I apologize for going off on a half-baked rant at Ubuntu. Ubuntu is not perfect, but these kinds of flames generate more heat than light. I know better, and I’m sorry.
What I wish I had done was post something like this:
“Here’s an Ubuntu bug that seems to highlight everything that frustrates users who are not coders. It seems straightforward and simple, and yet the response is discouraging. What’s going on here?”
There were a number of informative responses to my flamey blog post which did clear up a number of questions. The most interesting bit was that the person who originally triaged the bug had actually posted a helpful, positive reply. But it took some translating to understand that. How did there get to be such a gap between programmers and end users? We all grew up in human families who were mostly not geeks, but ordinary people who talked normally. So it seems we should be able to converse on a common level.
We all understand that most FOSS developers work hard and many do a lot of unpaid, inadequately recognized work. We have gigabytes of great Free/free software to use and enjoy, so we don’t want to seem curmudgeonly and ungrateful. We want to do our bit to help out, so we help other users in forums and mailing lists, we financially support projects when we can- and we file bug reports. “Many eyes make all bugs shallow.”
But the response to bug reports, more often than not, is discouraging. It might get a curt reply, or a jargon-y incomprehensible reply, or ignored entirely, or worded in such a way that it feels like a flame but it’s hard to tell, or definitely flamed. Occasionally it gets accepted, and sooner or later fixed. I can recall more than one that were small typos in configuration files, and they were not accepted or fixed. So it takes a hardy soul to file a bug report at all, and then we’re wondering was it worth it? Should we even bother? And the developers always claim it’s very complicated and hard, and that nothing is ever simple, and you can’t just fix things even though when we make these fixes on our own systems nothing awful happens.
Ubuntu is a special case for two reasons: the Canonical hype machine never sleeps, and and Ubuntu pulls packages from as far upstream as Debian Experimental. Which, to my way of thinking, is just begging for a record number of problems, user complaints, and bug reports. It’s on a six-month release cycle, which compounds the pressure. So if you believe the hype, you expect that they can do all this, and create stable, functional, virtually trouble-free bleeding edge releases. And, Ubuntu is one big happy family and everyone is welcome and all are welcome to contribute, and it’s all peas and luv.
I’m not saying I believe all this, though I still leave a cigar and brandy out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. But certainly the tireless hype machine raises these expectations.
So it boils down to two questions: are bug reports from users really welcomed or not? If yes, then what can we do to improve the experience for everyone? One thought I had was to have “Is This A Bug?” user forums. Then anyone who isn’t sure and wants some help figuring it out has a place to go. Because here’s how it looks from userland:
-Foo doesn’t work, and it emits a weird error message that sheds no light
-Is it my fault because I’m making a mistake?
-Maybe there’s a weird hardware problem? Sound and video are notorious for being mysterious PITAs.
-I search the bugtracker thingy, and it appears it’s not reported
-I search the user lists, and other people have the same problem, but no one knows how to fix it
-I’m pretty sure it’s a bug, but if I file a bug report I might get yelled at for doing it wrong, or nothing at all will happen
So that’s what I wish I had said. Again, my apologies for ranting.