To help Ubuntu reach a standard of quality similar to competing operating systems, developers should spend less time asking for information on individual bug reports, and more time fixing those bugs that affect users most often.
To determine which bugs those are, we should collect crash reports from as many people as possible, before and after release. This means not requiring them to sign in to any Web site, enter any text, submit hundreds of megabytes of data, receive e-mail, or do anything more complicated than clicking a button. An automated system should then analyze which problems are caused by the same bug. If developers need more information about a particular kind of crash, they should be able to configure the system to automatically retrieve that information when the problem next occurs.
Statistics collected by Microsoft show that a bug reported by their Windows Error Reporting system “is 4.5 to 5.1 times more likely to be fixed than a bug reported directly by a human”, that fixing the right 1 percent of bugs addresses 50 percent of customer issues, and that fixing 20 percent of bugs addresses 80 percent of customer issues.
Windows Error Reporting is perhaps the most advanced crash reporting system. As described in K Glerum, K Kinshumann, S Greenberg, et al.: “Debugging in the (very) large: Ten years of implementation and experience” (PDF), it uses progressive data collection where developers can request more than the “minidump” if necessary to understand particular problems, and automatically notifies users if a software update fixes their problem. Hardware vendors can see crash reports specific to their hardware.
Mac OS X has a CrashReporter system that submits crash data to Apple. As described in Technical Note TN2123, “There is currently no way for third party developers to access the reports submitted via CrashReporter”.
As a result, some Mac software developers have created their own crash tracking systems, such as Adobe’s and Adium’s.
Mozilla uses Breakpad to collect and submit minidumps on the client side, and Socorro to analyze and present them on the server side. Anyone can access crash data at crash-stats.mozilla.com.