Second chances

13Mar08

I installed a new program today. Actually, I installed it three times. Why? Because I neglected to choose the right options for my computer from the littany of obscure choices on the installer screen. I discovered this after about two hours of trial and error for what should have been a 15 minute process.

But it’s not even the poorly-described options that piss me off so much. It’s the fact that I had to uninstall and reinstall the program to change them. Make a single mistake, and you have to do it all over again from scratch. And don’t forget to save the configuration files, too. Those will be deleted during the uninstall, without warning.

I don’t know who wrote this particular program, and frankly I don’t care. But if you happen to write software that gets installed on someone’s computer, please be considerate enough to let them change their initial settings later. In other words, for each thing the user can enable or disable during the install process, provide some way to modify those choices once the program is already installed. Otherwise, people will be cursing your name each time they have to reinstall to change some obscure option.

For those of us who work primarily with web-based software, let’s be thankful there’s nothing to “install” in the first place. In fact, virtually every web application is designed so that options you choose now can easily be changed later. This is partly due to the nature of the technology, as nothing is being written to nasty places like the Windows registry, and partly the result of customer expectations for web-based software. In short, people don’t put up with the same crap online that they do with regular software, and I think that’s a great thing for everyone. I just hope more of the online design sensibilities find their way into traditional software, too.



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