Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

If you find what appears to be a bug in Windows, or any product for that matter, reporting it can be surprisingly difficult. I'll look at why.

In Windows 7 Ultimate x64, open up Notepad. Turn Word Wrap off, and then maximize the Notepad Window. Type a long sentence that runs off the screen by a good amount. Then try to select the text from the right. That is, try to highlight that line from the right. Notepad has a glitch, and will not scroll left for you. If the Notepad window is not maximized, or if you select it from the left instead, it will scroll across for you as you try to select the line. However, when maximized and selecting from the right, it does not.

This is a Windows problem, as I duplicated it on another machine that is running another copy of W7 Ultimate x64. I tried using Microsoft Connect, but they won't take any Notepad or Windows bugs. My only option is to pay to call them and submit this as a support request or do it over the internet - for a charge. I feel it's unfair for me to pay to tell Microsoft about their product problems. Any solutions?

At least one.

I'll describe that as well as the "Microsoft Connect" you refer to.

And then I'll tell you why I wouldn't bother.

A Bug is a Bug Except When It's Not

I'll probably annoy a few people with this, but it's important.

The vast majority of what the general public would want to report as bugs aren't bugs at all. More often than not the software is acting exactly as designed. The person experiencing what they consider to be a bug is typically not using the product properly, or doesn't understand how the software is intended to behave.

In other words it's what I sometimes jokingly refer to as "operator malfunction". The software's working correctly, the user is not.

I know, I've been there. On both sides. (I've had my own "malfunctions" - many, in fact.)

I'm not saying that's the case with the scenario you describe. Not at all.

I'm also not saying that people are incapable of making valid bug reports - many are.

But I have to point it out to show you what the product teams have to deal with on a regular basis, and what you're up against.

So, assuming you've found a legitimate problem with a Microsoft product, what do you do?

Microsoft Connect

Microsoft Connect is a portal through which you can find out which Microsoft products are currently accepting bug reports, and what the requirements are to submit them.

If the product you're experiencing difficulty with is listed, then by all means this is the way to go. These are products whose teams are asking for exactly the kind of feedback you have.

The catch? Well, not all products are always present - the product must presumably be in that stage of development that the team can actually do something about the bugs. That typically means that they're working on the next release.

The other catch? Depending on the product, not just anyone can submit a bug report. Some are open to the public, some require registration, and some are open only to individuals who have been accepted into some sort of test program related to the product.

But as I said, if you have this option available to you, then use it. They're asking for it.

Microsoft Support

There is a toll free number - at least in the United States.

You'll find it here, along with this statement:

Report a Microsoft Product Bug

If you think you have found a bug in a Microsoft product, contact our Microsoft Product Support Services department. (800) XXX-XXXX

At this writing, that number takes you to a phone tree that will presumably get you somewhere where you can make your report. (I removed the number from the quote above in case it changes. It's on this page.)

After that, I've no idea what happens.

But I have a suspicion.

Why I Wouldn't Bother

Remember that I started with the statement that what most people first call bugs aren't bugs at all. My experience, both at Microsoft and here at Ask Leo bears that out to be generally true. People are very quick to blame the software when something goes wrong - only to find out later that it was their own mistake or misunderstanding that actually caused the issue.

Important: I'm not saying that sometimes people aren't right. They are. I'm also not saying that difficult to understand software isn't a "bug" in it's own right. It is. What I am saying is that the vast majority of those reports are simply user error.

So faced with a potential influx of "bug reports" from the general public - many if not most of which are not going to be bugs at all - what's a company to do?

Accept them, but prioritize them low. Work on them as there is time. If there is time.

Prioritize instead those bug reports from trusted sources that are more likely to submit valid reports. Microsoft internal, beta programs, partner programs like TechNet or MSDN subscribers. Potentially prioritize and accept those general bugs only during fixed periods so as to be able to focus on them and fix as many as possible.

Because not all will be fixed.

That's the other harsh reality.

Not All Bugs are Created Equal

As I said, it sounds like you may have a valid bug on your hands there. I could be wrong, there could be something else at play, but all in all it seems like the real deal. At least something worth looking into.

Or is it?

