Filing bug reports

We have all had the frustration of software not working the way we want it to. Maybe it is an annoying feature, or something not working the way it is supposed to. We all complain about software because it sometimes makes our jobs more difficult. Nothing wrong with a little venting. However, we should also be letting the software makers know about these problems. Just about any software product out there should have some kind of bug report option. Companies can vary a good deal in how responsive they are to bugs, but none of them will know there is  a problem unless you tell them.

The best companies are very responsive. They will prompt you for further information to diagnose the bug and ask you to try out fixes to see if it solves the issue. This is especially true in open source software projects, which are much more community oriented. It is often the developers who actually wrote the software who interact with you. Bug reports are a way for you to give these developers feedback and help them improve the products that you use. It is a win, win.

This isn’t always how it happens. Sometimes you file a bug report and nothing happens. It sits there open and no one ever contacts you. This is annoying, but really you are no worse off than if you did nothing at all. There is very little downside, and a potentially huge upside to filling bug reports. Not only can it quickly resolve the issues that you are having, it can help everyone else using the software as well.

If you look at a project on github.com (where many open source projects are hosted), you will see that most have an issues page. This is where you can report bugs, see other peoples bug reports and even suggest new features. It is also a good way to judge the health of a project. Are bug reports addressed in a timely and constructive way? No? Maybe find a different product. Yes? Great, now you know that you won’t be out in the cold if you have issues. Sometimes, projects don’t use github’s issues pages though. In some cases they have their own site running special bug tracking software (the most popular is bugzilla). For example, if you have Firefox do something odd you can report it at https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/. If you run Koha, you can make a bug report at https://bugs.koha-community.org/bugzilla3/. You can also search these sites to see if anyone else has your issue. Sometimes there will already be a solution.

Software projects work best when there is two way communication. Bug reports are one way that you can communicate with the developers. There are often other ways. Many software projects have irc rooms or slack channels where you can talk to people to get help. These are great for small issues that can be quickly diagnosed, but even then, they may ask you to file a bug report in order to permanently document the issue.

The maker movement talks about changing from being passive consumers to active makers. Engaging with software projects is a way to do this. Rather than passively using software and being annoyed when it makes your life harder, you are actively helping to improve it. Software is used everywhere these days, so anything we can do to make it work better helps out everyone.

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