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Installer Hell

[Editor’s Note: At various times I’ve complained about installer programs, which I generally think are overkill for a well-written, compact program. However, now that more and more programs have tons of little accessories like XTND filters, dictionaries, help files, and tutorials galore (and you thought Barbie dolls came with lots of accessories), many companies have decided to go the installer route. Here’s a reason from Paul E. Jacoby why that’s not such a hot idea.]

MacDraw Pro now uses Apple’s Installer program to place itself on your hard disk. This is primarily because there are considerably more parts to the package now (the Program, Help file, Dictionary files, XTND system files, XTND translators, etc.).

The Installer method is supposed to be very straightforward, saving the user the pain of making sure all component of the MacDraw Pro package are properly placed. However, the Installer is a bit brain-dead, and can mess up the installation very easily. Here is the situation:

A user with multiple hard disks who opts to install MacDraw Pro on a hard disk which is NOT the System disk will find the installation to be flawed. The Installation process assumes that you will place the MacDraw Pro package on a hard disk which contains a System Folder. Since this will not be true on a secondary (or tertiary) disk drive or partition, a major fumble occurs.

  1. The Installer creates a System Folder on the target disk drive.
  2. The Installer creates a ‘Claris’ folder within the new System Folder on the target hard disk.
  3. The MacDraw Pro Help file, dictionary files, XTND System files, and XTND translators are placed within the new ‘Claris’ folder on the target hard disk.
  4. The MacDraw Pro application is placed in a ‘MacDraw Pro Folder’ folder on the target hard disk.

If you assume that all is well after the install and launch MacDraw Pro, you will find the following problems:

  1. The MacDraw Pro Help file cannot be located, thus you cannot use Help.
  2. The Claris XTND translators cannot be found, thus you cannot import documents from other programs.
  3. The dictionary files cannot be found, thus you cannot use the spelling checker.

Super, your new, nifty, MacDraw Pro is not fully functional! Time to delve into the documentation and try to figure out why not. If you are experienced with Claris products, you will rapidly recognize the problem (especially when you see the System Folder sitting on your non-System hard disk!). Moving the items in the Claris folder to your existing Claris folder (in the active System Folder), or creating such a folder in the active System Folder will allow MacDraw Pro to work properly. The funniest part of all of this is the warning in the manual that you can NOT install MacDraw Pro by just dragging things to your disk. Seems to me it would have been faster and more precise to do just that 🙂

I wrote to Claris at [email protected] and got the following response. Tom Barnum gave me permission to post it to the Internet, so I presume TidBITS is fair game as well.

The installer actually makes life much easier on a system with a single hard drive. All the files are placed into the correct places, and the Installer even checks versions to make sure you’re not installing an old version of a file over a newer version. It obviously falls flat on installing to a non-system hard drive. This is beyond the capabilities of Apple’s installer at this time. I hope that someday we’ll have an installer available to us that can install files onto two hard drives. In the meantime, the best installation strategy for two-drive users is to install onto the system drive, drag MacDraw Pro onto the non-system drive, then delete the MacDraw Pro application from the system drive. Then everything is in the right place.

I mentioned that the easiest way to install on a non-System hard drive is to do an Easy Install to the system drive, then drag the application over to the non-system drive. This is the easiest way, but obviously you need an extra 1.5 megs or so on the system drive to temporarily install the application. The other files (dictionaries, help, etc.) are best put in the Claris folder in the System Folder. Many of these files are common to Claris products. They’ll all look to the Claris folder for these files. So, you only need one copy of the dictionary, help and XTND files to service all Claris apps that use them. This can save hard disk space.

If you’re really tight on hard disk space on the System disk, you can place the dictionaries and other auxiliary files in the MacDraw Pro folder on the non-system drive. MacDraw Pro will look to its own folder for the dictionaries, help and XTND files.

[The electronic medium falls down here, as it’s hard for me to indicate that I’m the one writing again, and not Paul or Tom. I’m stepping in again to make a couple of points. -Adam]

  • Installers are not inherently evil, but most are poorly done.
  • Installers can be extremely useful in certain instances.
  • Apple’s installer is as close as we get to a standard Macintosh installer.
  • Apple’s installer has some problems, as evidenced by the above.

Therefore, we need a new installer. The best installer I’ve seen recently comes with Now Utilities 3.0. I found it to be simple and clear, and it tells you what each control does in an information box. Sure, it’s not balloon help, but many people don’t use balloon help, even when they should. Apple’s installer has some good points too, like warning you which disks you’ll need ahead of time. You can even write a script for Apple’s installer, but from what I hear, it’s very hard to do. StuffIt Deluxe can work as an installer as well, but it’s mainly used when the files are compressed.

Someone, preferably Apple so it becomes ubiquitous, should come up with an installer which can do at least the following:

  • Copy files to any user-specified folder on any hard disk, but allowing a suggestion from the developer that the user can override.
  • Install or change resources in files. This will also allow large, split files to be joined.
  • Delete specific outdated files.
  • Perform expansion of compressed files in one of the popular formats.
  • Give the user a text preview of what will happen. If multiple disks are involved, that too should be made clear.
  • Provide feedback throughout the entire installation process.
  • Provide a reasonably simple method for creating install procedures.

Then I’ll be happy.

Information from:
Paul E. Jacoby — [email protected]
Tom Barnum, Claris Tech Support —
[email protected]

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