Friday, March 07, 2008

Installer Theory

Let me go into the installers in a little more detail before I start a mini-riot. Basically there are three "installation" operations that we (Laminar Research) support:
  1. Installing a new full sim from a DVD.
  2. Installing a new demo from the internet.
  3. Updating any installation from the internet.
The problem with the current installer model is that tasks two and three (get a new demo, update an existing installation) are handled by a single application. This means that the web-demo-installer/updater cannot know which choice (2) or (3) the user is trying to do (since both are legitimate) and therefore user error can result in the wrong operation.

The most common problem we have is users installing new demos when they meant to update a DVD install. The result is an old copy of X-Plane with scenery, a new copy without scenery, and a very confused user who has to contact us for help.

The solution I am working on is simple: provide separate applications for all three tasks.
  1. Like before, the DVD installer comes on your DVD. It installs the DVD, nothing else.
  2. A demo installer does nothing but install the demo. You get the installer from the web, probably from the "demo" page (which would have to no longer be an "update" page too). The demo installer always does a full install, and will stop you from trying to install on top of existing installations.
  3. The updater is always fetched by the app and updates the app. Thus the paradigm is that the app is "self-updating" (even though most of the work is done by a helper application). That updater (fetched by the sim) can only update the copy of the sim that fetched it.
Dealing With Problems

The above work-flow is meant to address most users doing the usual thing without technical problems. We must also consider how we will deal with tech support problems, and finally what the impact is on advanced users. There are two cases where we sometimes have to help users out:
  • If the DVD installer for some reason will not work for a user's computer, we usually provide a downloadable DVD installer. You would insert the DVD, run this "DVD installer" and thus install the DVD. This is not the normal case, but we will probably continue to provide DVD installers specifically for users with tech support problems (based on the tech support incident), just like we have been in the past.
  • We will provide the updater directly for users who need to update the sim but cannot launch the sim. This is the exception case, so a direct link to the updater would not be globally advertised on the main page of the sim. Rather it would be a support link, again only provided to users who really need it. 98% of the user base will be able to update from the sim.
When you run the updater from the web (the support case) it will prompt you to locate your X-Plane folder if needed.

Advanced Users

Will you be able to keep multiple copies of X-Plane around? Absolutely. But you'll have to manage your operations in terms of the "three operations" (make a new install from the DVD, make a new demo install from the web, update any one version you have laying around).

If you want to get a new web demo, you'll have to use a separate application than you would for an update. I don't think this is a huge problem; generally your best bet for keeping an old copy of X-Plane (when running a new beta) is to simply copy the entire X-Plane folder, rather than downloading the contents from the net.


Murmur said...

"We will provide the updater directly for users who need to update the sim but cannot launch the sim."

Isn't this going to be a nightmare for support? Especially during beta runs...

Benjamin Supnik said...

We're trading the small nightmare of helping users who can't launch the sim at all for the large nightmare of incorrect installs.

It won't be hard for us to give out a specific updater to a specific beta if the need arises.

By comparison, the vast majority of the tech support load we have now is installer-related issues, and of that, install-in-the-wrong place is the number one item in that bucket. We have to change the process!

Anonymous said...

For the few of us who do not have direct internet access, will it still be possible to keep the software up to date?
The way I have kept my X-Plane software current is by downloading the complete updated versions at work, and manually transferring the scenery and custom files to the new copy. Has been working fine.

Benjamin Supnik said...

Anonymous: I believe that this will be possible, and as before, you'll need enough free space on the web-connected machine to have at least some kind of minimal installation.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,
Thank you for your reply above. I have one more request. I am running X-Plane at home on a Mac, and download the updated versions at work on a PC. Until Installer 1.23 there was an option to download Mac versions on a PC, but in the last installer version 1.24 I cannot find this option anymore. Could you please bring that option back?
Thanks for your consideration,

Benjamin Supnik said...

Anonymous: preferences to select alternate OSes will be back in the updater pretty soon I think.