It's fairly obscure. It's hard to get to, the average user may never experience it, it's not a security issue, no data loss occurs as a result of it, and no programs crash. Sounds like something bad might be happening, but the impact of that bug is pretty small.

So even if reported, it may never be fixed.

Problems that are more severe - particularly security issues and bugs that cause actual data loss - are typically prioritized very highly on the "to do" list when working on software, while issues such as this which boil down to cosmetic or behavioral, end up very low on that list.

When the public, press and current users are clamoring for the next release of whatever product this problem might be in, the items on the bottom of the list rarely make it in.

There are almost always more important fish to fry.

(Often when these kinds of issues do get fixed it's because other work was being done "in the area" and the developer or others elected to resolve the issue as a matter of convenience.)

Article C4385 - August 1, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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15 Comments
Ken B
August 2, 2010 6:16 AM

As a developer, I, too, have been on both sides of bug reports. Though I like to think I submit only "good" reports. :-)

A sample of "bad" reports were things like, during Y2K testing, people submitted reports saying that our IsLeap() function was broken, as it reported 2000 as being a leap year. (It was a leap year.)

Then there are the "the latest update changed the behavior of X and broke my code" when there was no change in behavior. They swear up and down that their code used to work, but they can never seem to find a sample to submit that worked in the old version. (And they'll never admit that maybe they were mistaken, just that they "can't duplicate it".)

Tony
August 2, 2010 8:06 AM

I have to agree with Leo on this one i wouldnt bother. i reported bugs and they never got token care of. but then i thought to myself maybe it was user error and i did not report a valid bug. one will never now but Microsoft is a huge company with not much time on there hands.

Jim de Graff
August 3, 2010 9:38 AM

One bug in particular that really annoys me is the bug in the dir command that incorrectly processes wildcards. You would expect that the command "dir *cf*" would display all files in the current folder that contain the string "cf". In fact, I have had this command display files that do not contain the string "cf". At least not when you are only interested in the normal (long) file name. If the OS generated short name contains the string "cf" then that file is also listed. Unfortunately there does not appear to be an option to ignore the short name which nobody uses anyway.

Mark R.
August 3, 2010 9:41 AM

I was able to duplicate this "feature" of Notepad on my Vista machine (32-bit SP2), but only if I use my mouse. If I use the keyboard, the screen scrolls left just fine. If you find yourself hampered by this feature frequently, just stretch the Notepad window corners to make the "restore down" window a big as you can on your screen instead of maximizing it.

Mike Castro`
August 3, 2010 10:22 AM

Hi Leo, Very interesting question on how to report bugs. I had a problem with MS Auto Updates, i.e. the little gold shield that appears and does the work then wants you to restart !. Mine was a problem with MS Office 2003 ( yes I know its old, but it works and I cannot afford the 400 it costs in the UK ).The updates appeared to download and install then the shield cam back again, and agin and again until it got boring. Anyway, I looked and looked at the MS website and eventually found a "email a support tech" page. I did this and left a detailed report. I was very surprised when I not only got an email reply from a MS lady in India but she also promised to phone me the next day, which she did. We ending up using MS Easy Assist, a remote desktop tool and she worked on my PC for 3 hours the first day, she couldnt fix it but promised to do some research and come back the next day which she did, bang on the time promised. Any she fixed it and the system now does as it should. The funny thing is that 2 other PC's also had the same problem with Office 2003 and lo and behold this problem went away as well without working on either of them. OK, it sounds like there was indeed a bug and it got fixed, I dont really care. What I do care about is Microsoft do give a good service in the end, it takes a bit of weeding out but the answer is out there ! When you think about how many copies of Windows are running each day across the globe its pretty spectacular that they all work pretty well like they should.

Jim Canale
August 3, 2010 10:25 AM

I haven't been involved in software development for quite a while, but I remember our team trying to devise tests for really simple programs to see if we could "break" the code. What we found is that people intimately involved with the creation of the code, who knew how it was "supposed" to operate, never found the bugs because they were too close to the design. You need independent testers to stress the code. People who will do unpredictable things.

