Sunday, 6 November 2016

My Ubuntu week - old hardware, a VPS and Ubuntu GNOME

Monday

I started the week with four fully functional and working laptops running Ubuntu 16.04, Ubuntu GNOME 17.04, Xubuntu 16.04 and Kubuntu 14.04. During the evening I successfully set up a VPS with DigitalOcean with the aim of staying logged on to IRC without leaving a local PC running continually. I also set up my holding pages for various domains that I use for email and dealt with various security requirements such as the firewall.

However, I was unprepared for what happened the following day.

Tuesday

Recently I've been using Ubuntu 16.04 on a Dell Inspirion N7110, an installation that has served me well but unfortunately during the evening I saw a number of indications that the hard disk was failing. After backing up all my personal data to my other laptops and a backup drive I started to investigate the problem by making various comparisons with another laptop. The SMART data for the disk was worrying and not unsurprisingly a few hours later the drive failed as I feared it would. Hooray for the backups!

Wednesday

So now down to three laptops I turned my attention to my Samsung R720 on which Kubuntu 14.04 was installed. As KDE 4 is now looking a little dated I decided to replace it with Ubuntu GNOME, a flavour that I had been testing on yet another laptop.

Thursday

Although Ubuntu GNOME was running reasonably well it was too slow for my liking but at least I was on-line and able to do what I wanted or needed to do each day.

Friday

Due to the less than perfect performance of Ubuntu GNOME on my R720 I decided to install Xubuntu and later tried a live session of Ubuntu MATE but clearly the hardware is too old to successfully run a second monitor with recent releases of these flavours with an "out-of-the-box" installation. A subsequent bad install of Ubuntu meant that I'm now down to just two working machines. I'm going to have to rethink what I do with the R720 but a full reformat and installation of a flavour yet to be decided is something that I'm leaving for a rainy day.

Saturday

Nearly two years ago I purchased a cheap Toshiba C-50B for testing development versions of various Ubuntu flavours. Although a little slow it runs Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Ubuntu GNOME very well. I've been testing Ubuntu GNOME on this laptop for some time and it appears to offer what I want from a modern operating system although it takes some getting used to after using Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Xubuntu for so long. I quickly reconfigured the machine to run a second monitor, plugged in a mouse and external keyboard, and then sat back and said to myself: "It works!"

Sunday

With Xubuntu 16.04 available on an old Samsung R620 I'm thinking that I'm not beaten yet. It seems that the purchase of a new machine whether a laptop or a desktop is now long overdue.

Old hardware seems to work fine with the right flavour of Ubuntu until you push it to its limits but it's nice to know that if one Ubuntu flavour doesn't work for you then you can always try another.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

More on bug reports, September 1973 and a jumping mouse

Incomplete bug reports

Since writing an earlier post on the subject I've continued to monitor new bug reports. I have been very disappointed to see that so many have to be marked as being "incomplete" as they give little information about the problem and don't really give anyone an incentive to work on and help fix. So many are very vague about the problem being reported while some are just an indication that a problem exists. Reports which just say something along the lines of:
  • help
  • bug
  • i don't know
  • dont remember
don't do a lot to point to the problem that is being reported. May be some information can be gleaned from any attached log files but please bug reporters, tell us what the problem is as it will greatly increase the chances of your issue being fixed, investigated or (re)assigned to the correct package. Reporters need to reply when asked for further information about the bug or the version of Ubuntu being used even if it is to say that, for whatever reason, the problem no longer affects them. And I say to all novice reporters: "Please don't keep the Ubuntu version or flavour that you are using a secret!"

Bug report or support request?

Some reports are probably submitted as a desperate measure when help is needed and no-one is around to help. Over the last couple of months I've seen dozens of bug reports being closed as they have "expired" because there has been no response to a request for information within 59 days of the request being made, Obviously Ubuntu users are having problems but are their issues being resolved? Are those users moving back to Windows or to another Linux distribution because they aren't getting help they need and don't know how to ask for it?

Many of the issues that I'm referring to should have been posted initially as support requests at the Ubuntu ForumsAsk Ubuntu or Launchpad Answers and then filed as bug reports once sufficient help and guidance had been obtained and the presence of a bug confirmed.

A bug with the bug reporting tool ubuntu-bug?

Sometimes trying to establish the correct package against which to file a bug is a difficult task especially if you are not conversant with the inner workings of Ubuntu. Launchpad can often guide the reporter but it seems many reports are being incorrectly filed against the xorg package in error. Bug #1631748 (ubuntu-bug selects wrong category) seems to confirm this widespread problem. If a bug is reported against the wrong package and no description of the issue is given there is no chance of the issue being investigated.

Further reading

The following links will give those who are new to bug reporting some help in filing a good bug report that can be worked on by a bug triager or developer.

