Bug me not

**None of the distributions mentioned in this blog are recommended. **
Software always has bugs, and free software is no exception to this.
When we think of [free software](http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html), we think of software we can
distribute, modify, study and of course, run. I don’t spend a lot
of my time studying or modifying free software, to be
honest. There are lot of people who do this, and they’re a lot
smarter than me… well, most of them. Apparently, none of the
people who write free software bug trackers ever actually use
them to report a bug, or if they do, they have a very high
tolerance for pain and annoyance.
On Sunday, I was unable to get to sleep, and had been downloading
some distribution images, as I like to try and stay vaguely
current with the very many distributions of GNU and Linux out
there, and while I’ve previously avoided it, I had heard good
things about the Gentoo Live CD. The best thing of all was that
it got you up and running really quickly, which given my previous
attempts at installing Gentoo, was something I was going to need.
Anyway, to cut a very long and boring piece of the story here, I
downloaded the image and booted it in qemu and got a desktop and
clicked through the installer and something went wrong. I checked
and tried again, and it happened again. So, as stated on the
installer, I went over to bugs.gentoo.org and tried to report it,
and here’s what I got…
>**I need a legitimate login and password to continue.**
Yes, apparently, I now need to **register with my email address** and
my name just to report a bug. I also need to check my email for the
made up password you’re going to send me. Argh.
**This isn’t Gentoo’s fault.** Gentoo is being a good free software
project and using a free software bug tracker. At this point, two
things came to mind. Firstly, how easy is it to find the bug
tracker? Secondly, what do other distributions and large projects
do in this circumstance? Finally what software do they use?
**So here’s a list…**
* **Fedora** – Once you click around a bit, you come to
bugzilla.redhat.com, and you get the same annoying
message. They use Bugzilla.
* **Debian** – This is easier, there’s a link to ‘Bug reports’ from
their homepage. They recommend you use the reportbug
program. You can also send them emails in some very precise
manner. There appears to be no way to report it over the web,
but they are using debbugs (and **not** Bugzilla as I originally said)
* **openSuSE** – Their homepage invites me to ‘Get it’, ‘Discover it’
or ‘Create it’ – there is no option to ‘Fix it’. ‘Discover It’
mentions a wiki. From here, I click ‘How to participate’ and
then ‘Test openSUSE and Report Bugs’ and to
bugzilla.novell.com. I now have to create a Novell account in
order to report a bug. I really don’t want one. They too use
Bugzilla (anybody spotting a pattern here?).
* **PCLinuxOS** – A lot of people think its wonderful, I think it’s
worrying proprietary in places. Let’s see how they do when it
comes to taking bugs. Their homepage has a clear menu bar along
the top, so I choose ‘Documentation’ from the support
option. This opens up a new window, which was unexpected, and
from there I’m given a choice to ‘Help PCLinuxOS Grow’ – growth
comes from having lots of squashed bugs, I guess, so I’ll try
that. Nothing there, unless you want a new t-shirt. I head to
their forum, still nothing. I pause for a moment, noting that
their forum is proprietary and try for desperation to see if
Google has anything. Nothing there either. PCLinuxOS really
don’t want me to report a bug. Finally out of sheer guesswork,
I discover bugs.pclinuxos.com, which appears to be a completely
private bug tracker.
At this point, I was feeling like maybe this was a waste of time,
maybe I was not going to find any free software bug tracking
websites that didn’t want my life story before I could report the
damned bug. I whizzed through a couple more distributions.
* **Slackware** – Could not find anything.
* **Mandrake** – apparently this is called Mandriva now. That one
passed me by. I don’t even know why they changed their
name. Their homepage has a nice big ‘Help’ link in the top
right. I click it. There’s an FAQ link – I click that and I’m
told “You are not authorized to access this
page.”. Ouch. Sorry. Back we go – but wait, there’s a link
to “Place a request to our Professional Support team: dedicated
Mandriva engineers will work with you to find a solution to
your problem.” – fantastic. This is more like it… dedicated
people will work with me to find a solution to my
problem… and then I was asked to login. I was given the
chance to search, however, so I searched for bugs. They’re
using Google for their search engine and the first
hit…. “Where do you report bugs? – Mandriva Expert” and it’s
a 6 year old question on their website, and half of it is
