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December 15th, 2015

Ubuntu Bugs That Won’t Go Away

I grew up on a farm and ranch up until I was fourteen. It’s a tough life, best suited for tough people who can beat their environment into submission and produce the results needed to thrive. Should I ever have displayed the poor judgement to complain about something within earshot of my dad, I would get the same advice every time.

“If you’re bitching about something, then you ain’t doin’ nothin’ to fix it.”

Wise words from a man with hands as rough as raw leather and a broad back made for ten hour days of hard work. That work began for him on the Montana prairie at the age of eleven, the age when he could saddle his own horse and accurately fire his Marlin 35 varmint rifle. It’s been 38 years that he’s been gone, but every time I find myself pissed off and griping about this or that, I can hear him as clearly in my head as I could then from inside the tack shed.

The Ubuntu bug

Photo by Messer Woland & courtesy Wikimedia.

Most times anyway.

This isn’t one of those times, but maybe together we can figure something out. I’ll pose the question to you, in hope that we might be able to provide a workable answer.

“What good is free and open source software when no one bothers to fix the stuff that’s broken?”

Sure, we tout our ability to fix security issues when there are thousands of eyes inspecting our code. We’re not shy about telling folks that Linux is much safer due to mass exposure to people who know what they are looking at. We stand proud at the summit of that fact and wave our flag for the world to see. But how about we do a bit of housekeeping while we’re in there looking around?

The emails and text messages started coming last Thursday afternoon. Some of our ReGlue kids were getting dire messages popping up on their computers, and the majority of the calls were from kids using Lubuntu.

“Sorry, Ubuntu 14.04 has experienced an internal error.”

Did you get that? Ubuntu has experienced an internal error. Not “Chrome has experienced” or “Thunderbird has experienced”…Ubuntu has experienced an error. Well holy frickin’ bovine-like carbon-based unit. If I were a novice Ubuntu user and my computer informed me that my entire operating system was experiencing an internal error, I’d be running around in circles with my hands flailing in the air like my remaining hair was on fire. That’s not too far away from the mental state of some of those contacting me. Important homework files are on their computers, as are family photos and documents. It was pure unmitigated panic.

I was stymied about the Lubuntu thing. Yeah, we do install Lubuntu on some of our older, resource-challenged machines. It’s worked nicely…up until now. But these rapid-fire complaints came in so fast I assumed a system update had hosed something. Turns out it’s a fairly well-known bug.

This from Askubuntu.com:

Q. I am using Lenovo B460E. I installed Ubuntu 14.04, and when I log in it is showing an error message ‘Sorry, Ubuntu 14.04 has experienced an internal error’. I reported many times but the Window is constantly appearing. Also, when I try to shutdown it gets stuck on the Ubuntu logo.

A. I had the same issue when Ubuntu 14 just came out but after updating these problems disappeared.

You have to look in the details of the popup to see which program is causing the error. This is very important to know what is going on. The popups may come from different packages. Based on that info, you may also find more information in your /var/log folder or find more information on the issue at https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu.

Once you report the issue, the necessary data is sent for review and will be fixed in a later update.

Did you get that last part? The part where it says, “the necessary data is sent for review and will be fixed in a later update.”

I’m wondering just how long it’s supposed to take “necessary data” to be reviewed. I mean, since Ubuntu is open source and all…seems to me this problem should have been fixed by now. And no, this isn’t the first instance of this error. I’ve found the same problem reported back in June, 2012.

Really folks…really? 2012? And many of us wonder why Linux is considered a hobby operating system. While this problem is not near as dire as the popup might lead us to believe, new users don’t know that. It is frightening to them. And don’t even think about uttering what seems to be the standard response: “Well Ken, Microsoft also has a poor track record of fixing bugs too.”

Yeah? Your point? How does pointing out someone else’s failure mitigate that same failure elsewhere? It doesn’t. It doesn’t mitigate anything. All it does is indicate that someone else is exhibiting the same behavior. At least Microsoft has a somewhat valid reason as they only have a relative few who can access the code. But for us, there really isn’t any excuse.

However, there is a valid reason, and I’ll explain the difference between an excuse and a reason later. It’s TOG syndrome, as in the Other Guy will fix it. We’ve got thousands of The Other Guys assuming that The Other Other Guy will take care of it. That’s where this inertia comes to gravitational center. But do you know what can break that inertia? Money.