I'm bothered by the attitude here and at Microsoft. Sure, some people are going to report as bugs things that aren't bugs. But there ARE bugs in Windows and application programs. Anyone want to debate that? If Microsoft and other software companies want to put on blinders then they're never going to have a truly exceptional product.

If you read the article carefully, you'll see that I'm saying that Microsoft does take the bug reports seriously. They just have to be weighed against other potentially more important issues when deciding what gets fixed and when.
Leo
07-Aug-2010

Richard
August 3, 2010 10:54 AM

As a long reader of Ask Leo, I agree with him! On this article about-'Bug Reports'. People with a Newly Released, OS-aka-Windows7 Ultimate x64(In this case)The x64 meaning 64bit capabilities.
I know just how Vast Microsoft Corp is. New Microsoft OS's, Try to exceed there predecessor. This is one reason why Microsoft,(When building something new), Puts out, to the general public, what is called a Beta (trial) Version. The "Beta(trial)Version" of Windows7, was released,(Free Of Charge),To the General Public, as a Free Download, on a First Come, First Serve Basis. The reason Microsoft puts out these Beta (trial) Version(s), are for the General Public to Use them, Tinker with, And "hopefully" report back to Microsoft,any Bug(s)or concerns they may have with the product.
While Windows7 was in the trial period, "Maybe" The People trying the Operating System Didn't find anything wrong with Notepad,(If they used it at all) to report back to the Developers at Microsoft.
On the other hand! This is why, I agree with Leo! New Products & Services, (offered to people), Have been, (more then likely) Time Tested & Tweaked. The Tweaks to Notepad, If any? Notepad - (a Minimal Word Processor)In my view. Has been Adequate enough for me,in days gone bye. "As of this comment", I have not been informed of any Changes or Tweaks to Notepad.
There are Better Word Processors out there, "if" People need to do more.
All the Opinions Expressed, in the above statement(s)Are! This Readers & This Readers only.
I Express, You Decide.

Glenn P.
August 3, 2010 3:35 PM

You're kidding, right? RIGHT??? PLEASE tell me you're kidding! Someone is COMPLAINING about a bug in NOTEPAD!?! We've got millions of freaking nuclear missiles pointed at each other's heads, and someone is complaining about some little bug in NOTEPAD!?

I am SO freaking tempted to fling an insult here. But I'll take the high road. Look: There are plenty of substitues for Notepad, and all of them do such a superior job to that program that there is NO Earthly reason for ANYONE to stay with Notepad who isn't happy with it. My own personal favorite is called "TxEdit 2000". It costs $14.95 USD, and is available from:

                        Software By Design  by Gregory Braun.

Other substitutes will readily be found by searching CNet, SoftPedia, MajorGeeks, TuCows, or any other reputable freeware or shareware download site.

[inflammatory comment removed by moderator]

Notepad isn't the issue here. The real issue is, in general, about reporting bugs in Windows.
Leo
07-Aug-2010

Mike
August 3, 2010 5:19 PM

As the old joke goes: Features are just bugs with seniority. So someone has just found a new feature in Notepad.

Lee
August 3, 2010 7:17 PM

Hi Leo, great article. I think it's hard to tell people sometimes that it's not the software a lot of the time that's causing the issue. For the business I work for we use a database program that is maintained by a relatively small company - which is good because if anything seems odd or 'buggy' I can just call them and get to speak to a real person and get a response straight away. But I rarely have to actually call them because the simple fact is most staff at my workplace complain of the software doing things on its own and blame it for deleting things or not doing what its supposed to. I find it hard to get across the idea to the users that programs don't just do random, malicious things on their own, and after I investigate the issues 99% of the complaints against the software are operator based. Not saying all programs are faultless, but they are definitely not as faulty as a lot of people think. But its difficult to shift that mindset.

Also re: the complaint about notepad. If it copies OK left to right, then whats the big deal if it doesn't do it right to left?!? Just copy left to right...problem solved!! :)

Tony
August 4, 2010 11:28 AM

Okay, I can't tell you how to report a bug,but I can tell you there is more than one way to scroll. If you scroll left by holding down the mouse button and moving your hand to the left, you will only be able to select what is actually seen on the screen. Instead,try using the arrow keys on your keyboard. Click to the right of the sentence, hold down the Shift key, and press and hold the left arrow key until the whole sentence is selected or highlighted all the way to the left including what was not previously showing on the screen.

