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October 2007
November 2007

2007-10-11 »

This journal doesn't allow comments, so you won't easily be able to criticize me yourself here. Instead, for a counterpoint, I'm offering this alternative series of articles by a mysterious anti-Avery. (Note: I'm not crazy. You're crazy.)

AMSE Sucks Part 1: One of these installers is not like the others

AMSE's installation process is kind of neat, in an innovative, genius-induced, and totally nonstandard sort of way. But here's the thing. Windows users have come to expect that installers work a particular way. They complain when there's no installer. They don't know what to do if there isn't one. How do I get my program into the start menu? How do I know I won't lose it? And of course, they'll tend to delete the .exe file they downloaded, because of course that .exe file is just and installer and it isn't used for the actual program, right?

Sure, AMSE deals with most of this: as long as you click the install button in the main app. If you don't - and remember, there's no wizard forcing you to do it - users might not notice that option, and the first time they run it might be the last. Not because they don't like it, but because they never can find it again.

This isn't the only one of the well-known Windows software installation rules that AMSE breaks. There are lots more:

  1. It installs itself straight to Start->Programs, not Start->Programs->Subfolder, which means it only gets to have a single icon in the start menu. In other words, there's no link to the readme, the documentation, or the uninstaller. Maybe you've never clicked on any of those, but some people do, and they'll be ticked off that you've left them out. You want to tell me about bankers? Bankers are conservative and careful; try to give them a program, but hide the documentation, and they'll be turned off. Even if it's free. In fact, maybe especially if it's free.
  2. AMSE doesn't install an icon for itself on the desktop or in the system tray. What's with that? Some users just can't figure out the start menu, instead choosing to start all their applications straight from the desktop. That's because the start menu's "All Programs" section is crowded with junk, while the desktop has more room, so it doesn't seem as crowded. Also, they can move the icons around and remember where on the screen they left a particular icon, making it easier to track down later. Not so with the Start Menu. There's a reason every installer in the world plops itself on the desktop. Users have no trouble ignoring an excess icon, but most have no idea how to create one that isn't there.
  3. AMSE can install itself even if the system is locked down and a user isn't an administrator. Seriously, what are you writing here, a virus? There's a reason the sysadmin locked down these machines - to prevent people from installing stuff and messing up their computer! Bypassing their safeguards just makes security worse. Never mind the fact that you might end up with multiple copies of the program installed, since non-admin users can't install a program to share with other people. Your program will clutter up my machines, and I, the sysadmin, am the one who's going to have to deal with it.
  4. You put all the supporting files in a single .exe, rather than installing them all separately. Why? There's a reason filesystems were invented; it's so that every single application doesn't have to write its own fake one. It doesn't matter that Windows opens, creates, and copies files slowly; users hardly ever do that. The advantage of a big directory filled with non-executable files far outweigh the disadvantages. What if I wanted to make a hyperlink to your online help (*.chm) file on my desktop? I can with any other program, but I can't with AMSE, because it doesn't even exist.
  5. And why is the install/uninstall process so fast? I mean it. You're making other people's programs, especially InstallShield, look bad by comparison. Long, slow software installation processes are critical on all sorts of levels. First of all, they make the computer seem scary and incomprehensible to normal users, which increases my value to the users. Installers also give consultants an easy source of stress-free billable hours: someone has got to babysit this completion bar, right? What if it asks a question all of a sudden? Exactly. If you ruin the whole perception that software installation is complicated and slow, you ruin my business. (Trivia: this is a complaint we frequently heard about Nitix too when I worked there.)
  6. I'm sure there is a reason your installer is so fast; you're probably forgetting to test compatibility with different OS versions, hardware configurations, and user/network settings. That's the value InstallShield brings. You should be fired for risking your company by writing an installer from scratch. Even if some of the things you did do turn out to be good, one mistake and you've blown all of it instantly.

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