mether's Fedora Blog

Random thoughts, usually on Fedora

Stop screwing around with updates

If you have been a Fedora 11 Thunderbird user, the last update was likely to cause you some confusion. Two primary things:

* Smart folders
* Global indexing

While these are useful features, pushing them as an update was a really bad idea. These features should have been disabled by default in an update. The first feature rearranged my folders. Suddenly my Inbox had moved from where I expected it to some place else completely. It can be disabled by the really tiny arrow marks on top. The second feature of course sucked up CPU trying to index gigabytes of my mail while I was waiting around trying to send a urgent email. Again, this feature too can be disabled in the UI.

Maintainers should really think about whether they want to push a beta release of any software into a stable release of Fedora. If the advantages are really prominent, take extra care before pushing any updates. Think about whether the update is really necessary. If so. one week time in Fedora updates-testing is just not enough to get enough feedback on this.

While I have started running Rawhide primarily and can cope with this problem, this is not an acceptable way to treat our end users. If you are a Fedora user, I appreciate you letting us know your feedback.


Written by mether

October 12, 2009 at 5:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

19 Responses

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  1. I’m going to pick up the (co)maintainer’s defense here, as I think he did nothing wrong:
    * F11 shipped with Thunderbird 3.0 beta2. The previous update was 3.0 beta3. So the update to 3.0 beta4 is NOT an update from stable to beta, it’s just tracking the 3.0 betas in the effort of eventually converging to the stable release.
    * Because F11 shipped with a 3.0 beta, there’s no stable branch to update from, so the only way to keep up with upstream security fixes is to move along the beta road until the 3.0 release. It is Fedora’s policy to prefer upgrading to backporting for security fixes, and especially for Mozilla packages, backporting is not really viable.
    * New features in updates are a good thing. For example, our KDE updates also sometimes come with new features and our users thank us for it. And there are more “enhancement” updates being pushed (and I think that’s a good thing), “enhancement” is one of Fedora’s update categories and our users have come to expect it.
    * Minor UI changes can happen as part of such an update. As long as there’s an easy way to get the old UI back (and you already found that), I don’t see this as a major issue (though changing the default to the old UI might have been more prudent; that said, it would probably have needed upstream buy-in given that this is Mozilla, and the Fedora maintainer(s) might have weighed the UI change as being for the better and thus a good default). Interestingly, KMail had minor UI changes in our KDE 4.2 updates (there too, easy to switch back to the old style), but we got zero complaints about it. I wonder if this is because KMail’s changes were less drastic, because KMail’s userbase is more tolerant of changes or because the changes were just better. 😉
    * Addition of features like indexing is also something quite reasonable for an update. There again, there’s a checkbox to turn it off. (And the same discussion about defaults as above applies.)
    * 1 week of testing is quite reasonable, as the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. At the time the update went stable, there was one negative comment on the line of this blog post, but with no concrete issue that could actually be fixed. (He pointed out third-party addons not having caught up with the new beta yet, but that’s not something Fedora can fix.)
    * The decision to push to stable was apparently automatic, based on +3 karma. (It’s now only at 1, but that’s because of the 2 negative comments after the update already got pushed.)
    * In addition, this update is a security update, which makes a short testing period even more reasonable.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, from the description of the features, I’m also not sure of their usefulness nor their fitness to be the default, but that’s an issue to take up with upstream Mozilla. Pushing feature updates to stable release is part of what Fedora is about. And especially in this case, as F11 shipped with a 3.0 beta, moving along the beta road towards 3.0 was the only way forward for security.

    Kevin Kofler

    October 12, 2009 at 6:35 am

  2. The maintainer choose to include a beta release. There were numerous discussions in the Mozilla forums about upcoming UI changes. So it might have been more prudent to not just include a beta at all in the first place.

    It is not merely a question of enhancement. Having your mail client be unusable due to sucking up the CPU and having your folders reorganized in a update is NOT at all reasonable.

    Karma based automatic push is OPTIONAL and the maintainer should have clearly not done that in this case. It would have been easy enough to turn off those two very disruptive changes.

    I know the “Oh Shiny” mentality that is plaguing many maintainers and they should think about the user impact more carefully in general. The cavalier attitude towards updates really needs to stop.


    October 12, 2009 at 6:45 am

  3. Disabling karma automatism doesn’t actually work:

    And the decision to ship with the beta appears to have been made by the primary maintainer, Christopher Aillon, not by the comaintainer who pushed this update.

    Kevin Kofler

    October 12, 2009 at 6:57 am

  4. Bottom line: I don’t care about who choose to create this mess or how exactly it happened but as a user it is definitely a bad user experience for me. That much is undeniable.


