Solipsism Gradient

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Posted by Buzz Andersen:

Some good points. Upon further reflection, I think I’ve started to soften my stance a bit (I think the vehemence of my post may have been somewhat influenced by the rather irate support email that I received). There are definitely some problems with disk images, but you’re probably right that people who don’t “get” them are in the minority (and they’re probably the type of people who, honestly, would have problems regardless of how the software was distributed icon_smile.gif ). I know I’ve encountered more than two users who have run into this problem myself (probably more on the order of 6 or 7), but that’s still not *that* many.

You also brought up some good points about Internet-enabled disk images. Now I’m starting to think the solution to my problem might simply be to put a very prominent graphic with the words “Drag this to the Applications folder” and an arrow pointing toward the application into the background of the disk image.

Buzz Andersen of PodWorks fame has an interesting series of “Apple Complaints” going. In Apple Complaint #8 he writes about using .dmg files (disk images) to distribute software:

…The problem, as I see it, is that most people, when they download software from the Internet, are accustomed to receiving some sort of archive (Zip, StuffIt, Tar or what have you) which decompresses into a folder on their desktop. They then drag the this folder into their Applications folder, where it lives happily.

Unfortunately, as I have discovered, many people try to use this same procedure with disk images, which is a sure recipe for frustration. Earlier today, I received a rather irate email from a customer who was complaining that PodWorks was giving him an error dialog instructing him to “insert the volume” (the understandably brusque subject of his message: “YOU insert the damn volume”).

He also links to an earlier discussion on the subject.

From what I see, quite a lot of software for Mac OS X uses .dmg files for distribution. The advantages are quite clear for me:

    The software is downloaded as a single file, easily backed up.
    Double-clicking the file checks the file’s integrity, displays a license agreement (or installation instructions), and opens a Finder window containing the application and any ancillary files – or at least it should do so, perhaps with a background image.
    The user can then drag&drop the application to the Applications folder or wherever; no need to keep the other files around.

Here are the supposed disadvantages:

    Users freshly migrated from Mac OS 9 may not know about disk images.
    Users who are new to computers in general may not know about drag & drop or the application folder.
    .dmg files will not work on Mac OS 9 or older.

For my own applications, I found that my users are usually well-informed about .dmg files, drag & drop, double-clicking and so on; and they’re Mac OS X-only anyway.

Looking through my support e-mails, I found only two users who tried to drag & drop the .dmg file itself into the application folder, and they were easily instructed on the proper procedure. For experienced users, having no installer was favorably commented-upon.

Buzz also comments on Apple’s new-fangled Internet-enabled disk images. Frankly, I think they’re useful only in restricted cases: when the disk image contains a single file, and when you don’t want to keep a backup of the image. I found it very strange to download one file, only to have it disappear, and a differently-named file to appear in the same folder; indeed, the first time I mistakenly assumed the download had gone wrong, and downloaded it again a few times. Also, this will tempt users to leave the application on the desktop or in a download folder, instead of moving it to the Applications folder.

Any programmer should read Hackers and Painters, an excellent essay by Paul Graham, about the similarities between painting and programming:

For example, I was taught in college that one ought to figure out a program completely on paper before even going near a computer. I found that I did not program this way. I found that I liked to program sitting in front of a computer, not a piece of paper. Worse still, instead of patiently writing out a complete program and assuring myself it was correct, I tended to just spew out code that was hopelessly broken, and gradually beat it into shape. Debugging, I was taught, was a kind of final pass where you caught typos and oversights. The way I worked, it seemed like programming consisted of debugging.

For a long time I felt bad about this, just as I once felt bad that I didn’t hold my pencil the way they taught me to in elementary school. If I had only looked over at the other makers, the painters or the architects, I would have realized that there was a name for what I was doing: sketching. As far as I can tell, the way they taught me to program in college was all wrong. You should figure out programs as you’re writing them, just as writers and painters and architects do.

John Gruber interviews Brent Simmons of NetNewsWire fame. Instead of quoting huge chunks of it here, I urge you to go read it.

One of the best interviews I’ve read in a long time, and a must read for shareware authors.

Tim Bray (one of the original XMLers, and a member of the W3C Technical Architecture Group) wrote an article weighing the pros and cons of XML. This complements and expands on his previous article, XML is too hard for programmers.

Required reading for any programmer that uses/will use XML in some way. Which, nowadays, means nearly everyone, I think.

MacHack #18 will be held June 19-21 in Dearborn MI (in the Detroit Metro area). Sessions and papers have just been announced.

This will be the first time in some years that I’ll skip a MacHack – every year from 1997 to 2002 I’ve either attended or written a paper (sometimes both). Unfortunately, between the war, possible terrorist attacks, and the mysterious pneumonia outbreaks, the situation is not favorable for a trip to the US this year, and personal concerns have left no time for writing a paper. I hope that I’ll be able to attend again next year.

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