obscured by another box telling me stuff I can already see,
like who submitted it and when, and if they paid, but it does
say “Report them at the bugzilla page of mandrake:
http://qa.mandrakesoft.com”, which I tried, and it doesn’t work.
Slowly running out of distributions in my mind now, I remember
Ubuntu, or rather Gobuntu, which is what I’m using on this
machine.
* **Gobuntu** – I go to gobuntu.org, assuming it’s the right website
and I’m redirected to Ubuntu.com. To make sure I’m not doing
something stupid, I try kubuntu.org and remember that month I
spent playing with KDE recently. That works, there’s even a
bugs link. I try Xubuntu.org, thinking “Well, if that works,
something is definitely wrong with gobuntu.org”. It worked, but
no bugs link. Anyway, back to gobuntu.org, or rather,
Ubuntu.com, along the top in very tiny text is a link for
‘Support’ and another for ‘Community’. Support seemed to be
more for people who were paying, or looking for training. I
tried ‘Community’ – I know Jono likes the word, and sure enough
was a link to ‘Report a problem’, which gives me some brief
overview of filing bugs and there’s a link to ‘Report a new
bug’. Okay, I’m game… click away. Blah. I have to register. I
think I might have an account already, but I don’t know which
email address I used, and Ubuntu’s bug tracker isn’t free
software, so I’m done here.
Now I was really stuck. I tried to think what other people
used… most people I know run either Debian, Ubuntu or
gNewSense… gNewSense, of course! Why, we sponsor it at work,
and I have it running on my other laptop.
* **gNewSense** – Bring up the website, and there’s a bugs link on
the left. Excellent, this is a good start, and then it all goes
horribly wrong. “You must be logged in to file a bug.” – not
only that, but it doesn’t even link me to the login page. If
you want to report bugs here, you have to actually find the
link yourself.
Was that really it? I pondered for a moment, to collect my
thoughts. I got some food. As I sat, munching on my Crunchy Nut
Cornflakes, I had a sudden flash of inspiration… Wikipedia! Not
only would Wikipedia provide me with a complete list of
distributions to try, but they must have a bug tracker for
Mediawiki.
Oh. My. God. There are a lot of distributions. Like, over 170 in fact. “Can
I really check all 170 odd of these things for bug trackers?”. Sure,
why not. Maybe one of these projects is really good, and has a
great little group of people working really bloody hard on it…
…in the end, I decided I’d keep going until I found two that met my requirements, just to
make sure I wasn’t dreaming, but that I’d post the complete list,
and let people leave comments to fill in the rest, thus proving
my blog as an interactive experience, and not just a bloke
talking rubbish.
There’s no way I could report much on each one, but for the sake
of completeness, I present a list of three pieces of data.
a) The project’s name.
2) Does the project have an easy to find bug tracker?
d) Do I have to login or register to use it?
Deep breath. Here we go.
* 64 Studio – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* AbulÉdu – No. If they do, it’s in French. Fail.
* aLinux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* ALT Linux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Annvix – Yes. Yes. Fail. (They have a nice logo though)
* Arch Linux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Ark Linux – No. Fail.
* Arudius – No. Fail.
* Asianux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Aurora SPARC Linux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Aurox – Project closed down.
* Austrumi – No. Fail.
* BackTrack – No. Fail.
* Baltix – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Bayanihan Linux 2006 – No. Fail.
* BeatrIX – Domain gone.
* Berry Linux – Yes. No. Win!
Just stop there a second. The first project that allows people to
report a bug without registering is Berry Linux, which describes
itself as “A bootable CD Linux. Using new technologies.” – it’s
in Japanese though. Still, congratulations to the developers
of… Sourceforge Japan, for allowing people to report bugs
without registering.
Moving on.
* Bharat Operating System Solutions – No. Fail.
* BLAG Linux and GNU – No. Fail.
* Buildix – No. Fail.
* Caixa Mágica – No. Portguese.
* Caldera Linux – Ha ha ha ha ha ha. No.
* cAos Linux – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* CentOS – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* ClarkConnect – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Coyote Linux – Website offline.
* CRUX – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* Damn Small Linux (DSL) – No. Fail.
* DD-WRT – Yes. Yes. Fail.
* DeLi Linux – Yes. No. Win!
“DeLi Linux stands for Desktop Light Linux. It is a distribution
for old computers, from 486 to Pentium II or so. It’s focused on
