Friday, May 16, 2008

the age of bugs, and other useless information...

In a recent post, dbaron suggested that people inappropriately judge Mozilla by, for example, the age of the bugs that one can see. I think he is right, but I think there is a reason for this. It is usually completely impossible to look at a bug and figure out whether it will be fixed or not. There are long-standing reasons for the use of nobody as an assignee, but this can be un-helpful.

Mozilla code development is socially driven. This may seem obvious, but the effects of this are not necessarily obvious, especially to someone in coming from commercial software. Look at the recent revisions of the module ownership system and you can see how tenuous the ownership of code can be. Nobody has to care about any bug. Or, to say it another way, only 'nobody' actually has to care about the vast majority of bugs.

It is very hard to look at a bug and see who actually cares about it. No. I will not gripe about bugzilla. Really. But I will just say that anything in a bug is not what it says, but how that is looked at by which group does the work. Priority, Confirmed, and many other terms mean different things to different groups of people. And everyone seems to be ok with that.

I have filed many bugs thinking that Firefox should just 'do the right thing' and that people would want to know. Is still have this idealism at times, but I recognize the other viewpoint as being valid. It may be true that one should not fix something that does not need to be fixed.

And as dbaron has pointed out to me many times, one is always welcome to file a patch. And, actually, that turns out to be the key to many things. I used to think there was value in asking about a bug to understand it. I used to think there was value in discussing a solution before creating a patch. But, as a practical matter, the number of people willing to talk about making changes is vastly more huge than the number of people who will make changes. So, considered questions almost always get silence while patches that are crap get responses. If I have 10+ years of database experience and ask a question about sqlite use by Places, and a 12-year-old asks a question with a patch he came up with in five minutes, who will get a response? Who will be more likely to get something started on a bug? It seems obvious to me now.

So when in doubt, submit a patch. Any patch.

So, this leaves a question. How does Mozilla want to manage bugs submitted by or read by or tracked by non-developers? It seems clear that bugzilla is really best only for developers. Asking users to look at bugzilla and make sense of what they see is, I would suggest, not realistic. Maybe the idea behind Hendrix needs to be developed further. A lot of what is in bugzilla looks like graffiti in a train station. So maybe something is needed manages that graffiti and relates it to actual bugs that people may actually work on. But then, the people who do the work do not mind looking at the graffiti and just working on what they talk about. They seem to know which ones are actually significant, so why fix it if it's not broken?