Here’s the deal. Since this bug hasn’t been properly addressed, or seemingly so, I’ll pay a bounty of $200 for this bug to be permanently fixed. I am sure Reglue will okay the matching of my donation to fix this, but I cannot guarantee it. And for those who haven’t already looked this up, it’s a problem with Apport. I’ll even do part of your work and guide you to the place where the whole problem can be seen and studied.

So, who’s up for it? Proof of acceptance of the code has to be proven via the many Ubuntu websites such as Askubuntu. And it’s sad that this sort of problem has to be gunned down from the outside. How many people code for Canonical? That’s rhetorical, it’s not important to the discussion.

Do you want to know what is? Don’t be The Other Guy.

Oh, as promised:

Reason: – noun As a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action, the basis or cause for a belief or action. Most often a reason can be proved as true or accurate.

Excuse: – noun As a pretext or subterfuge, an explanation offered to justify or obtain forgiveness. Often seen as a lie with no one wanting to expend the energy to expose.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

27 comments to Ubuntu Bugs That Won’t Go Away

  • Connie

    3 years (or more possibly) is rather a long time…but there may be “reasons” or “excuses” for this; either way such frustrations occur invariably. I guess the issue would be that any OS/distro distributor open or closed will be getting millions of such reports for review. It would be impossible to track all of these problems, trace the faults, design a fix, then ensure that that fix does not break something else and then put it out within a reasonable time-frame. They are triaged, and the deal breakers and the easy are dealt with quickly, and the difficult ones or those that break other things delayed, and ones where the fix is impossible or more painful than the cure are ignored.

  • Mike

    I don’t use any variant of Ubuntu but this doesn’t sound like a real bug. It sounds like any number of bugs with unrelated programs that are caught and displayed in a common dialog (probably to help someone’s idea of branding).

    It sounds like the real problem is a badly designed and worded dialog. Like pretty much every Windows error message ever.

  • Uncle Ed

    >I was stymied about the Lubuntu thing. Yeah, we do install
    > Lubuntu on some of our older, resource-challenged machines.

    Possible translation: machines possibly given to younger and less-experienced students who don’t need more horsepower. The students who don’t understand error messages and troubleshooting and don’t have resources to fix them.

    This isn’t good. I’ll put $100 toward matching your $200.

  • Either you have omitted specifics given in the error message that identifies what program / package is crashing… or the error message isn’t saying. I’ll assume the later. From the description it sounds like there is a general purpose crash reporting mechanism that is reporting a crash but not including much in the way of specifics about what crashed. A sort of, “something is broken somewhere maybe,” message. Trying to search for a bug report for that will reveal pretty much any bug that is reported by the same tool… and the vast majority of your search results will most likely be completely unrelated… and you are on a “wild goose chase.”

    The real question is… is the user able to get their work done but are occasionally interrupted by error messages that appear to have no obvious consequence to the user? OR… are they trying to run a particular application and it isn’t working… and giving the error as a result? If it is the former, it is likely that a package update is causing unexpected (to the crash reporting system) warning messages that is confusing the crash reporting system into thinking there is a problem when there probably isn’t… which is to stay the bug is more in the crash reporting system itself. I’m just stabbing in the dark here.

    If it is the later (the user can’t get work done), more details please. Without relevant details, you have absolutely no hope of this ever being fixed no matter how much bounty money you put up… or how many times you refer to generations past as being better than the current one. I’m imagining a pop-up message for most every article you write that says, “The author is referring yet again to the mostly imaginary good-ole-days, because like you, he is old now.” 🙂

  • linuxtinker

    Switch your systems to Slackware I have never seen a “bug that reported on my system” If I had issues I would just as on the Linux questions forums and usually have an answer in a day or two why and how to patch it. I have never had any long term luck with Ubuntu or it’s variants.

  • Scott, thanks. I included a link but it looks like it didn’t translate into posting from the WYSIWYG. The problem is with Apport, in most all DE environments. Those warnings pop up so fast and in such rapid-fire succession, that it’s whack-a-mole on steroids. A search “for apport warning” brings up dozens of instances of this bug, and while it does offer a way to stop it temporarily, it doesn’t address the problem at it’s root. Apport is the tool that reports system errors. I don’t know about you but I’m not comfortable disabling my system error warnings to stop one renegade instance.