desktop usage. It includes email clients, graphical web browser,
an office programs with word processor and spreadsheet, and so
on. A full install, including XOrg and development tools, needs
not more than 350 MB of harddisk space.”
This is what I **love** the most about these guys…
“This is the place to report Bugs in DeLi Linux. If you think you
found a bug you can post it here. Think of it as a rudimental bug
tracking system (BTS). I think for such a small distro as DeLi a
complete and full-featured BTS like Bugzilla would be overkill.”
**It’s just a wiki, but it works.**
**Before we go on, it’s worth noting a pattern here. **
Bugzilla, Mantis and Flyspray were the three most common bug trackers, and they all
required a login to post a bug.
* Bugzilla – Bugzilla requires an account to report a bug.
* Mantis – Requires a login.
* Flyspray – “Error #15: You don’t have sufficient permissions to
open a task.”
I’m almost certain that Trac can do this, but what of proprietary
bug trackers? The big list of bug trackers on Wikipedia only gave
me two I’d heard of that were proprietary — FogBugz and
JIRA. Because they are proprietary, I cannot recommend them, but
I have used them both in previous jobs. Further, JIRA is such a
nightmare and so horrible to use, that if someone even offers you
a look at it, you should punch them in the face and run away to
Mexico, unless you live in Mexico, in which case you should go to
Manchester. Also, it seems JIRA sucks because you have to create
an account to stick a bug in about it on the developer’s
website. FogBugz has the same problem, though I have seen
installations of FogBugz where you don’t need this.
So, where the hell does this leave us? Well, it seems that if you
want to report bugs in free software, you have to jump through
hoops to get it. It seems like a lot of projects are plagued by
spam, or something equally unpleasant which forces them to shut
away their issue trackers from the people who actually need to
use them.
There is another way of course. Let everyone file as many bugs as
they want, and check them for spam of course, but let someone
enter an email address, if they want to, and when you do, send
them a quick email and say ‘We are not going to email you about
this problem until its fixed. If you like to get an email every
time someone does anything to this bug, click the link below’,
and you’ve got a lot of happy people, reporting bugs.
Also, if you’re running a free software project, please use a
free software bug tracker. Don’t use JIRA, or FogBugz, or
Launchpad, because by doing so, you say ‘The ethics of free
software do not extend to the tools I use to create the software
and improve it’, and that doesn’t send a good message to anyone.
Oh and **Joel, if you’re reading this** – please **make FogBugz free
software** – even if you only release your old versions, without
any support, it would be something. **The world needs less JIRA
installations**, and you *might* be the key to that happening.
Oh, and finally, here’s my list…
* DeMuDi
* Devil-Linux
* DNALinux
* Dreamlinux
* DSLinux
* dyne:bolic
* eBox
* Edubuntu
* EduLinux
* Elive
* EnGarde Secure Linux
* Familiar Linux
* Feather Linux
* Feather Linux
* Finnix
* Fli4l
* Fluxbuntu
* Foresight Linux
* Fox Linux
* FREESCO
* Freespire
* Frugalware
* GeeXboX
* Gentoox
* Gibraltar
* gNewSense
* Gnoppix
* gnuLinEx
* GoblinX
* GoboLinux
* Gobuntu
* gOS
* Guadalinex
* Hikarunix
* Hiweed
* HostGIS
* Impi Linux
* IPCop
* iPodLinux
* Jlime
* Jollix
* K12Linux and K12LTSP
* Kaella
* Kalango
* Kanotix
* Knopperdisk
* Knoppix
* KnoppMyth
* Kororaa
* Kubuntu
* Kurumin
* LiMux
* Linguas OS
* Linkat
* Linspire
* LinuxMCE
* Linux Mint
* Linux XP
* Lunar Linux
* Lycoris
* Maemo
* Mandriva Linux Free
* MCC Interim Linux
* MCNLive
* MEPIS
* MkLinux
* Mobilinux
* MontaVista Linux
* Morphix
* Musix
* Myah OS
* Mythbuntu
* NASLite
* NepaLinux
* NimbleX
* NimbleX
* Nitix
* nUbuntu
* OpenGEU
* OpenZaurus
* Paipix
* PAIPIX
* Pardus
* Parsix GNU/Linux
* PCLinuxOS
* Pentoo
* Pie Box Enterprise Linux
* PingOO
* Plamo Linux
* PLD Linux Distribution
* Protech
* PS2 Linux
* Puppy Linux
* QiLinux
* Red Flag Linux
* Red Hat Linux
* Rocks Cluster Distribution
* rPath
* Rxart
* Sabayon Linux
* SAM Linux
* Satux
* Scientific Linux
* Sentry Firewall
* Sharif Linux
* sidux
* Skolelinux
* Slackintosh
* Slamd64
* SLAMPP
* SLAX
* SME Server
* SmoothWall
* Softlanding Linux System
* Sorcerer
* Source Mage GNU/Linux
* Splack
* SUSE Linux
* Symphony OS
* SystemRescueCD
* The Linux Router Project
* Tinfoil Hat Linux
* tomsrtbt
* Topologilinux
* Trisquel
* Trustix
* Tuga
* Tuquito
* Turbolinux
* Ubuntu
* Ubuntu Studio
* Ulteo
* UserLinux
* Ututo
* Vector Linux
* VidaLinux
* Vine Linux
* White Box Enterprise Linux
* Xandros Open Circulation Edition
* Xebian
* Xubuntu
* Yellow Dog Linux
* Yggdrasil Linux
* YOPER
* Zen Linux
* Zenwalk Linux

