Installation Methods and Usability: Apple Drag and Drop vs. Windows Wizard

I was really surprised by Ned Bachel’s rant on Apple’s installation procedure. To me this installation model appears not only very intuitive but also transparent:

  1. Double click on the .dmg file
  2. Drag the .app file to your Aplications folder
  3. ???
  4. Profit

Even a clueless of users will sort-of get what is going on here. Application files go into Applications folder – and to remove application from your system, you take it out from that folder and dump it into the recycle bin. I’m not an Apple fanboy – far from it. I’m not even a Mac user. I don’t own a Mac, I don’t have an iPod, and I’m not all that impressed by the iPhone. But, I really I can’t imagine anything more straightforward or transparent than this.

Apple's Drag and Drop Installation

Ned however prefers the windows like installation wizard. Surprisingly Jeff Artwood sort of agrees with him only to contradict himself in the last sentence. I think they are both missing the point here. This behavior is a well thought out design choice, clearly outlined in Apple developer guidelines. Say what you want, but to me this looks like a very good attempt to improve usability. You create guidelines, encourage developers to follow them, and thus offer the user consistent experience.

On windows the experience varies from one application to another. It really depends on developers choice. Some choose to use the Microsoft MSI Installer. Another popular choice is InstallShield, and Nullsoft Scriptable Install System. Some people simply choose to roll their own installer. And while all of them do the same exact thing, they differ with respect to the look and feel, and the presentation of the necessary prompts to the user.

Ned’s main criticism (other than his annoyance with zipped .dmg files which can be safely written off as developer’s mistake – kinda like putting a MSI in a zip file for Windows) is that finding the Application folder might be difficult and/or tedious. Or at least that’s the notion I got from his post. Sure, perhaps locating and opening the Applications folder might be confusing the first time around. But since installation is consistently done this way, I don’t see why would it be so much worse than a multiple step wizard. You just get used to it, just like you get used mashing the next button on the windows installer.

I think both Ned and Jeff are suffering from a classic “it’s different from what I’m used to so it must be bad” bias. They have certain habits, which are obviously a result of their OS preference. But, are windows power users really the best people to judge Apple installation method purely based on merit?

It’s interesting that Jeff does get it. In the last sentence of his post, he expresses the need for a “no questions asked” installers. He wants a big, “Install Me” button that users could press. But he seems to be so stuck in the “windows user mentality” that he does not recognize that this is exactly the point of the Apple installation guideline. The only difference between Jeff’s perfect installer and the Apple way is that one has buttons, and the other one has drag and drop mechanic. Is clicking a button inherently easier than dragging? Perhaps it is. But which design is better from the usability point of view.

One could argue that Apple’s method is more transparent to the user. Even the average user will know that all his apps “live” in the Applications folder and that’s where you go to modify it or uninstall it. Do Windows users typically know about the Program Files folder and it’s purpose? And is this knowledge a good or a bad thing? Do you want your user to know these things, or do you want him blissfully ignorant?

The truth is that we can discuss theoretical usability issue till we are blue in the face, and still get no actual insight into what users really need. The only way to see which method is better, easier, more intuitive is to put it to a test. Let’s gather a group of people with no prior computer experience (and hence no bias), let’s show them both methods, and then make them install bunch of common applications on each system. Then let’s have them report on their experience. My hunch is that we might get a 50-50 split right down the middle, with some people preferring one way and some the other. But my guess here is about as good as yours.

What do you think? In my honest opinion, apt beats both systems with respect to consistency and user experience. I mean, it will even download the package, and all it’s dependencies for you. I doubt Jeff and Ned would agree with me on this – but this is what works for me.

[tags]apple, installation, drag and drop, usability, apple installer, windows installer, installation wizard, jeff artwood, ned bachel[/tags]

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9 Responses to Installation Methods and Usability: Apple Drag and Drop vs. Windows Wizard

  1. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    It seems to me they make much ado about nothing. true both articles make the installation process seem more complex on the mac than on the win machine. Locating a folder surely can’t be a particularly difficult thing to do and if it is consistent across all installs it certainly wouldn’t be a problem. Windows programs lack such consistency some lack even an setup.exe. Even with a setup program some installations ask an end user far too many questions and some do not even install in the program files folder. A few seem to like to install to the C:\ appfoldername…that bugs me for some reason.

    I like keeping my program files folder sorta organized and have found some programs have problems if you do not let them install to the default location. Invariably your program folder becomes a mess no what ya do., uninstalls often leave trash there and trash in the registry too. In my experience most windows users do know about the program files folder and have a vague idea at least of what it is for. At least most know enough to stay out of it. haha.

