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John Paul Cook

How to File Better Bug Reports

It's frustrating when you encounter a bug and even more frustrating when customer support won't help you. Windows Media Encoder is a great way to document bugs that are particularly difficult to describe.

In case you don't know, the place to file bug reports on Microsoft products is http://connect.microsoft.com/. It should be obvious that a clear statement of the problem and a complete and detailed list of the steps you undertook are essential to filing a good bug report. If your problem isn't understood or can't be reproduced, resolution is unlikely. Sometimes words just fail us. There really isn't a way to effectively describe some bugs using written language. When words fail, make a movie - lights, camera, action!

It's really easy to make a video screen capture demonstrating a bug and showing every single step you followed. Go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx and download Windows Media Encoder. Notice there is a 64-bit version in case you have a 64-bit OS. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand bytes. The Connect site has a feature that allows you to upload files and attach them to your bug reports. Use this to upload your video file to Microsoft.

Before you make your video, plan ahead. Think of how you can enhance it. I do not record my voice to emphasize key steps and outcomes. Instead, I use Notepad and mouse movements to highlight key steps. For example, if clicking a certain button triggers the bug, I move the mouse cursor back and forth above the button a few times before clicking the button. Notepad is handy when you need to demonstrate a problem with a password, for example. Quicken has a bug with using special characters in a password. In one dialog box, it is possible to have a password containing special characters. In another, it is not possible. This makes it impossible to get one feature to work. To make it clear what the problem was, I put various passwords into Notepad so that all of the characters in the passwords could be seen. I used copy/paste to transfer the passwords from Notepad into the application's dialog boxes. If I had just typed the passwords into the dialog boxes, it wouldn't have been obvious which special characters were being entered because of password masking.

Unfortunately, no matter how good your video is, it won't help when customer service is unresponsive. I created a video and sent it to Intuit to demonstrate the password bug. They haven't helped resolve the bug or even acknowledged that the bug exists. On this and another unresolved Quicken bug, Intuit has sent multiple "Quicken Customer Care Survey" emails asking me questions about my experiences with their customer support staff. I dutifully respond that my problems are unresolved and they don't respond. What is really interesting about the emails they send is that the emails actually end with the following text:

6) Please provide any additional comments about your customer support experience.

[Submit]  [Cancel]  [Clear]

Understand that it is text. No buttons (not that they would work without InfoPath or some other enabling technology), just text that says [Submit].

Published Saturday, May 31, 2008 3:48 PM by John Paul Cook

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About John Paul Cook

John Paul Cook is a Technology Solutions Professional for Microsoft's data platform and works out of Microsoft's Houston office. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was a Microsoft SQL Server MVP. He is experienced in Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle database application design, development, and implementation. He has spoken at many conferences including Microsoft TechEd and the SQL PASS Summit. He has worked in oil and gas, financial, manufacturing, and healthcare industries. John is also a Registered Nurse who graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Master of Science in Nursing Informatics and is an active member of the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society. He volunteers as a nurse at safety net clinics. Contributing author to SQL Server MVP Deep Dives and SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Volume 2.

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