  • Randal

    I’ve been having this recently, and haven’t had time to check it out. Around the same time, there was an update and then the browsers I have installed, all started crashing. I assumed the update was causing intermittent instability in the networking core. (or Trumpet Winsock as I remember it from my Windows 3.1 days)
    After another update, the browsers stabilized, but then I started getting the Apport issue.
    Notice I mentioned a Windows issue before. I had this issue on another computer before it had a hardware failure, and no update. I brought me back to the reformat/reinstall thinking of the old days.
    One more reason, I would like to get through the holidays, and find the time to learn/play with Slackware and/or Linux from Scratch. I’d like to feel less dependent on others, to both understand and fix problems.

  • CFWhitman

    After reading all of this I don’t see a specific bug that has existed for any length of time. The only problem I see is that the standard text of the error message is general rather than specific until you click the “View Details” button in the dialog box.

    This error message pops up for any number of bugs that turn up, are fixed, and get replaced by new bugs that activate the same error dialog. It could be a crashed screensaver or a buggy desktop applet or a service running in the background. There is no way to know what actually activated the error message without clicking the “View Details” button. Whether you actually view the details or not, hitting “Continue” sends the details of the crash to Canonical. If you’d rather not send the details, you have to hit “Show Details” and uncheck the box “Send an error report to help fix this problem.”

    Generally, this dialog will not start popping up regularly out of nowhere. It will be the result of a recent update, a newly installed program, or a hardware problem. If it’s from a recent update, then it will usually be fixed shortly with a new update. If it’s a newly installed program, then there may be an update or it may be a program that is not well maintained in the repository (some screensavers, for example, should just be disabled to prevent this from showing up). Obviously a hardware problem will generally get worse until a bad component is replaced. At any rate, the “Show Details” button will give you the name of the executable/binary involved, and you can then evaluate how serious the bug is likely to be with that information.

    As you have probably figured out by now, no bounty is going to make this dialog go away forever because the next bug that comes along will make it pop up again. That is, unless Canonical revamps their error system.

  • There is another “reason” why the issue may have lingered so long. Others have hinted that the error message is a generic message for a variety of root causes… but there does not seem to be any major issues resulting from them. The senior contributors may not have prioritized fixing the root causes or the centralized reporting mechanism and the “outsiders” may have provided fixes that were rejected because of the quality of the code or the failure to follow accepted best practices.

    I suggest that we need to address this as a PR issue. If Canonical can agree that this is possibly a low-priority technical issue, but a high- or critical-priority user experience issue… perhaps there is another person with the right influence to help champion and prioritize this within the “inner circle” of senior contributors. Who would be the right person to carry the torch into the inner circle?

  • Tim

    This is one of my chief complaints with the Ubuntu ecosystem. Desktop-related bugs do not always get the attention they need and this is sad because the Desktop experience is what a lot of new users build their impression of Linux around.

    Personally I have migrated away from Ubuntu to Arch Linux on my machines. I much prefer the Arch approach where there is little to no patching done on most upstream packages. That makes reporting bugs and getting them addressed much more straightforward IMO.

  • Jorge

    Can you link to the bug that’s actually being reported?

  • I like Lubuntu on weak machines, but one of the first things I do is disable apport. I find it to be nothing but a nuisance.

    Yes, I know this is not a fix.

  • Deserthowler

    I got tired of this error a long time ago. There is a fix of some sort but I don’t remember what it is. I quit using Ubuntu because of their lack of interest in solving the problem. I felt this showed a lot of sloppy work on their part and a lack of interest in polishing their work. I suppose it is now a feature such as the BSOD.

  • Bryan

    Could we get some pastebin syslogs or the actual bug report?

  • From a brief search at Google, this error seems to be part of a crash reporting program called Apport. Now this goes as far back as 12.04 (I haven’t seen earlier references in my search but I didn’t go further than the top half of the first page of my search results.

    I found a couple of sites that might help. This one shows you how to disable the Apport service. It might work for 14.04 (although it refers to 12.04):
    http://howtoubuntu.org/how-to-disable-stop-uninstall-apport-error-reporting-in-ubuntu

    This one describes what Apport is and why and how it behaves the way it does: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Apport

    I hope this helps
    Keep up the great work, Ken

  • Kelly

    2012? That’s nothing. The following bug has existed since at least 2007, possibly longer. It even transitioned from Gnome2 into Mate!

