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Bug Report Friday

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Recently Dan Wood came up wit the idea of ‘Bug Report Friday’ for Apple bugs. The idea is to file bug reports with Apple and then share them on the web, so other people can join in. I’m filing bugs more or less regularly anyway, so this isn’t a big deal. However – with Apple’s bug database remaining as obscure as it used to be – I’m not quite sure this will help a lot. Why should Apple start considering a certain problem more important just because a handful of people wrote about it? But on the other hand, doing this won’t hurt. So I’ll try to go along, list my favourite bug of the week and live in the faint and vain hope that this’ll make a difference. Even if it doesn’t, perhaps seeing bug reports all over the web can give us a better idea of how to write an efficient bug report and which problems are really tickling people.

Before I start, let me ask a question: What’s the best way to file feature requests for the bug reporter itself? I didn’t find a way to do that. And sadly, with their updates in the past years, Apple first removed the feature that the report field came pre-filled with their bug template, which you now have to open in a popup window, and recently they stopped sending you e-mails in case they have further questions and just colour the bug requiring your attention in the list of your filed bugs. I consider both of these to be inconvenient and making bug reporting and timely answers to questions more difficult than they need be – than they used to be, in fact.

And let me digress further. As we’re supposed to point to our favourite bugs this way, I’ll use the opportunity to point out a few of my old reports the problems of which are still around.

2885759: Decimal Separator Setting Doesn’t Affect Numeric Keypad
This is the first bug I ever filed with Apple (on March 22 2002). And my favourite one. It’s about how the decimal separator key on your numeric keypad used to be hooked to the decimal separator in the original MacOS and how it isn’t in OS X. This can be quite a nuisance when the officical decimal separator in your language is a comma instead of a dot (e.g. German). I’ve tracked the bug through OS versions and sent yearly reminders. Since X.4 the situation became even worse than it was before as you can’t customise the decimal separator anymore.
3070744: Address entry in Mail
Another old one – nearing its third anniversary. When wanting to send an e-mail to Claus, say, I’d like to hit Command-N, type Claus, tab, tab and start typing. In MacOS X’s Mail application things don’t work this way, though, as you’ll have to wait until the autocompletion works before hitting tab. So you can’t just type but also have to pay attention to the computer. Even after years I’m still tripping over this one every week. Note how even pine handles this better.
3521147: Mail doesn’t restore column widths reliably
I hate this one as well. Basically every other time I do a search in Mail (on both X.3 or X.4), the useless relevance column is displayed (and cannot be removed) and after returning to the non-search view, the column widths I had set up manually have been destroyed.
3241640: NS(Set)ShowsServicesMenuItem()
This is a Cocoa function that was supposed to let developers (de)activate services menu items. I never saw it work and (since X.3, I think) it’s been documented as ‘deprecated’. I always thought this would be a very good thing to have with all the services that are around. E.g. in UnicodeChecker we have plenty of services and I’m pretty sure that each user doesn’t use more than three of them but always has to painfully locate them in the long submenu.
4152158: iTunes searching and accented characters (fixed in iTunes 5!) and 4224039: iPhoto’s Filter field can’t handle Umlaut U and A (ü ä)
The iApps are quite bad at filtering for accented characters. And they’re bad at it in different ways. iTunes requires exact entry of Maxïmo Park or Sigur Rós to find bands of those names and iPhoto just won’t find anything with an ü in it (ß are fine, though).

All right, I think these are my favourites. And with all the frustration brought to us by Apple’s bug reporter in terms of lack of responsiveness, let me note that for some of the really bad bugs – i.e. system crashes – they were usually very quick to gather additional information and those crashes went away within a few updates, which is probably to be considered reasonably quickly considering the monstrous sizes of OS X and Apple. So the bug reporter is slightly better than the giant trash can that it sometimes seems to be.

But now to my bug of the week. Actually I filed it Thursday… but it was already Friday in India at the time, so I hope that counts. It’s once more a bug in Mail and one that keeps irritating me. Not only because I run into it frequently but also because it really looks like an unnecessary glitch where all the basics to make it work properly are in place already.

4241545: Mail displays active encryption icon for every message you reply to.

I filed it as ‘Other Bug’ which perhaps sounds more trivial than it is. But as probably very few people only get to see it and no data is destroyed, labelling it ‘Serious’ would’ve been overdoing it in my opinion. To see the problem you need to be able to sign messages, i.e. have your own certificate in your keychain. Mail will then display the buttons that let you sign or encrypt a message. And when you’re creating a new message the button for encryption will only be enabled if you have public keys for every recipient (in the most basic cases this works quite well and is quite clever about letting you CC encryped messages to people who can’t decrypt them, but once you start editing the fields, this gets wonky as well… but I don’t really care and it’s not my point here).

So the basic idea about this is that the encryption icon will be disabled if you can’t possibly encrypt the message. Which makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, if you reply to a message rather than create a new one manually, the encryption icon will always be enabled. As I keep losing track of whose certificates I have, I keep clicking on the encryption icon for people who haven’t sent me a certificate. And then I’ll get an annoying error message. Grr.

Bug report text

SUMMARY

When replying to a message, Mail will _always_ display the active encryption icon, even when there is no public key available for the recipient. Clicking the icon will give you an error message, pointing out the missing public key.

In comparison, when creating a _new_ message, the encryption button will be inactive unless public keys for all recipients are available.

REPRODUCE

0. Make sure you have a private key /certificate in the keychain for your Mail account.
1. Select a message you received from a person for whom you don’t have a public key.
2. Reply to that message

-> The encryption button is active.

EXPECTED

The encryption button is inactive as there is no public key against which to encrypt. I.e. the same behaviour as when creating new messages.

September 2, 2005, 23:25

Tagged as bug.

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