David Baron's Weblog

The age of bugs

Tuesday, 2008-05-15, 20:14 -0700

Lately, I've seen some people criticize Mozilla because a particular bug (often a request for a new feature) that they care a lot about hasn't been fixed, on the basis that the bug was filed some number of years ago (generally more than five). I think this line of criticism is undeserved and seriously misguided. People who make this argument are, effectively, criticizing us for our openness.

We have an open bug system where anybody in the world can report bugs the way any participant in the project would. We use bug reports not just for things that are obviously incorrect, but also for things that might be incorrect, or for things we can to do make our products better. Reporting a bug, especially when done well, makes it much more likely that the bug will be fixed (and has the potential to get the reporter more involved in the project). But it doesn't create any obligation to fix the bug. We (the developers of Mozilla) can't let anybody in the world order us around. (If we did, I'm sure our competitors would have fun abusing the system.)

Bugzilla has been open for a long time, so there are pretty old bugs in it. In an ideal world, when people working on Mozilla decide which bugs to fix, they should consider how important the bug is to fix (the benefit of fixing it), and how much work it is to fix (the cost). There's no reason to consider (directly) when the bug was filed.

(By the logic of this line of criticism, presumably, we should implement support for Word documents before we implement anything suggested since April of 2000.)

We've had an open bug system for almost ten years, so there are bugs that are worth fixing, but not top priority, that have been sitting around in our bug system for almost ten years. Some of these bugs are worth investing energy in now. Some of them probably should have been fixed years ago, if we had prioritized optimally. But for many of them our choices were probably correct. (In the case of the bugs that attract the most attention, this is because the cost of fixing the bug is high, not because the benefit is low.)