Users don't really benefit from filing bug reports

April 11, 2007

It's practically an article of faith in the open source world that it's to your benefit to file bug reports. However, it isn't really so; with many packages, users actually derive very little practical benefits for going through the effort.

The problem is that to file a bug report, you necessarily need to have found a bug. Since people are generally not software testers, this means that you have found the bug in the process of actively trying to use the package. Unless you have found an unimportant bug, you need to solve the problem before you can go on; unless you have found a major, gaping bug, the odds of it getting fixed before you have to come up with a workaround (or have to abandon the package to get real work done) are almost always low. 'Fixed in the next release' is almost never fast enough, unless the next release is also the next day or the next week.

(This is especially the case with big, popular, important programs, which have lots of bug reports already and make new releases slowly.)

Filing good bug reports still has at least two indirect benefits:

  • it may attract someone with a better workaround than yours.
  • it builds up good karma with the program's developers, which can often be useful later.

Meanwhile, getting bug reports is to the benefit of the program's developers; they get part of their testing and debugging done for them, and ultimately they wind up with a better product. In fact, I believe that it is precisely the middle of the road bug reports that they benefit the most from; unimportant bugs are, well, unimportant and major bugs get stumbled over very fast anyways, while middle of the road bugs are both hard to find and important to fix in the aggregate.

Written on 11 April 2007.
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Last modified: Wed Apr 11 22:47:45 2007
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