs to be lost in a sea of unprocessed or half-processed bogus bugs that clog up the system. It has been proposed before, but maybe we should once again seriously consider discouraging non-technical users from reporting bugs.

If we’d decide to do so, regular users would be kept away from the bug tracker. Only for automatically generated crash reports from Apport should be allowed, because the process is such that bogus reports rarely happen and many triage steps for this particular kind of bug can be automated. We would remove the ‘Help->Report a bug’ everywhere, including alpha releases. Links to reporting a bug should be removed from the documentation and the official sites. Launchpad could be adapted to make the ‘Report a bug’ button less obvious.

All this should lead to less bug reports and a higher average quality of the reports. If we focus only on the technically capable and interested users, then we’d have less clueless reports. It would save the time, energy and motivation of the bug triagers, which could then focus on making sure every bug that would be reported, would be processed quickly.

However, we should not forget that one of the things Ubuntu often is credited for is the large amount of bugs forwarded to upstream. Furthermore, an even more important argument in favour of bug reporting for the masses, is the fact that technical users use their computer different than non-technical users. They might miss bugs that non-technical users do encounter or see no problem in a feature of the system that is terribly confusing for non-technical users.

Limiting bug reporting would deprive us of this and that seems sufficiently bad to me to doubt whether we should limit bug reporting at all. I really don’t know what’d be the best. Making it harder to report bugs would make managing the bugs easier, but wouldn’t that also make the bugs we manage worth less? What do you, oh dear reader, think?

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1 Comment

  1. I empathize with the triagers, but think limiting the ability to report bugs would not be positive for the project or for free software, as it would leave the target audience without a voice when something goes awry and without any mechanism to suggest improvements and thus participate / contribute in the way they can to the software they love. Let’s not forget how important the Ubuntu community is to the project and its adoption.

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