    On the desktop, add the weather report to the panel. Then right click to set properties. Under Location tab, type “Houston” into the search field and do the search. It finds it in the string “Houston County Airport” in Crockett County TX. Now hit “Find Next”. Nothing! Yet, 3 pages down, there is Houston as a category, with 3 strings underneath it starting with the word Houston! That’s some good coding there, Lou!

  • Onan the Barbarian

    Kelly: that bug has been “fixed” in Gnome 3 as you can’t install panel applets any more.

  • f1computerexperts

    apt-get –purge autoremove apport-* problem-* Save yourself some resources.

  • Ben

    To stop this error message Ubuntu would have to fix EVERY bug ever causing internal errors. The bug causing the message now may be a different one to the one in 2012, which has probably been fixed. I think there’s a checkbox to stop future messages? The whole internal error message is a bit of a design flaw though, as it would cause distress 🙂

  • “And many of us wonder why Linux is considered a hobby operating system.”

    Ubuntu will be a Linux distro for sure, but Linux is not Ubuntu. I am stressing that because for a lot of Linux newbies out of there the misconception Ubuntu = Linux is quite common. Ubuntu is probably the buggiest and most badly documented Linux distro out of there, it shouldn’t be taken as an example. People on Debian, Arch, Slackware, Gentoo, CentOS, Fedora… have a much different life. I understand why the focus on Ubuntu though, since it is the mainly chosen distro by beginners (I don’t get why, since installing Debian is pretty much as hard as installing Ubuntu nowadays… and what about OpenSuse?).

    Ubuntu is not that bad because the lack of competent, motivated developers or resources. The complicated way developers have to commit software and documentation pays a role. Have a look at this thread: https://linuxmusicians.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=14865 . It shows pretty good how the Ubuntu development model actually pulls talented developers out of the distribution or prevent them to join. Moreover, it shows pretty well how you cannot just pass by, make a patch, commit to the code and win $200. For every distro you have to obtain commit privileges, but with Ubuntu is quirkier. This is mainly Canonical fault and there have been massive complains from the Ubuntu community in the past.

    I think you kinda chosen the wrong example to complain (for one time) about some stuff that is not good about Linux. This “update” inertia is typical of Ubuntu. On Arch updates come very quickly: it is really better to update at least once a week if you want to avoid a solid Gb of updates. So bugs and regression disappear as quickly as they appear. On the other hand guys on Debian stable get few updates and run the version that proven to be stable, avoiding thus new bugs. I am running both on different machines and I couldn’t be happier.

    I totally agree with your main point though, we all should contribute more.

  • crosscourt

    Ive had the issue with all versions of Ubuntu except Ubuntu Mate and Kubuntu. Ubuntu Mate in particular has been stellar and Ubuntu Gnome the worst in regards to this bug.

  • twogun

    Just remove Apport. I had this problem when I installed a version of Ubuntu for someone. I don’t remember, but think it was Lubuntu. I was in a hurry to finish the job so I just removed Apport. No more problems.

  • crosscourt

    Already removed Apport but was just commenting that some versions of Ubuntu arent having the same issue. Ubuntu Gnome was a real nagger with warnings but Mate havent seen one both were the 14.04 versions.

    With so many alternative distros now such as LXLE instead of Lubuntu, Linux Lite instead of Xubuntu and the addition of Ubuntu Mate, you can always move on.

    Annoying as this issue is its really pretty minor versus some issues Ive had with other distros,that make the system completely unusable.

    Presently trying Q4OS which is excellent, based on Debian.

  • Randal

    Coming back to report the apport log, showed the problem was with something that Ken has talked about before, FLASH.
    Due to the holidays, away from the computer/home, so paraphrasing from memory, flash problem caused by a version of flash which was marked ignore.
    Saw on Linuxquestions, someone new to Linux, who was having a similar issue and know Adobe who gave up on Flash for Linux, actually released a major security update for it recently. Seems to me that it might be related.

  • 2_OK

    Ok!

    Lets say one of my points of view on this one.
    First of all, I know about Ubuntu for a long time, however first time I tried it had some bad software that was not working.
    Lucky me, I have worked on Linux on the servers before, so this first experience was not so …
    Still I use it, just to say that …

  • Okay!

    I have a problem like this.
    There was some movie and it was funny, actually very funny, and there was one article about something in Linux thing, yes on this site, it was with some picture of abacus, now I feel strange, because I fell like I need to punch my PIN number on that abacus thing.

    HaPpY NeW Year,

    Just hope that I don’t break any lows,