Month: May 2011

Bug reporting sucks, and how to fix it: Part 2

Bug reporting sucks, it’s clear. How can it be better?

One idea that could alleviate a lot of the headaches of bug reporting while providing increased functionality is a desktop bug-reporting application. I won’t pretend to be familiar with any APIs that are made available by Launchpad, GNOME, Bugzilla, Trac, etc., but I have to imagine that some exist. I also won’t pretend that I’m the first to have this idea — it’s entirely possible that it’s been attempted and that those attempts have failed many times. But from where I’m sitting it seems like a near-perfect solution. Here are the benefits we’d get from a desktop bug-reporting application:

  1. It can manage your bug tracker logins.
    Imagine having all your bug tracker logins stored in a little database for you on your desktop. More than that, imagine being able to register at a new bug tracker with just a few clicks using the personal information kept by the application. 
  2. It can identify the bug tracker used by a given application.
    This may actually be a bit difficult. It’s possible that this could be done by having applications make this info available in some way, although that puts a burden on application developers, and I assume there is no system currently in place for something like this. It’d require some creativity. 
  3. It can identify the package in the appropriate bug tracker against which to file a bug.
    Launchpad is probably the bug tracker with which I’m most familiar, and there in particular it seems to me to be plausible for a bug-reporting application to easily find the package against which a bug should be filed. How many people even know that Ubuntu’s default PDF viewer is called “Evince,” or that its default image viewer is called “Eye of GNOME,” or especially that the Eye of GNOME package is called “eog”? Imagine instead being able to choose from a list of running applications and having the bug-reporting application do the rest. 
  4. It can provide better search for duplicates.
    Launchpad only presents you with possible duplicates after you’ve entered the title of your bug report. A desktop application, on the other hand, could continue to search for duplicates as you’re elaborating on the bug in your description, updating on-the-fly and presenting you with relevant excerpts from the potential duplicates’ descriptions. And if it has a high enough confidence in a match, it can ask “Are you sure?” before allowing you to submit. 
  5. It can collect and upload system logs.
    Not only could a desktop application attach basic system logs and hardware info, but it could catalog which version(s) of your application’s depencenc(y/ies) you have installed, potentially saving hours of work per bug. 
  6. It can open an impromptu chat with others suffering from the bug, or with package maintainers.
    By checking the online availability of other bug sufferers or package maintainers, this application could integrate with Empathy, Pidgin, or IRC to put you in contact with them, if they choose to make themselves available. 
  7. It can search existing help avenues for potential solutions to your problem.
    Stack Exchange (Ask Ubuntu, Super User), Quora, Ubuntu Forums — searching all of these places takes time, and might not even occur to a large number of users. Searching these places on-the-fly as bugs are being described might prevent unnecessary bugs from being filed in the first place, or direct bug sufferers toward temporary workarounds. 
  8. It can look for PPAs that contain updated packages that might fix the bug you’re reporting.
    Many times the applications in official repositories are outdated, and many times the most common bugs have been fixed in more recent releases. Given adequate safeguards, this could be invaluable for people desperate for a solution. 
  9. It could integrate with the messaging menu.
    “Someone just marked one of your bookmarked bugs as ‘Affects me too.’ They are available for chat. Would you like to contact them?”
    “The bug ‘[bug description here]’ has a new comment.” 

I’m sure with my limited imagination I’ve not even scratched the surface of what a desktop bug-reporting application is capable of. What else would you like to see in one? What would some of the pitfalls be? Is this practical or impractical, and why?

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