Attention all Programmers:

As a user of open source software, I like to try and give something back to the community whenever I can. As a somewhat proficient programmer i can do this more often than most, but one of the most effective ways of giving back for non-programmers is by filing bug reports.


Unfortunately, there are two main issues with this:
  1. Submitting a bug report is often incredibly painful. Most software bug trackers I have seen require an account, which means registering a new username & password (I can't wait for more non-essential services like bug trackers to start using openId), activating my account... all this can take 30 minutes of more. Submitting a bug report should be a fire-and-forget affair, taking 10 minutes tops: any longer and I can't afford to spend my time.

    Many bug trackers ask users for information that is hard to obtain, or intimidating to non-programmers. How many users know their CPU architecture? Or distribution? Or even the software version they're using? One way around this is to have the bug-reporting done from within the application on the client machine itself, but still - bug trackers should be as friendly to users as possible. How about posting some simple instructions on how to obtain this information for non-technical users?

  2. Even after navigating the multiple hurdles involved in submitting a bug, you then have to deal with the programmers fielding the bug report. This is where it gets tricky. Many programmers view bug reports as a personal insult to them (perhaps subconsciously). Many programmers will triage bugs that they don't want to fix, giving excuses like "It's like that by design", or simply "Low priority, won't fix".

    Here's the thing though: The customer is (nearly) always right.

    If a user has taken the time to navigate your awful bug tracking software and submit a bug, it must be a big deal to them. If the matter at hand really is like that "by design", your design is probably screwy. If you won't fix it because it's low priority then you need to stop adding new features, and fix the ones you already have.
Open source software seems to suffer from these problems more than commercial software. I guess it's because we're not trying to extract money from our clients. Can you imagine a professional code shop telling a paying customer "I'm sorry, we're not going to fix that bug you reported, because we intended it to work like that"? Yeah, right.

So how do we fix this for the open source world?

There's no simple answer that I can fathom. It requires programmers to be a bit smarter and have a bit more empathy for the mere mortals who have to use their software. As a programmer, I include myself in this category.

That is all, thank you.

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