    October 12, 2009 at 7:06 am

  5. I didn’t like either feature change. Like the poster, I was in a hurry the next work morning after the update. The indexing didn’t help anything, and the Smart folders took extra time as I’ve all sort of order and nested folders with filters to move things to.

    I think the new features should have been pushed to keep Thunderbird up to date, but I think they should have not been the Fedora default until F12.

    I hadn’t had time to look into it, but I’ve since turned off both features.

    Jason Roysdon

    October 12, 2009 at 7:09 am

  6. Fedora does what Fedora does. There’s really nothing that users can do to change that. If they don’t like it, they load Ubuntu or Suse or something that seems closer to what they want.

    The only feedback Linux distributions generally get from end-users is a lighter load on their servers as user move to another distribution.

    Mace Moneta

    October 12, 2009 at 8:31 am

  7. I didn’t really care about the smart folders or indexing.

    What chapped my ass is they removed the “Delete” and “Reply” buttons from the toolbar. Okay, yeah, it took 10 seconds to add them back again, but it’s an irritation that simply didn’t match any other increase in functionality (read/write LDAP yet? No? Wake me again later).


    October 12, 2009 at 8:47 am

  8. I got hit by the indexing aspect. For two days the CPU just munched over mail and, I sat there watching my stuff slow down because I could not switch off the indexing. However, post that, the search feature is too good to have.

    I haven’t been had by the SmartFolders thing though.


    October 12, 2009 at 9:17 am

  9. I really like the indexing and barely noticed any performance hit. My IMAP server is on my local network, was it actually a network issue rather than CPU? I do find these sorts of changes in Fedora somewhat annoying, but I also love trying out new features. If I wanted stable, I’d be at least running one release behind if not something like RHEL/CentOS or Ubuntu LTS.

    Joshua Daniel Franklin

    October 12, 2009 at 9:29 am

  10. I don’t think fedora should not update these things. If i want a stable non-changing system i’s rather use any of the many other distros available. The change was not too much for me. I think it also told me about the changes in the thunderbird window.


    October 12, 2009 at 1:27 pm

  11. @mace: yes, of course, the most reasonable, proportionate and fine-grained tool we can use to discuss and perhaps modify the behaviour of distributions is the ‘I’m going to go and use another product now, thanks for playing’ stick. The ‘here is a reasoned and detailed explanation of why I think what you did was perhaps ill-judged’ carrot is just a crazy idea. Why did I never realize this before?!

    I’m sorry, I may be cranky tonight, you get through quite a lot of beers when it takes the damn Canucks a full OT period and a shootout to beat the frickin’ Stars. jeez.

    Adam Williamson

    October 12, 2009 at 1:32 pm

  12. I agree that the change over was a bit confusing, however there are easy ways to change the behaviour for both.

    All in the name of progress.

    Jon Pritchard

    October 12, 2009 at 2:01 pm

  13. > Bottom line: I don’t care about who choose to create this mess

    It matters because ironically Christopher Aillon is one of the folks who recently complained about feature updates on the fedora-devel-list.

    > but as a user it is definitely a bad user experience for me.

    Then you should be using a more conservative distribution. Being always current is part of what Fedora is about.

    Kevin Kofler

    October 12, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    • There is difference between providing staying current, providing new features to end users and being disruptive. I use Fedora because it is innovative and provides me the latest features but an update causing this disruption cannot be dismissed like that especially on a software where people rely on it day in and day out for important work.


      October 12, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    • Correction: he complained on fedora-advisory-board, not fedora-devel-list.

      Kevin Kofler

      October 12, 2009 at 7:17 pm

      • I have responded earlier to that mail.


        October 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    • >Being always current is part of what Fedora is about.

      Be a little more straightforwardly honest.

      Fedora’s track record on distinguishing between “current/latest software” and “not ready for general users” is not without blemish.


      October 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

  14. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    There will be a huge move from fedora to Centos 6 when RHEL 6 comes out. And in the end there will be no Fedora user community. The few fedora users left ( comparatively speaking of course ) that have not migrated over to Ubuntu are not happy with the ever changing changes, instability, ( whatever you want to call it ) that is fedora.

    Now, Fedora developers may say , good riddance, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out ” or Ununtu / Centos is more for you anyway. But this is going to be a big problem for Fedora/Red Hat. If there are no users on Fedora submitting bug reports, ( or no Fedora Community ), Red Hat *will* Suffer and Fedora will truly be just a Alpha of RHEL.

    For the reasons above, Red Hat should respect Fedora users a bit more as the Fedora community ( user, not developer community ) truly are their free beta testers. Without them Red Hat would be a different beast altogether.


    October 12, 2009 at 11:18 pm

  15. […] problem gets fixed The last Thunderbird 3 (beta 4) update issue I talked about in a couple of posts has been fixed and users should get a new update that disables both indexing and smart […]

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