Some thoughts on bug reports and free and open source software

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Following from experience with the recent Fedora Bugzilla mass-triage, I figured that I would write a few words about the state of bugs in open source projects, and where people's perception can tend to fall short of reality.

People assume that because OSS is not hidden within the walls of a particular company, that there are infinite resources to bring to bear on a problem. Instead, just as with propietary software, the resources are finite, the amount of hours in a day are finite, and the fact is that most of these individuals are contributing to an OSS community in their spare time, not being paid to do it full-time.

Given these resource limitations, open source projects have to be selective in what bugs they can action. The incoming stream of bugs is literally more than they can handle. In order to handle the workload, they filter ruthlessly. If you file a request to, for example, change the background from green to red, that's unlikely to get as much attention as 'this sets my computer on fire'. I'm not saying that this is good, bad, or indifferent, but simply a fact of life in the open source world. Now that I've made general comments on the state of the FOSS community, lets analyze these with Fedora, with some real metrics.

Fedora is a large project, consisting of 6,265 individual components in Bugzilla as of this writing. Most of these components relate directly to a piece of software in Fedora, though a very few are for administrative overhead of the project.

As of this writing, there are 590 members of 'cvsextras', the group of people that have commit access to the Fedora package collection. Of these, 293 people have e-mail addresses, the primary sponsor of Fedora. Of those 293, most of them have other responsibilities other than Fedora. Let's make a liberal guesstimate and say that 10% of those 293 work on Fedora full-time.

Let's make another liberal estimate, and say that 10% of ALL contributors are paid or somehow able to work on the project full-time, and that all of those contributors put in a 40 hour work-week. Let's also assume that the non-fulltime contributors each put in 3 hours per week. Let us also assume that it takes 30 minutes to deal with a bug (a very low estimate). We'll also assume that all these people do all day long is tend Bugzilla (a ludicrous assumption)

So, given that number of contributors, which has grown significantly in the recent past, that means that they own, on average, 10.6 components each. The total number of bugs currently open in Bugzilla is 11,966.

Using these assumptions, it would take 5976 man-hours to deal with all of these bugs. That is obviously quite an investment of time. Assuming that we had the 59 people that we assume work on Fedora full-time working 40 hours a week, and the rest of the 531 community members putting in 3 hours, it would still take a week and a half to get through all of this. That is a *huge* investment of time and resources.

Thus far, we've been talking entirely hypothetical numbers. and assuming that everyone was qualified to work on all types of bugs. etc. Lets now look into the real world of the kernel.

There are currently 1086 open bugs (~10% of the total!) against the kernel. These bugs have 53 assignees. Let's discount 21 of these, since they only have one bug assigned to them, leaving us with 32. Let's take our earlier assumption, that 10% of the assignees work full-time, doing nothing but tending to Bugzilla, and keep to the assumption that every bug takes 30 minutes. This gives us 2.5 weeks just to deal with the kernel!

In conclusion, the open source community is very happy for people to report bugs. However, the developers that produce this code are very much inundated with them. What does this mean to you, the bug reporter? That we'd like for you to understand that some bugs slip through the cracks, and simply reporting a bug is not a guarantee that it can be fixed. I'd also like to point to some resources on how to write an effective bug report:

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