In comparison to other platforms, installing software on OS X is a breeze. Usually, you just drag and drop the program from the disk image to its destination, and you’re done. Even some complex programs can be a snap to install — Office 2004, for instance, has its installer hidden in its code, and it’s smart enough to run the first time you launch any Office app. So even though it installs stuff to a bunch of places, it’s transparent to the user.
The third option is Apple’s installer, which helps guide the user through the software installation process. The installer is the ideal solution for programs that need to install things in many spots, and require administrative access to do so. And while using the installer is still a very simple process, I still find it a frustrating process at times.
As an example, consider my recent installation of a new version of Snapz Pro X, the indispensible screen capture tool. Please note that this is not intended to be a slam on Apple’s installer or Snapz Pro X (which I rely on every day!). Rather, it’s just an example of how the process can be a bit frustrating and confusing, along with a couple of suggested improvements.
The first thing to do, of course, is getting to the installer step itself. I’m assuming that the program has been downloaded, the archive expanded, and the disk image mounted. So now it’s time to run the installer, and again, I’m using Snapz Pro X for this walk-through.
- Double-click the Snapz installer package. [2 clicks]
Wait a second, and you’ll see this screen appear:
Note that most OS X packages don’t cause this screen to appear. I’m not sure when it crops up, but sometimes it does (only for apps that install kernel extensions?).
Now I consider myself a relatively astute OS X user. However, I have difficulty understanding the purpose of this dialog box. The top part seems to imply that the installer is about to run a program which will check to see if my system can handle the package I’m about to install. That makes some sense to me — perhaps it goes out to make sure I’ve got 10.4.1, for instance.
But the second part of the dialog box delivers a different message: If you don’t know the source of this program, then cancel out now before it has a chance to check whether you can even use it or not. So I’m confused: is this a security screen, or is it really a compatibility check of some sort? According to a friend who should know, it is a security screen, and there’s no compatibility checking that goes on at all.
Even if you’re not sure of the source of the software, there are plenty more opportunities to cancel the install, so I really don’t get the point of this dialog. Regardless, we need to click the Continue button to make it go away. [3 clicks total thus far]
- Introduction screen. Read the text. Click Continue. [4 clicks]
- Read Me screen. Read the text. Click Continue. [5 clicks]
- License. Read the license agreement. Understand none of it, thanks to legalese. Click Continue [6 clicks]
- Whoops, a new pop-up. Now we have to agree or disagree with the license agreement. Unfortunately, it’s popped-up right over the license itself, so if you want to go back and check what it says, you’ll have to click Disagree. I’m sure there’s a legal reason why an attention-grabbing pop-up is required here, but it really makes no sense — why can’t the Disagree and Agree buttons be located at the very bottom of the license agreement window? In any event, click
Agree to keep the process rolling. [7 clicks]
- Select Destination screen. Pick which drive, if applicable, for the installation. Click Continue. [8 clicks]
- Installation Type. Assuming you don’t want to (or can’t) customize the installation, which is a whole series of more clicks, click Continue. [8 clicks]
- Enter password when prompted, and click (or press Return). [9 clicks]
- Finish Up screen. Click Close. [10 clicks]
Whew. Although there’s nothing complex in that process, if you were keeping score at home, you saw 10 mouse clicks, two pop-up windows, and one password dialog box. As I said, it’s a smooth process, but it still seems to involve a lot of user interaction. So how do I think it could be improved?
- For those programs that require the initial pop-up warning, change the wording. If it’s designed to be a warning, then warn us: ‘This installer includes a kernel extension. Kernel extensions can do all sorts of Really Bad Things™ to your computer. Are you sure you trust the source of this program? Click Yes to continue installing or No to quit back to the Finder.’ That would let you know precisely why you should double-check the authenticity of the program prior to installing.
- Put the legal acceptance buttons directly at the bottom of the license agreement. Even if it took a click to make them appear, at least it wouldn’t be dropping them down over the top of the agreement itself. Ideally, these buttons would be in a fixed frame, so you could scroll the agreement while keeping the two buttons onscreen.
- If the “install type” options were listed below the drives in the location selection screen, you could combine these steps — highlight the drive to install, and then press the right button: Normal (highlighted), Custom, Upgrade, etc.
I’m sure there are other things that could be done to smooth the process. Those are just a few that struck me as I worked through my dozen-odd mouse clicks last night. And really, the installer is a great tool — installing a kernel extension on Linux would require a much higher degree of technical skill. It’s also relatively idiot-proof, so that people of all experience levels can use the installer without fear. But if they could eliminate a few mouse clicks from the process, I’d be a much happier user … and change that silly initial warning dialog!