Installing Software on Mac OS X: Improvements Needed?

Ever since I upgraded from MacOS 9 to the first version Mac OS X, I’ve often wondered how user-friendly OS X is with regard to installing software.

Finally (now that I’m using the latest (Panther, 10.3.4), I thought I’d document the install process and make some notes as I go. And using my usual usability test criteria, I’m going to pretend and act like I am a computer neophyte.

By the way, I noticed that Paul Thurrot linked to this article (he hated the title; he was right; I changed it). Paul seems to think I was talking about “Software Update,” which is Apple’s automatic update system; I wasn’t. Software Update is actually very good software. What I am talking about is installing NEW software in Mac OS X.

Also, I have “open safe files after downloading,” a preference in Safari, turned OFF, due to this bug, which has not actually been fully squashed.

Anyways, read on for more info …

For the test, I took an Apple-created app, Backup. I wanted something that was representative of the standard, suggested, normative OS X installation process, and software created and distributed by Apple itself ought to meet that standard. I’m also going to assume that the software is found and downloaded from the internet, since my best WAG is that most software that is installed these days, by volume, is downloaded and installed.

OK. Here we go:

  1. Step one: get software
    Find software on web, click on link, download to hard drive.

    OK, now I’ve got a new icon on my desktop. It has the name ‘backup’ in it, so it must be what I just downloaded. But it ends in this odd ‘.dmg’ suffix. What the heck does that mean? However, since I’ve been using a Mac for a few months (remember, I’m going through this like a newbie), I’ll try to double-click the icon and see what happens. I’m guessing though … it certainly doesn’t TELL me to double-click it to install Backup. (.dmg by the way, is short for Disk Image – something else a computer neophyte or even a fairly advanced user would probably not have a clue about.)

  2. Step two: open downloaded file

    Some interesting and baffling things happened. I double-clicked the file, it opened a little window that had a progress bar it in, which said something odd about opening, then verifying, and finally attaching. Opening sounds good, verifying sounds good too, but I’m not sure what attaching is.

    Anyways, what also happened is that a new Finder window popped open on my desktop. Note that I’ve dropped out of the newbie mode for a minute – a newbie doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you say ‘Finder,’ which is simply Macspeak for the tool you use to navigate your hard drive.

    In this window are some things I recognize as being mine, and some things I notice are new. The new things are a file with a funny icon called Backup.pkg and a readme, the name of which is trucated because I like my Finder in column format (definitely non-newbie-ish), and the column is too narrow for the whole name.

    Well, no-one, including newbies, reads readmes, so …

  3. Step three: double-click installer file
    I have no idea what a .pkg file is, but this window opened up in front of me, so I assume it had something to do with what I was just trying to do (which is install Backup), and double-clicking stuff seems to make things happen in Mac OS X, so maybe I’ll try that again.

  4. Step four: welcome to the installer

    Ahhh … now … finally … I am actually at something I think makes sense: an installer screen. “Welcome to the Backup 2.02 Installer” it tells me. Well, I’ve already been at it (installing) for quite some time. But I’m so happy to see something that seems to make sense, I’m relieved to be where I am. I click “Continue.”

    But notice in the image that there 6, yes 6 more steps ahead. Better take some food and water along.

  5. Step five: ignore the readme
    This doesn’t really require more comment, does it?
  6. Step six: ignore license
    I click continue after not reading the license.
  7. Step seven: agree to the license again
    After you click OK, Mac OS X doesn’t really believe that you’ve read the license. (Why ever not?) So a little window comes down from the main installer window and forces to you agree to the license to proceed. I click Agree to something I have no intention of reading.
  8. Step eight: select a destination volume for the software
    OS X wants to know where I want to install the software. Well, since I have no connected disks and no partitions on my PowerBook disk, where else would I install Backup?

    No-one knows, but I must click my hard drive icon in the installer before “Continue” is once again clickable. And don’t forget, as a newbie, both “destination” and “volume” in this context are very, very obscure terms. I’m flying along on faith here.

  9. Step nine: select installation type
    I have a previous version of Backup installed, so the only option available to me is “upgrade.” If this is the case, why do I have to make a decision here? If I had no version installed, the only option, presumably, would be a clean install, so why even make the me think about it?
  10. Step ten: authenticate
    When I click to do the upgrade, OS X wants me to enter my user’s password, so that it knows it is authorized to make the changes.
  11. Step eleven: install and optimize
    Immediately after entering my password and hitting enter, the install procedure begins. The install is fast, and the installer shows me progress in a progress bar.

    After installing, however, there is an interminable wait while OS X “optimizes system performance.” Why it needs to do this, and why it needs to do it now, on my time, and why it takes so long, are all questions that I cannot answer (as a newbie or advanced user).

  12. Step twelve: click Close
    After finishing the optimization, the installer tells me that the software was successfully installed. I have to click “Close” before the installer will go away.
  13. Step thirteen: clean up for Mac OS X
    I still have two files on my desktop. One is the .dmg disk image (as a newbie I have no clue what it is, of course). Once is something that looks like a connected disk (newbies don’t know what a connected disk looks like) and says Backup 2 underneath it.