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11 comments

  1. Kirrus · February 25, 2008

    Err.. Report bugs anonymously? No, thanks. Making people jump through the signup-and-login hoops means that they’re serious about submitting a bug.
    I’ve not trigaed that many bugs in launchpad, but by far the reason that I close bugs is because the reporter doesn’t respond to a question. I *think* (random guess) something near 50%-60% of all bugs I’ve triaged have been closed because the reporter didn’t answer a question needed to continue work.
    I’d much rather get less bugs reported, if it means that the bug-quality is higher, and we get less closed due to lack of response from the reporter, which I would guess would be the result of anonymous bug submissions.
    (That, and you’re likely to start getting bugs titled “Ubuntu Sukxors”. Not that I’m cynical or anything…)

  2. Noah Slater · February 25, 2008

    Quick nitpick, Debian don’t use Bugzilla.
    Otherwise, nice post…
    Also, you should contact Movable Type as the OpenID comment system doesn’t work with my perfectly valid ID:
    http://bytesexual.org/

  3. anonymous · February 25, 2008

    “I present a list of three pieces of data.”
    a), 2), and d)?

  4. Paul Collins · February 25, 2008

    Debian uses debbugs, not Bugzilla.

  5. Florian Schmitz · February 26, 2008

    In fact, it *is* possible to configure Flyspray in a way that opening tasks anonymously is allowed. However, that’s up to the admin or project manager to decide 😉

  6. Corey Trager · February 26, 2008

    I’m the author of a free open source bug or issue tracker, BugTracker.NET. The source code is hosted at Sourceforge. The Sourceforge software gives me the ability to either allow or disallow anonymous posts in the trackers and forums.
    For the first few couple of years I disallowed anonymous posts, then later I switched. For me, ALLOWING anonymous posts has been the better way to go. I get more feedback. The more feedback I get the more I’m able to improve my app. There has been very little spam. I can’t even say that the the quality of the anonymous posts is different than the quality of the posts of the people who have registered. It is true that when people post anonymously I have trouble getting my followup questions answered, but some info is better than none. I would recommend to those other projects that they just TRY allowing anonymous posts as an experiment for a while and see how it goes.
    By the way, for sure FogBugz has configuration settings that would allow people to post anonymously. So does BugTracker.NET, which, by the way, is heavily inspired by FogBugz. BugTracker.NET is not as polished as FogBugz, but it is more configurable. Both FogBugz and BugTracker.NET follow the philosophy of minimal barriers to bug entry: no required fields.
    At http://ifdefined.com/bugtrackernet.html
    I’ve put together a page about issue tracker comparisions too.

  7. James · February 26, 2008

    Yeah, Debian uses debbugs, which doesn’t require a login. There’s also roundup, which has an auto-registration mode available.

