World Wide Telescope: An Example of Why Nobody Wants to Install Software

Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope is an amazing piece of software.  I installed it on my 8-year-old son’s computer yesterday, and he spent a long time exploring the universe with it (and he said he can’t wait to use it again).

What’s also amazing is the explanation of how to download and install WWT:

 

This strikes me as an excellent example of why desktop software is paralyzed by fear.  Unless you’re a power user, your reaction to this will be, "holy crap, I have no idea how to do all that!"  And then you’ll search Google for a web site that does what you need without requiring so much work.

Those of us who believe that desktop software is still relevant in a browser-based world should be up in arms about how hard it is to install software (on Windows, at least – it’s easier on the Mac).  Multiple security warnings, required OS updates, and tech-heavy language make downloading and installing software too scary a prospect for non-technical users.

9 thoughts on “World Wide Telescope: An Example of Why Nobody Wants to Install Software

  1. First, I don’t think normal users are scared of installing software; If they were, then my aunt’s computer wouldn’t have six IE toolbars (none of which she uses) and about 20 things in her system tray that have no business being there, or even on her computer. It is the power users that tend to be wary of installing new software since we know what a mess can result from a poorly written program or installer.
    Second, I think the WWT suffers from a poorly crafted installer. I believe that, in an MSI, you can package different merge modules that would take care of some of these dependencies, and package and call the .NET redistributable installer to take care of the rest. A few of the programs that I use package the Visual C++ 2005 Runtime installer, which I don’t believe would be much different than packaging the entire .NET 2.0 runtime.
    I do agree that those install instructions a pretty horrible considering all of the hoops that the user has to go through. They’re almost as bad as some that I have had to write up for installing some Java tools, such as Maven and Ant, that involve unzipping to an arbitrary location and creating environmental variables and testing the final install with CMD. Then again, those instructions are also geared for programmers/power users, so they don’t tend to get confused like typical users would be.

    Like

  2. Hi Nick,
    You are spot on. Part of my business involves providing network support to individuals (as opposed to corporations). I can tell you that there is an EXTREME disconnect between the people creating software and the end users. Most of us “geeks” have no idea how extreme that disconnect is. And sadly, too many geeks blame it on the non-geeks. Most of it isn’t there fault, as evidence by your excellent example.

    Like

  3. Nick,
    You’re right, this is a great example of poor usability in an app. I work in the SaaS industry consulting companies moving into that market, and one of the really big thing we stress for companies is ease of entry. For web apps, that means “lazy signups” that require as little up front information and effort as possible.
    Desktop software developers could learn a lot from the way SaaS apps are innovating in terms of user-experience. Designing your app to be easy to use is one thing, but you have to consider the whole user experience, and that is a much bigger canvas than just the inside of the app itself. It means you must make the entry to the app easy, whether that’s an online registration process, or a desktop installation process. In the case of the SaaS companies we consult, we take that even further to cover every touchpoint a customer may have with your company or your product, from discovery, to signup, to using the app, to customer service, to upsells, to unsubscribing.
    Thought and care must be given to the whole spectrum, which many developers neglect, or simply don’t have the skills to do by themselves.

    Like

  4. And its not even open source! It doesn’t look that bad if you try to install GIMP on a mac with Ports. That involves some yack shaving. Try installing ports.
    Us poor users.

    Like

  5. Oh funny! Well, I think they are covering all their bases and then some there! Perhaps they should add instructions like “make sure you have a computer and it is turned on.” However, I installed it the other day and it wasn’t that hard. Certainly no more difficult than installing Google Earth. (However, it seems Google doesn’t provide any instructions for that: http://earth.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=21616&topic=13332!)
    Anyway, I would argue that the majority of those instructions for WWT involve steps to take in IE to download/install anything, not just WWT. Who reads instructions though?

    Like

  6. You seem to be missing the fact that this is a *beta* release of a product. As Chris Lieb correctly says, a production quality MSI would take care of most of these steps for the user by handling the .NET issues automatically and by being digitally signed to reduce the security warnings.

    Like

Comments are closed.