    What do I do with these? Are they the application? If so, which one? Can I safely trash them? Can I trash them?

    Fortunately I know, as an advanced user, that I can delete the Backup_2.02.dmg file by dragging it to the trash, and I can get rid of the Backup 2 icon by ‘ejecting’ it by option-clicking the icon and selecting “Eject Backup 2.” What a newbie does with this I shudder to think. Why Mac OS X doesn’t clean up behind itself, at least after politely asking me, is beyond me.

  14. Step fourteen: start the software
    Installing software is not complete until you actually use it, of course, so now, I must go to “Finder,’ navigate my hard disk to Applications, find Backup, and double-click it to start.

Now I know that most Mac software is significantly easier to install. Most apps follow a simple model:

  1. download
  2. double-click to expand
  3. drag to applications folder

But this is Apple’s SOP. This is the supposedly normative Apple procedure. And it’s not user-friendly. It’s not easy. It doesn’t even, in some cases, make sense.

It should be a much easier process – maybe a general installer built into the operating system, accessible via the menus, that:

  1. goes out and finds software for the user
  2. installs it without bugging the user about stupidities and trivialities
  3. tells the user where it is being installed and offers a button that starts it up for the first time and offers to create a dock shortcut or desktop alias to the software, all at the user’s choice
  4. still asks for the user’s password so as to protect security
  5. cleans up behind itself

In other words, Apple needs to create a newer, better Software Update. Eventually, it should include a payments system for paid upgrades and updates, and new software.

In other words, it should be an iTunes music store for software.

Let’s go, Apple. Time to lead again.

12 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree that an install should clean up after it’s self; Unless the use wants to retain the dmg file. I don’t want automatic updates and payments. If users can’t manage updates they need to seek more computer training. An automobile owner should be able to put fuel in a car and air the tires. Anyone without an air gauge is dangerous and isn’t ready for driving responsibility. Computer users need to be able to handle simple task and responsibilities on their own.

    In fact,as to extend the analogy, drivers need a lot more training.


  • John, I almost forgot to mention that I love your URL. The Gilgamesh and Inkidu (sp?) story is a favorite of mine.


  • I have to disagree partially (go figure eh? πŸ™‚ Most of the mac software I’ve installed involved safari automatically attaching the dmg file and auto-popping up a new finder window with the dmg contents. A fair amount of the time the finder window pops up with a big “drag this to your applications folder” message.

    Even if there isn’t a message installing an app on os/x seems to be the ‘drag icon to where you want it’ type instead of the run pkg installer type.

    Either way it’s still better than windows or linux πŸ™‚

  • You are not using the Software Update feaure (2nd item under Panther’s blue Apple menu). With that just a click on install (to okay an update) is required and maybe a click on Restart at the end. This is simpler then Window’s Update.

  • No, and when I do it is great, but the fact is that there is software that you want to install that, amazingly enough, does not come via Software Update. And, in fact, one of those pieces of software is Backup 2.02, presumably since it was unique to .Mac clients.

  • It appears you have turned off “open safe files” in the safair preferences (not a very newbie thing to do). So this eliminates step 2 and makes step 3 not so confusing.
    Steps 4, 5, 6 ,and 7 are ether required at the time you load the software or at the time you run it. You have to give a readme and license and disclaimer (the popup indicates the importance of reading the agreement).

    Step 8 is useful (so you know where things are going) but it should default so the continue button can simply be used.
    Step 9 is a generic step and IMHO should be removed but is simply a mouse click.
    Step 10 is a security thing. If you don’t want it, log on a root but it is a good thing and should be there.
    Step 11 is not a step as it is a continuation of step 10 requiring no user interaction.
    Step 12….well what did you want it to do once it installed?
    Step 13 is where I think apple could make things better. Maybe offer to clean up for you as a button possibility in step 12.
    Step 14 is not an installation step. Yes, you will have to run your application but if that is difficult you need to write another article.

    You can also contrast this to the quicktime installer
    1. Download (image is mounted and installer is launched)
    2. Click OK through agreements
    3. Select install disk
    4. Select Upgrade
    5. Give password
    7. Close
    8. Clean up

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Why do I get the feeling that you’ve turned on “Show all file extensions” in Finder’s preferences?

    But file-extention-awareness is something that needs to be improved on the Mac. Apple has spent a long time hiding extensions, but they’re going to have to change (instead of this half-half system they’ve got now). On the windows platform, almost everyone (even newbies) know what a .exe, .zip and .msi (new, but gaining recognition, especially amongst Microsoft releases) and Apple needs to promote a similar awareness for their extensions and icons.

  • the page does not render properly in IE6…parts of the article are covered by a screenshot

  • Well, obviously if you have no knowledge of anything, then everything is difficult. A trueism. That said, this may be one area where Windows is slightly more intuitive but compared to the mess that Windows makes when you try to uninstall or remove programs it is a price worth paying. Hacking the registry to clear out old program info that messes with your new program info is painful even for long-time windows users.

  • That’s funny…. Backup 2.02 shows up in my Software Update just fine (if I have an earlier version installed).