How to Report Bugs
How to Report Bugs Effectively
Improving Ubuntu: A Beginners Guide to Filing Bug Reports
How do I report a bug?

To the future and some events of September 1973

In just a couple of weeks I'll no longer have to worry about getting up early for work, fighting my way though the local traffic and aiming for an 8 o'clock start which is something that I seldom manage to achieve these days. No doubt I'll be able to devote much more time to work on Ubuntu and who knows I may well revisit some of the teams and projects that I've left over the past couple of years.

Looking at Mark Shuttleworth's Wikipedia page it seems that he was born just a week or two after I started my working life in September 1973. A lot has changed since then. We didn't have personal computers or mobile phones and as far as I can remember we managed perfectly well without them. Back then I had very different interests, some of which I've recently returned to but obviously I had no idea what was in store for me around 40 years later.

Thanks for everything so far Mark!

zz = Zesty Zapus, a mouse that jumped

So we now have a code-name for the next Ubuntu release which Mark has confirmed will be Zesty Zapus, Apparently a zapus is a North American mouse that jumps. So, now that we've reached the end of the alphabet, what next?

Prediction: There will be much discussion about the code-name for the 17.10 release and it's announcement will probably be the most anticipated yet.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Does Ubuntu have too many bugs or just too many bug reports?

As I'm now somewhat of a floating contributor to the Ubuntu project I've found myself with some spare time that I can devote to looking at some of the bug reports that are currently live on Launchpad and are awaiting attention and fixing.

Examples of poor reporting

It's great to see users taking the time to report any bugs that they find but disappointing to find so many of those reports are of such poor quality that they will never be worked on. Unfortunately, many reporters fail to respond to requests for further information and invariably their bug report is closed without any action being taken at all.

Bug titles such as:
  • i do not know
  • hhh
  • bugs
  • oops
  • reporting
  • I'm unaware of problem
are not very helpful. Bug descriptions that also have minimal content are even less so. Sometimes missing information can be gleaned from the supporting log files but that is not always the case.

I've found many many bug reports filed against the wrong package or against the Ubuntu project in general. I'm not criticising the reporters of those bugs but just commenting on something which many casual reporters seem to find difficult, that is finding the right package to file their bug against. The Bug Squad's Find the Right Package wiki page helps greatly but there is a lot there to read through and even then sometimes it is not clear unless you have a good understanding of how the various pieces of Ubuntu  and its various flavours fit together.

Corrective action

I've spent many hours over the last couple of weeks re-tasking reports and asking the reporters of numerous bugs to add information to their reports that will help see their problem addressed or at least investigated. Unfortunately, that seldom happens as often the bug report is so old that the reporter has either moved on to a later release of Ubuntu or has lost interest in the bug that they reported many months ago especially if the problem was a "one-off" problem. I have had some success refiling bugs against the correct package which has led to a developer offering to help but inevitably that just leads to a request for further information which is more often that not ignored by the reporter of the bug.

All software has bugs. We need users of software to report those bugs. Bugs need to be fixed. In order to fix the bugs developers need useful and meaningful bug reports and have their questions or requests answered. But every six months a new version of Ubuntu is released and software is updated. Bug reports can quickly become out of date and may soon refer to what is then an unsupported release.

Bug 1568604

Bug 1568604 is an excellent example of multiple reports against many packages due to the lack of knowledge of the reporter and although this bug has been confirmed by over 300 users there is little sign of this bug being fixed in the near future. I know that I'm not alone in wondering whether this bug has been reported against the correct package or not and thus brought to the attention of someone who is able to fix it.

The Bug Squad's Knowledge Base offers an enormous amount of help in creating useful bug reports but it takes a great deal of time to read though all the possibilities of how a report should be filed and against which package.

So, do we have a problem?

I'm not going to try to offer a solution to the problem of poor or incomplete bug reports, I'm hardly an expert myself. Bug reporting is not necessarily an easy process to master. Bug reports are required to be reported using English, not an easy task if you don't even speak the language that many of us take for granted. Most Launchpad users are not developers or have a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of Ubuntu and its various flavours but rely on their input to Launchpad to direct bug reports to the correct Ubuntu package and development team. Such users no doubt feel lost when they experience a problem, think they have found a bug and wait in anticipation for a reply which inevitably doesn't arrive until long after they've moved on or upgraded to a newer version of Ubuntu.

Are all bug reports actually bug reports?

I've noticed that some of these very minimal bug reports are filed by users that have just signed up to Launchpad. Are these users wondering how to file their first report? Or are these users trying to appear as a legitimate Ubuntu user? I've marked a number of reports as being "Invalid" when it's clear that the report has been filed for reasons which I won't mention here. I try to treat all reports fairly until I can ascertain that the reason for filing the bug report is not the result of the reporter actually finding a bug but some just leave me wondering.