Maybe there is still a "bug" if one method works and not the other, but this solves what Leo calls "operator malfunction". The operator can function again now without having to report the "bug".

James T.
August 5, 2010 8:33 AM

Yes, Glenn P. I posted this question. And yes, it's the end of the world, and I'm reporting bugs in Notepad. You see, it's not the bug that is the problem, I was using Notepad as an IDE for Javascript while VS 2010 was downloading, and the main problem I have is how to report this bug. I mean clearly, it was just looked over when the developers made the new notepad, and I was wondering how it would be possible to let Microsoft know of this. I'll call that number, and see if one day, I can get my solution to this. Yes, people are trying to find cures for cancer, but I'm just finding a cure for a bug in Notepad.

John L Brown
August 5, 2010 7:09 PM

Sometimes "operator error" in certain programs are not so much the result of operator error, but rather the result of confusing, overly complicated, or "incomplete" instructions, or information contained in the help topic, user guide, or instructions, generally. Developers often assume, especially in rather sophisticated programs, that the user has sufficient grounding to understand their instructions, therefore 'skip' certain steps, or explanations judged as rudimentary. In many cases this is understandable. Yet I have encountered numerous cases where developers provided instructions that are, at least in part, seemingly drafted to appeal to fully trained operators within a particular program type. In such scenarios, the 'bug' is actually the failure to provide straight forward instructions. This shortcoming warrants the same need as reporting real bugs. Moreover, if an operator neglects to even read the user information, generally, and specifically if a so-called bug arises, they are not in a position to complain. Often programs have known bug, duly noted within the user information. Further, there are usually associated forums available for review, that may well address relevant issues.

McCabe
May 1, 2011 4:07 AM

Frankly, as someone who's spent quite a long time analyzing, sorting, and passing on bug reports, the idea that an organization as big as Microsoft can't afford to take the time to analyze public bug reports is ludicrous. By limiting what reports come in, yes, you have fewer reports to deal with, but you also miss out on large pain points because your sample is smaller by a large factor than your actual userbase. This makes all reports you receive 1. biased towards specific hardware 2. biased toward specific use cases. Beta users and developers will always use your software differently than average users. 3. biased against usability. People who search for bugs are usually too close to the product spot these, or don't consider them serious issues despite how much they can affect a new user's experience. 4. of a different scope than the actual problem. You can only know how much a bug affects the general public by opening bug reports (keeping tabs on support requests can be a quick and dirty substitute, but you will miss a good deal of useful information).

As always, it's a trade off. By not allowing general users to submit bug reports, you tend to get more repros. But you also tend to produce, on average, buggier and less usable products, as well as one that's slow to respond to user frustrations.

Here's an example of how the Microsoft way will skew your product. It's common knowledge that the new Windows search introduced in Vista is unreliable, and will sometimes fail to find files that the user knows exist. Did someone report this in a Windows beta? Almost certainly. But these are technical-minded users reporting to technical-minded people. They know how to change their indexer settings, how to modify the registry, how to find hidden files, etc. There's little chance Microsoft realized how much an impact an unreliable search would have on the user experience, which is one of the reasons why Vista was such a pain point for people (search has been improved since then, but is still not as reliable as it was under XP and before). Being able to find files on your filesystem is a core component of an Operating System, yet users have no way of telling Microsoft "I can't reproduce this, but you need to keep looking at it!"

Personally, I highly recommend any company interested in improving their product for general users consider setting up a system to handle issues from the public. It's more work--you *will* get a high amount of user errors, as mentioned above--but if quality is an important benchmark for you, the benefits outweight the costs.

McCabe
May 1, 2011 4:15 AM

Ack, that should've been "As always, it's a trade off. By not allowing general users to submit bug reports, you tend to get more repros. But you also tend to produce, on average, buggier and less usable products, as well as ones that're slow to respond to user frustrations."

My mind had already moved from the plural to the singular before my fingers caught up :)

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