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Crap error messages
Jeff with Leif and Piano
jbailey
updated

When writing software, *please* don't give error messages that are only meaningful to developers of the software. Microsoft used to be awful for this: "System fault at DEAD:BEEF, please contact your system administrator". Which would've been cool, except that I *was* the system administrator.

My most recent encounter with this was this morning with bzr (On my work laptop, so it's Windows):

C:\Users\jeffbailey\workspaces\webhack\Webhack>bzr push lp:~jbailey/webhack/trunk
Connected (version 2.0, client Twisted)
SSH C:\Users\jeffbailey/.ssh/id_rsa password:
Authentication (publickey) successful!
Secsh channel 1 opened.
bzr: ERROR: RemoteRepository(bzr+ssh://bazaar.launchpad.net/~jbailey/webhack/trunk/.bzr/)
is not compatible with
CHKInventoryRepository('file:///C:/Users/jeffbailey/workspaces/webhack/Webhack/.bzr/repository/')
different rich-root support


Umm. What? Okay. I work for a search engine. So I fired up Yahoo!^WGoogle to figure out what the message could possibly mean. The top result is Bug 172360 in Launchpad:
"branching from rich-root to non-rich-root gives confusing errors"

Sounds perfect, until you see that the bug is marked as invalid.

Something got missed here. If your user says "I don't understand" - they are NEVER wrong. It doesn't matter if you think they should've understood. It doesn't matter that you think you explained it well enough. The user doesn't understand, so you lose. Actually, it's worse. *they* lose.

There are lots of other bugs leading up to how I got to where I was seeing this in the first place. But none of those are as important as the fact that the developers thought a user saying "I don't get it" wasn't worth the 30 seconds of adding the text "The best way to fix this is to run: bzr upgrade --default " + branch.url;

Update: Jelmer pointed out to me in a comment that it wasn't the devs who marked it as invalid, it was the submitter. He's reopened it. This just further supports the notion that users are insane and need hand-holding. =)

Marked as invalid by submitter

jelmer [launchpad.net]

2009-11-01 06:02 pm (UTC)

Hi Jeff,

It was the original submitter of the bugreport who had marked the bug as invalid, without any explanation. I've reopened it.

Re: Marked as invalid by submitter

jbailey

2009-11-01 06:22 pm (UTC)

Hah, *awesome*. I've updated the post. =)

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