December 02, 2008

Notes from Adobe installer management

As I mentioned recently, I asked some of the Adobe staff responsible for designing, building, and managing the company’s installers to provide feedback on the concerns and criticisms we’ve heard regarding CS3 and CS4.  In this post’s extended entry, first Barry Hills & then Eric Wilde from the Suite engineering group share their thoughts.  –J.




I lead the Engineering teams for Creative Suites shared technologies which includes the Installers.


John Nack provides a tremendous service to the Adobe community with this blog by encouraging honest and open communication about the goings on at Adobe, our apps and our product development. I sincerely appreciate the lively discussion here and am happy to engage directly with any of you on the issues and concerns raised.


In every product cycle, we take comments from our customers very seriously for all products and features.  Installers are no different.


For all of you who want to see the CS installers improve in CS5 and beyond, I am the one to whom to direct your issues, concerns and questions (I have included my contact info at the end of this note).


We are always looking for more customers to engage with to understand how to improve your workflows and overall experience so if you send me your contact information, I will be happy to call you up to discuss in person. I very much appreciate your direct feedback as it is what helps us make better products.


In CS3, there were some serious problems that customers faced and the time it took to resolve those issues in customer support made the initial experience with CS3 painful for some customers.


In CS4, the responsibility for CS installers came into my organization and we focused almost all of our development time on one thing: make the installer experience more robust so that the vast majority of customers could install the software successfully and start using CS4 apps without any issues.


There was work done on performance and the good news is that while the data transfer rate was improved in almost all cases, the bad news is that we are installing more apps and files in CS4 so net install times are slower in some of the Suites.


We are looking at various ways to install less and allow more choices of what gets installed in CS5 to improve net installation times.


And YES! I agree that we should not require 3rd party apps to shut down before installing (we do need to close Suite apps). I have an RSS feed on this “bug” and am following it closely. I understand why there was a desire to reduce the chances of installer conflicts with open apps, but I am strongly on the side of being able to browse the web and do other things while you are installing.


In addition to the focus on installer robustness, there was also a concerted effort on making the actual tech support experience better if you did encounter a problem which has enabled more effective problem resolution.


For example we created an AIR-based utility which will review the installer log and automatically point you to the Tech Note that applies to the issue you have. If that doesn’t resolve the issue it packages up the installer log file so your tech support experience is streamlined.


In CS4, we did not focus on several of the user experience and multi-machine install issues that are referenced in some of these messages. That will be a priority for CS5.


Installing an application to a HDD… it sounds obvious and trivial (I often see the ‘why not just copy *.*?’). The reality is that there are limitations in the OS provided installer technology and package management systems that are problematic for the Creative Suite (particularly when uninstalling the shared libraries which support the tight integration between products).


Despite the criticisms of the CS4 installers (and some are quite valid), there are 51% fewer Technical Support Installer related calls in CS4 vs. CS3 over the same period.


We certainly know we have a ways to go before talking about ‘how much the installer sucks’ is a thing of the past, but there are a lot fewer frustrated customers these days.


I am quite serious when I ask you to contact me directly if you are so inclined. I may not tell you what you want to hear but I will be open, honest and take your issues seriously and use that information to influence the CS5 plans.


I have had a couple of good exchanges with John Welch.  While colorful and not very shy, he has a lot of great insights on what is needed to improve the installers for multi-machine/IT environments. The CS5 Installer team is meeting with him in December and I anticipate that we will have a productive discussion with the outcome being a positive influence on what we do in CS5.


Likewise, I had a great conversation and follow up emails with Pierre Igot who wrote one of the other blogs talking about the shortcomings of the CS4 installer.


Pierre is a true advocate of great customer experiences and will also be a “lighthouse” customer providing early feedback to make sure we are on track to improve the workflow and polish of the user experience.


I encourage anyone else with the same passion for seeing improvement in the Creative Suite installation experience to get in touch with me directly to discuss your concerns and potentially participate in our pre-release program so you can see the progress being made and provide feedback directly to the Installer team.


My Engineering Manager for the CS4 Installer, Eric Wilde, has provided a guest blog post (below) to respond to some of the specific issues, provide some detail on the Installer design decisions raised here, and to briefly discuss some of the priorities for CS5.


I certainly do appreciate the frank and lively discussion that is taking place here which shows there is passion shared by many for delivering a quality customer experience.




Sr. Director Engineering and Program Mgmt.
Creative Suite Business Unit
Adobe Systems, Inc.


Adobe uses numerous install technologies, each with their own pros and cons. The install technology chosen for any given product is based on the install needs of the project. For simple products like Lightroom we can use MSI or InstallShield in a pretty straightforward fashion. The platforms’ install technology can satisfy the needs for many simpler products. When a product comes along that is as complex as the Creative Suite, we begin to run into limitations in the platforms’ install technology.


The Creative Suite has a particular challenge in that it includes a couple of layers of products. There is the Creative Suite installer itself, which includes many point products. Each point product must be installable both as a component of the Creative Suite and as a standalone installer for when the user purchases just a point product. In addition, there are extra layers of shared technology across the products that must be package managed accurately to make sure the uninstall of any one product does not break the other products remaining on the system.


These multiple layers of package management are not adequately supported by platform install technology for both Mac and Windows. Add to this the sheer size and scope of the Creative Suite and we run into scalability limitations for the package management that is available within platform install technology.


One could argue that Adobe should make simpler products that don’t require such complex package management. While such an approach is appealing, it would also cripple some of the features which make Adobe’s products so compelling. This is particularly true for features that function across the various products within the Creative Suite.


There are a handful of other reasons why Adobe chooses to implement its own install technology. Some of these reasons are important for our users, such as a reinstall workflow on the Mac. Others are more about efficiencies in creating our installers, such as being able to easily produce installers for multiple platforms without having to work around the quirks of multiple installer technologies.


While we realize that our install technology is not perfect, we have been doing our best to make it satisfy the most important needs of our customers. In CS4 we focused on making the installer robust so that even though it was long and sometimes painful to install the Creative Suite, the install most often succeeded. As Barry mentioned, customer service calls for installation-related issues are down by more than half compared to CS3, so we feel we have indeed addressed some of the most egregious install problems. We do recognize the troubles felt in enterprise environments and are diligently working to address those problems as quickly as we can.


Eric Wilde

Engineering Manager

Creative Suite Business Unit
Adobe Systems, Inc.

Posted by John Nack at 9:49 PM on December 02, 2008
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