Want to contribute to Ubuntu?

This post was not written to criticise but to draw attention to the large number of poorly filed bug reports that currently reside on Launchpad awaiting attention and marked "for expiration in xx days if no further activity occurs."

Are you thinking of how you can contribute to Ubuntu? Then please consider joining the Bug Squad and lending a hand.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Some thoughts about Xenial development, an annoying bug and Yakkety Yak

Xenial development

Having recently relieved myself of various Ubuntu related commitments I've now become somewhat of a "floating contributor." Over the last few months I've spent a lot of time submitting and commenting on bug reports, testing ISOs and generally keeping abreast of what has been happening amongst various Ubuntu flavours especially Xubuntu. I continue to be very impressed by the hard work and enthusiasm of the "flavour" development teams who are of course all  unpaid volunteers.

Xubuntu 16.04 LTS
Xubuntu 16.04 LTS
During the latter stages of the Xenial development cycle I tried to bring certain bugs to the attention of the developers and also provided the Xubuntu team with feedback about bugs specific to their flavour. I wish I could have done a lot more but I do have other interests and commitments especially at weekends when the sun is shining and I decide I'd rather be outdoors.

An annoying Ubuntu bug

Back in May 2015, Charles Profitt wrote a blog post entitled "Ubuntu Trash Bug", in which he stated that he would not upgrade to Ubuntu 15.04 because a bug bothered him so much.

I recently remembered reading his post and thought that after working with the development version of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS for several months I've also seen a number of trivial bugs that have also bothered me greatly. They've been reported on Launchpad, added to the ISO Tracker numerous times yet Xenial Xerus has been released with a number of these bugs still very evident.

For me, the most annoying bug in Ubuntu Xenial Xerus is bug #1521302 where gnome terminal windows that have been maximised in a Unity session cannot be restored to their original size. As a keen user of the command line I really hope that this bug, which of course is affecting many more users now that 16.04 has been released, will be fixed by the time of the first point release later in the year. Sadly the bug report is starting to attract adverse comments from users who just wish to express their opinion about the general usability, as they see it, of the latest release.

My recommended alternative for now is terminator which isn't affected by this bug.

Yakkety Yak

I'm sure that I was not alone in thinking that that next release of Ubuntu might be called Yakkety Yak but then thought that there's no way that Mark Shuttleworth would ever chose such an obvious codename. Of course I was wrong.

However, Yakkety Yak, or however you might want to spell it, will always remind me of this:


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Problems with domain privacy

Over the last couple of months several of my unused domains have been due for either renewal or deletion which reminds me that about a year ago a domain that I used to receive important email was suspended. I discovered that this was due to the registrar creating fictitious contact details in order to offer domain privacy. So I moved all my domains from one registrar, based in the UK, to another but based elsewhere.

The move went well but a after making a change to my contact details I received an email from the new registrar asking for proof of my identity as Nominet, the UK domain registry, required me confirm my name and address as their checks had proved unsuccessful. They informed me that if I didn't comply with the request then my domain would be suspended after 30 days.

For the next week I frantically tried to convince the registrar that I was who I said I was but they refused to accept most of the evidence that I offered them as they insisted on having sight of an national identity card, a passport or a driving licence, none of which I currently hold. I was eventually told that my domain would be suspended and that there was nothing that they could do to help as they were merely carrying out Nominet's request.

So I contacted Nominet by telephone and asked them why they couldn't verify my name against an address that I have been living at for more than 20 years. They explained that as I had requested domain privacy from a registrar they didn't actually hold my address as it had been replaced in their database by the address of the registrar. I immediately realised that the cause of the the problem was yet again domain privacy and that providing the registrar with proof of my identity was a manual workaround to updating Nominet's database correctly. It was suggested that I logged into an account that the registrar had created but that I never knew existed, changed the contact address to reflect my own and then wait up to 24 hours for my details to be automatically checked by their systems. In just a few hours I found that my identity had been verified and the threat of the domain being suspended had been removed.

For domain privacy to work on .uk domains for registrant type "UK Individual", the registrar doesn't need to replace their customer's address with their own as address details can be suppressed by changing a flag in Nominet's database. In this way, Nominet are still aware of the registrant's real address and can still make any verification checks that they feel that they need to do. WHOIS queries then show: "The registrant is a non-trading individual who has opted to have their address omitted from the WHOIS service."

By writing this post I'm warning or at least reminding others that if a domain registry has special procedures that need to followed then the registrar not only needs to be aware of those procedures but have the appropriate systems in place. It shouldn't have been necessary for me to contact Nominet by telephone, something that may not have been practical or possible if the registry had been based overseas or only spoke in a language other than English.