  8. Solomon Peachy · February 26, 2008

    Your “Exploring Freedom” forum is a classic counterpoint to your question as to why anonymous bug reports aren’t allowed. Or are you actually endorsing paralegal correspondence courses, shemale lesbians, and loan sharks?
    It’s not because they want to make it painful (or even “less convenient” for random prople to report legit bugs; Instead it’s a sign that they value their own time — by attempting to keep span and other junk out by raising the bar slightly.
    One of my FOSS projects is ‘Photo Organizer’. The demo site allows anyone to register. You’d be logged in as the user as soon as you submitted the request. So what happened? Porn images with URLs to porn sites. Rating other photos with spam in the comments. So I made it a two-phase login — this way it takes a valid e-mail address before you can post something.
    The same thing happened with the project wiki, except it took all of a week before the first spam was posted. So much for openness.
    I also run several low-volume mailing lists. Guess what, they’re now members-only, thanks to the massive amount of spam the lists started getting once the web crawlers got the e-mail address. (And that was after the ingress spam filters were done tossing out the worst..)
    Openness is a great ideal, but thanks to those who would crap all over everyone else, requiring humans to jump through a little hoop raises the bar for participation but it goes a long way towards the commons usable for those who actually do care.

  9. MJ Ray · February 28, 2008

    I agree with the main point above: I often don’t report bugs if I was just evaluating the software and registration is required. I’ve far too many web accounts already.
    I’ve reported bugs on Trac sites and I’m sure I had to register. Is that optional?
    Koha uses bugzilla, but developers often file bugs based on mailing list posts. If someone doesn’t want to register, that’s fine.
    I think debian’s email-submission system is a fair compromise between allowing unregistered bug reporters and trying to check that we have some reply route.
    Interesting that no distributions are using RT. TTLLP uses it and I think FSF use it lots. It can be a bit of a pig to set up, but I think it allows unregistered guests to open bugs if you ask it.

  10. MJ Ray · February 28, 2008

    ‘The ethics of free software do not extend to the tools I use to create the software and improve it’ *cough* *splutter* *cough* GNU Project *cough* stet *cough* Mailman *cough* Atlassian Confluence *cough*! 😉

  11. Benjamin Mako Hill · February 29, 2008

    You seem to be working on the assumption that a barrier
    to contribution in the form of a bug report is a bad
    thing. I see no reason to assume this. Ubuntu, for
    example, has far more bugs reported than it can even
    triage! Ubuntu doesn’t need more feedback or bugs. It
    needs less (and *better*) feedback.
    There’s a world of difference between a random bug
    report and a bug report that a maintainer can do
    something about. A bug report needs to either be
    described in a way that is fully reproduceable and/or
    the submitters needs to be willing to work with the
    maintainer to help diagnose and distribute bugs. To be
    most helpful, a bug should come with a technical
    explanation of what is going on (an explicated strace,
    for example) and ideally with a patch. Saying, “mutt
    crashes” is basically useless. Better is if you include
    the input that makes it crash. Better is if you say,
    “mutt crashes when trying to parse EUC-JP header
    content as demonstrated by this email message. Best
    includes the patch or pointer to the relative line of
    codes. Meanwhile, the bug reporter must be able to
    effectively search for duplicate bugs and understand
    when an bug really exists.
    To add more complexity, you’re dealing with
    distributions which, for the most part, only have
    capacity to focus to non-upstream problems. That said,
    the vast majority of users don’t have the expertise to
    differentiate between an upstream problem and a distro
    issue. It can subtle.
    At the very least, it’s important for a maintainer to
    stay in contact with a new bug reporter so that you can
    work to reproduce a bug and verify that it is fixed. A
    bug report from someone who cannot verify that a bug if
    fixed is very often worthless. Requiring logins with
    email may help ensure this.
    Alternately, requiring a familiarity with a community
    (i.e., you can find the bug tracker) may result in more
    bugs from people who know how to file good bugs.
    It’s not perfect, of course, but I’m less appalled by
    this situation than you are. I’m OK with high costs to
    submitted bug reports precisely because they will
    result in more *actionable* bugs reported and more time
    devoted to bug fixing and less to triage and support
    which many volunteer projects have no capacity for. The
    trick is structure these costs to maximize
    contributions overall. No easy feat.

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