Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

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Regarding our previous discussion here (and a few posts before that), Erik J. Barzesky writes that he prefers .dmg files for archival purposes:

The time for DropStuff/Deluxe has passed. I find myself using .tgz on the command line for files I know to be safe (i.e. those without resource forks). StuffIt Expander will continue to be useful for at least a little while, but for now, .dmg is the way I intend to go.

I still use DropStuff (part of Stuffit Lite) for temporarily archiving installed applications or data files, but I agree with Erik that .dmg is the best way for archiving things.

Regarding software distribution, my experience is that most users also want to archive the original .dmg, so that’s what I use for my own products.

Der Schockwellenreiter quotes a marvelous cautionary paragraph from Daniel Steinberg‘s article Transforming iCal Calendars with Java:

This code is presented as an example. Do not use it on data for which you don’t have a copy. It hasn’t been widely tested. Consult a professionally trained computer scientist or a twelve year old child before attempting anything difficult on your own machine.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I won’t be able to make it to MacHack this year… however, I strongly recommend this year’s conference for anybody interested in programming for the Mac.

MacHack #18: Unstoppable will be held from June 19-21, 2003, in Dearborn, Michigan. The official theme is the Spinning Pizza of Death icon_biggrin.gif. Have a look at the contents; I’ve never seen so many papers and sessions, all very interesting. This will certainly be a conference to remember.

For the first time, MacHack will happen before Apple’s WWDC, which will begin immediately afterwards: June 23-27 in San Francisco. In other circumstances, this close juxtaposition would make it possible for me to attend both conferences; let’s hope they do it again that way next year…

Hi Buzz, thanks for dropping by…

Buzz Andersen wrote:

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.

Right, there’s a point of diminishing returns for idiot-proofing, otherwise “normal” users will start to complain that the application or the installation process is too patronizing; just look at the average Windows “wizard”…icon_wink.gif

Buzz Andersen wrote:

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.

Exactly my point. I’ve thought of adding “…and eject this disk image”, but that may already be too condescending.

I’ve also read a suggestion (can’t recall where right now, sorry) of providing a symbolic link to the Application folder on the disk image, and saying “Please drop the application here”. Supposedly some BeOS installers worked that way – it sounds interesting.

Posted by Buzz Andersen:
Rainer,

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.

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