A quick look at the domain privacy page on Wikipedia shows that there are several other country based registries that might also have their own peculiarities relating to what options might be available regarding the display of a domain registrant's contact details.

As a result of this very frustrating experience I moved my .uk domains to another UK based registrar which naturally understood Nominet's domain privacy procedures.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Some random thoughts on contributing to Ubuntu

I thought I would put together some random but not totally unrelated thoughts about contributing to Ubuntu, something which I've done for almost six years now. For various reasons I've decided to stop being a contributor as part of an organised group or team and contribute to Ubuntu at my own pace as and when I decide I want to. I also have several long neglected interests to which I now wish to devote more time especially at weekends.

As of late I've mainly been involved with ISO testing for various Ubuntu flavours and contributing to the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter. My contributions to the former have unfortunately attracted some criticism as not being as useful as they could have been while my contributions to 123 issues of the newsletter helped in its release each week by a very small team that has seen an ever decreasing number of regular volunteers. Elizabeth could really do with some help right now!

Please contributors, if you offer to help a team then please be realistic and honest about the amount of help you are prepared to give as others may be depending on your contributions no matter how small they might be. Many hands make light work!

I don't see the granting of an Ubuntu Membership as a trophy to be won before moving on to something else forgetting everything 'Ubuntu' so I'm sticking around but I'm also looking for different ways to contribute. I'll continue to promote Ubuntu and its various flavours with occasional posts on this blog and at the Ubuntu Forums. I'll still report or investigate bugs as I find them and test ISOs from time to time especially alpha and beta releases for the flavours that decode to participate.

When I got my Ubuntu Membership on 8th January 2015 there were 751 existing members. Launchpad now shows just 739. I would have hoped for at least a small increase. Is an Ubuntu Membership not something that today's contributors want to acquire?

At the end of the last Ubuntu Online Summit [UOS] there was a session entitled Growing new community members. The etherpad notes for the session made reference to "retaining bored/burnt-out volunteers and re-energizing them" but the subject wasn't even discussed. There's a lot of emphasis these days on recruiting new members to the community while existing members can walk away unnoticed until someone realises that they're no longer around. I hope this issue gets at least a few minutes of discussion time at the next UOS to be held in May as it looks like I may now have fallen into that category.

Anyway, if you've got this far then thanks for reading.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

My Ubuntu year - 2015

When I was looking back on my contributions to Ubuntu during 2015, I thought that although there have been some significant changes I'm still involved with answering occasional posts on the Ubuntu Forums, reporting bugs, testing daily ISOs, and contributing to the production of the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, all activities that I've been involved with for several years now.

My activities in 2015

To summarise, my "Ubuntu" year looked like this:
  • Bought a cheap laptop to test Xubuntu.
  • Successfully applied for an Ubuntu Membership.
  • Released an edition of the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter [UWN].
  • Won the Xubuntu QA Incentive for ISO testing.
  • Stopped testing Xubuntu.
  • Took up a moderator position at the Ubuntu Forums.
  • Switched from using Kubuntu to Ubuntu on my main laptop.
  • Stood down as a forum moderator.
  • Passed a personal milestone of contributing to 100 issues of UWN.
  • Subsequently cut back on my newsletter contributions.
  • Started testing Ubuntu GNOME.
  • Reverted to testing Xubuntu but on a more casual basis than before.
Toshiba Satellite C-50B Xubuntu 15.10
Toshiba Satellite C-50B running Xubuntu 15.10 
In June I quickly accepted an invitation to become a moderator of the Ubuntu Forums. After a few weeks I started to doubt that I was going to be as good as I needed to be and in the middle of September I decided that the challenge was too great for me so I stood down. I am extremely grateful to the Forum Council for the opportunity that I was given and hopefully at sometime in the far distant future I'll be given another chance to do something that in the main I quite enjoyed.

A change of Ubuntu flavour

Also in June I started saying farewell to Kubuntu after being a regular user since the Natty Narwhal release in April 2011. I mean no disrespect to the Kubuntu team as they just have to deal with whatever KDE release but I feel that Plasma 5 is a great disappointment compared to KDE 4. It took a few weeks to adjust to using Ubuntu (Unity) as I hadn't used it regularly since the 12.04 release. I still have Kubuntu 14.04 LTS installed on a couple of backup machines but I'll be installing another flavour on both of them in due course. Ubuntu MATE, which I've recently tested in a live environment, looks very interesting!

The Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter

Although I've cut back on my input into the production of UWN for now I'll take this opportunity to make yet another appeal for help with the newsletter as it is very much needed at this time. Finding links to articles and writing summaries is not difficult and requires no more than 30 minutes or so of your time each week. If you're short of ideas on how you can contribute to Ubuntu then please consider joining the team.

Anyway, just a few days into the new year and I'm already wondering what my summary of 2016 will look like.