More on the Adobe CS4 Installer

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 14th, 2008 • 12:02 pm

Since my post yesterday on the lousy Adobe CS4 installer generated a fairly substantial amount of feedback (thanks in no small part to a link on Daring Fireball), including a post on Adobe product manager John Nack’s own blog, but also a fair amount of private e-mails, I would like to clarify a few things.

First of all, I don’t believe that I am “nitpicking” when I am highlighting numerous flaws in Adobe’s installation process. Yes, taken individually, these flaws are relatively minor issues, but taken together they add up to a rather unpleasant experience, and I don’t think it is unreasonable, unrealistic or excessively demanding to expect a better installation experience from Adobe.

The vast majority of Mac OS X developers have followed Apple’s lead and adopted a standard installation procedure for those Mac OS X applications that, for whatever reason, cannot be installed through a simple drag-and-drop operation. That standard procedure (using Apple’s own installer application) is not perfect , but I think it’s fair to say that it’s a pretty good one and, most important, it is familiar to all Mac OS X users.

Adobe persists in using a different approach. I have nothing in principle against that. But if the company wants to force Mac OS X users to go through something less familiar, it must have valid reasons to do so. I don’t see anything in the Adobe CS4 installation experience that justifies the use of a different approach.

On the contrary, the numerous issues I highlighted in the Adobe CS4 installation process are precisely an illustration of the benefits of using one standard installation procedure. Using Apple’s standard installer application means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and you don’t have to force your users to relearn how to drive.

One of the qualities of the Mac platform as a whole is the developers’ attention to detail. I am afraid that the engineers in charge of the installation process for Adobe applications and updates have consistently failed in that department in the past few years.

And obviously, in their response to my post, some commenters have also failed in that same department. I never said, for example, that I expected Adobe to “use autorun on the CDs” (as someone said in the comments on John Nack’s post). “Autorun” for CDs does not even exist in Mac OS X! All I said is that, when the installation CD is mounted in Mac OS X, the user should not have to manually double-click on the CD to show its contents in a Finder window. Properly designed installation CDs automatically open in a new Finder window once they are mounted. They don’t automatically run. They just automatically open in a new Finder window, usually in icon view, with a very clear indication of what the user is supposed to double-click on to initiate the installation process (in a single step).

Adobe, on the other hand, expects you 1) to open the CD in a new Finder window yourself; and 2) to open a folder on that CD in order to access the installation application itself, which is not even called an installer, which has a generic name and is located within a list of other stuff that the user does not need to see. It simply is not as straightforward as it should be.

I am not saying that the installation process does not work at all. Of course it does, and yes, of course, once the installation is complete, you no longer have to deal with the installer’s lack of polish, so it is a temporary inconvenience. But that is no excuse for providing a sub-standard experience. And, unfortunately, as others have noted, the lack of polish in the user experience also appears to be symptomatic of more serious underlying flaws in the technical aspects of the installation process. (Check out the “Comments” section on John Nack’s post for more on that.)

It is disturbing, to say the least.

I am also not saying that the Adobe CS4 applications themselves are bad. I haven’t used them enough to form a judgement on them yet. My first impression is not particularly negative. And yes, if I have to choose between a lousy installation process and decent applications and a decent installation process and lousy applications (as is the case with Microsoft Office 2008), I definitely choose the former. But I don’t believe it is unreasonable to expect both a decent installation process and decent applications, especially after you’ve paid hundreds of dollars for the product.

Some people also seem to think that I make too much of the requirement to quit Safari during the installation process. I don’t know about other Mac users, but I frequently have more than a dozen web pages loaded in various windows and tabs waiting to be read. Having to quit Safari and then reload all these pages later on is a pain. Again, if Adobe wants to force me to do this, it should at least provide a good reason for it.

I should also note that the requirement is not limited to Safari. When running the Adobe CS4 installer, you also have to quit all Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). Why? Again, there is no explanation. It might be because of these pesky Acrobat toolbars that Adobe persists in wanting to add to the Microsoft Office interface, even if the user does not want them.

What if you want the Acrobat Pro application, but you don’t want these toolbars in Office? What if you want the Flash application, but you don’t want Adobe to update your Flash plug-in for Safari right now, because it’s already up-to-date, or because it’s not important to you that you have the very latest version at this point in time? You have no other option. You have to quit everything right away just the same, with no choice and no explanation.

I am sorry, but I don’t think it is right. And it is also quite clear to me that Adobe’s engineers are imposing these requirements without always checking whether they are really needed or not. I don’t use Adobe’s PDF plug-in. It’s not installed in my Internet plug-ins folder. And yet when I installed the InDesign 5.0.3 updater a few months ago, it still asked me to quit Safari. In other words, Adobe’s updater didn’t even check to see if there was an Adobe PDF plug-in needing to be updated first. It just unilaterally assumed that anyone using InDesign 5.0 was also a user of the Adobe PDF plug-in for Safari.

What right does Adobe have to make such assumptions?

It’s all about user-friendliness, convenience, and intuitiveness. And I believe that my post on the Adobe CS4 installer shows that Adobe’s engineers still have a long way to go. If they think that they have solved all the problems with the previous version of the product (the CS3 installer), they are seriously mistaken.

There is simply no excuse, in this day and age, in a product that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, to persist in providing such a substandard installation experience, regardless of the actual quality of the products that are being installed.

One Response to “More on the Adobe CS4 Installer”

  1. kongjie says:

    Let me add something about CS3 installation(s) and perhaps not relevant to CS4.

    You described in your previous post the moment when the CD contents window opens and you wonder “What is this”

    The sad thing is that even in the installation instructions/read me for CS3 the instructions were wrong/inaccurate about how to proceed–what to click on, etc.

    Here is what it says under the “Mac” portion of “Install your software”:

    “–Insert the DVD in your drive, and follow the on-screen instructions. If the installer does not launch automatically, navigate to the application folder found at the root level on your disk and double-click Setup Mac OS®) to start the installation process.”


    1. There are never any on-screen instructions because the installer does not launch automatically.

    2. There is no item in the application folder named “Setup Mac OS®”. It’s named simply “Setup.” So then you wonder, is this the right one, or is there one especially for the Mac OS like they said in their stupid documentation? It’s a valid question because some install disks have both Mac and Windows installers. Not to mention that in the paragraph before this, they claim the Windows installer is named “Setup.exe,” which if the suffix is hidden is the same as the one you’re looking at!

    So–my point is that not only is the procedure screwed up, their simple documentation can’t even give the correct instructions.

    I can report from experience that any of my colleagues who have installed CS3 are confused to the point that they ask me what they should do. They are not advanced users, in fact they only install the Creative Suite because we do our event announcements in InDesign and they barely know how to use it. But this is whom installation instructions should be written for.

    It certainly doesn’t help that they tell people to “navigate to the application folder at the root level on your disk”. My disk? You mean my hard drive? What’s a root level? And what’s the application folder? oh, you mean the one named “Adobe CS3 Design Standard”?

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