    I’m not sure where you would get a group of people with no computer experience. I watched a video of Jane Goodall speaking the other day and she mentioned a tribal shaman using a laptop (windows probably) dressed in full native attire and resisting the westernization of his culture but using the laptop to surf the Internet and learn english. I suppose so he could better understand what he was up against. haha But nonetheless the whole world is becoming acclimated to our gadgets.

    I agree the simplicity of apt “beats both systems with respect to consistency and user experience.” People I’ve introduced ubuntu to totally love it and wonder why windows does not support such a system. Of course apt has its flaws mainly not everything is found in the repos, the newest versions of some programs take a long time to get added to the repos beginning users are going to have problems adding other repos and certainly are going to have problems compiling stuff and so on. But apt and deb are a great innovation :)

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  2. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Are you kidding? Users with no prior computer experience are easy to find. I’m not really looking for people who never used a computer – just for people who don’t own one, and probably wouldn’t be able to tell OSX from Windows.

    Hell, I wouldn’t have to look far for these people. Both my mom and my dad, my aunt on my father’s side, and both my grandmothers are in this group. So I already have 5 people in my closest family.

    And yeah, apt is fart from perfect, but when it’s working, its just about the best system I have seen.

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  3. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    Yeah i hear my parents don’t own a computer either. Altho they are under pressure from friends and church and society in general to get one. Not having an e-mail address these days is worse than not having a phone, lol

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  4. Kenny CANADA Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    The Mac install process is often made even easier when a link to Applications is put directly in the .dmg. Adium was the first Mac program I ever installed, and it only took a second or two of looking at this screen to figure out how.

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  5. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Kenny, thanks for the screen shot. I really don’t think installation gets any easier than this.

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  6. Dax UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    I have never used a Mac but am impressed with the ease of uninstalling a program. One of my pet peeves with Windows is that uninstalling a program can become a hassle. Some installers put a link in the shortcuts created on the Start menu. Some put an entry into the Add/Remove programs utility. Some do both. Some don’t do anything and expect the user to forget about the application or manually delete the application’s folder. The Mac way sounds much simpler since the user doesn’t have to hunt for how to remove the application. Click, drag, done.

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  7. Steven CANADA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I agree with Dax that the uninstall process on Windows is horrendous. However, I don’t think that the Mac process is very intuitive at all.

    The very fact that you need a screenshot to demonstrate how to install a program is a clear sign that it’s not clear from the installation process itself.

    While the Windows method of installation is not very good in itself, I believe the wizard approach is more intuitive for first time users. Sure.. first time users won’t have a clue whether to install for the ‘current user’ or for all users, or which directory to install to, but these are problems with the windows installer, not the wizard.

    If the wizard approach could be streamlined to be a one click process (there are many ‘quick-installs’ now.. like game installer). I think that approach would be usable by all.

    The mac approach definately has its ‘wow’ factor. Look at that adium screenshot, wow.. it even has a different icon when the Adium app is grabbed!

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  8. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    But you have to remember that on a Mac most tasks can be accomplished by some sort of drag-and-drop action. So this is not just a out-of-the-blue design whim. It’s a choice consistent with the overall Apple interface design.

    So if our “first time user” spent some time playing around with his Mac, this method may actually be intuitive to him.

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  9. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    If I was the emperor of software, every application would be entirely self contained within its own folder – all the program files, settings, configuration stuff, everything it needs to do its thing just in a folder conveniently labelled with the name of the application (then sorted into a few subfolders like program, data, settings and such)

    That way it’d be able to run from anywhere you like, be completely portable, no need to even install it – just look in the folder and hit the big shiny shortcut to the main executable.

    This might lose out on ease of changing system-wide settings, but if the OS had all the common variables contained in a highly trimmed down form of the Windows registry (preferably including documentation of what an option does within one click of looking at said option) then all the programs could reference that where necessary, or assume sensible defaults if it’s unavailable.

    I like portable apps for this reason, and I’m basing the above on how they tend to be packaged, why can’t all applications be like that – what actually purpose does going through the motions of “this is an application I have installed, this is one I have an installer for” serve?

    :mentally answers own question:

    The compression benefits of installer files could be got by making a super-simple installer that has one button – “unpack the application” then sends you to the main config file when its done in case there’s anything you want to change

    With the above addition the need for keeping things separated to prevent conflict between versions, or automatically installed malware is moot as well

    The emperor has spoken! :mrgreen: (now someone pick holes in my idea so I won’t feel so hard done by that it doesn’t exist :wink:)

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