I recently purchased a new workstation to replace my desktop machine, so I've been reinstalling my desktop software and buying and installing new applications. Installing Windows software will make anyone grumpy, so permit me to don my curmudgeon hat and present my top 10 software-installation annoyances. Keep in mind that these are my pet peeves (you might, and probably do, have your own).
For the past few years, setup programs haven't simply copied files and created Start Program icons; those tasks are now a minor part of what setup programs do. Modern setup programs are powerful tools for marketing and legal departments, which leads to my first four complaints and suggestions:
- If I paid for the software, the vendor shouldn't force me to register and provide my email address before the software will function. If the software is free, registering is irritating but acceptable—I'm trading a bit of personal information for the use of the software. If I want limited-time free support, the vendor can require that I register, but shouldn't sell that information under any circumstances.
- Products that require me to type in a 25-digit product activation code during setup shouldn't use zeros, ones, the letter "L," or the letter "O." (Or at least the software vendor should clearly identify numerals and letters on the registration label.) Even without these two digits and two letters, the vendor would have 34 to the 25th power possible activation codes.
- The software installation process shouldn't force me to fill in an organization name. I might be an unemployed private citizen who doesn't want to fib to get the software that I paid for to work. I found it particularly hilarious that one company sells a reduced-functionality version of its software specifically for home use, but the software refuses to install unless I punch in an organization name. What jokers!
- According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), home and small-business users buy only one copy of software for every four machines they use it on. If true, the vendors have my sympathies. However, most software companies are still in business and making money despite these losses. Competitive businesses price products at their long-run marginal costs, with some reasonable profit level added. Therefore, if vendors are being paid for only one-fourth of their products and still make money, then they've been charging too much. Software companies need to drastically reduce their prices if they want to force everyone to pay for every copy of their software—at least, that's what a competitive industry would have to do. And if they're not competitive, then they must be monopolies. (Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not recommending or condoning software piracy.)
- Software vendors can add an item to my Start Programs menu, but don't put anything on my desktop. Changing file extension associations without asking me is another no-no.
- Installation programs should be scriptable, packaged as Windows Installer files, or, preferably, both. In my 28 years of experience with microcomputer software packages, I've noticed that difficult-to-install packages don't survive very long. Make my life easier, and I'll be more likely to continue to use (and buy upgrades for) a product.
- Given the reality of regular system reinstalls, reinstalling software should be easy. Today's software has so many related files that I can't tell which ones contain my data and which ones I can skip backing up. Software vendors should include a "Back up your documents and settings" wizard that knows which files and registry entries I must back up and restore to return the software to its pre-reinstall functionality.
- If I have to reboot my machine after I install new software (or even new drivers), the software vendor likely doesn't understand how to write modern Windows XP and Windows 2000 software.
- Waiting until after I've paid for software to see its license isn't acceptable. A lawyer for a software industry group told me that maintaining copies of software licenses on a Web site is too expensive. Well, OK—any software vendor that wants can send me a copy of the license text file and I'll host it on my Web site—no charge!
- Industry sources tell me that 90 percent of software bugs are known by the vendor at the time the product ships. I don't expect companies to write bug-free software, but my life would be easier if I knew about and could plan around any product defects when I first install the software, instead of finding them the hard way. I'd offer to host the bug list on my Web site (in addition to the license text), but my Web server has only a 60GB hard disk ....
Close on the heels of registration-related woes are the chronic irritations in setup programs.
Finally, here are a couple of thoughts that relate to being a good corporate citizen. Corporate image counts!