Saturday, September 15, 2007

Is Windows Live Suite a good idea?

This post was originally posted at my Windows Live Spaces blog. [View original post]

MarkKB's Blog - Sat 15 Sep 2007

Simple answer, yes. But the answer is much more complex than that.

OK, those who frequent my blog (wait, there's people who frequent my blog?) will probably not be that technically inclined, so I'd like to first preface this post with the warning that this post discusses software in a way that many who just update and say 'eh' will not care about. If you are one of those people, it's best not to continue, although if you're feeling courageous, go right ahead.

Now, don't get me wrong: the idea is fine. There's nothing wrong with the unified installer that is Windows Live Suite. It's the execution that bothers me.
"Whatd'ya mean?" I hear you say. Well, there is no way to download standalone installers. It's the unified thingy or nothing.
"But you don't need standalone installers, the unified installer replaces it all!" Which leads me to my second point. You can't download the whole lot and install it offline. You have to be online to install it, and it has to be the latest version.

Personally, I hate installers that exist merely to download the appropriate files of a single program from its servers. AOL is a culprit with their AIM and ICQ installers. For one thing, it kinda makes you think "wait, what's the point of downloading the installer if it's just gonna download stuff anyway?" For another, you're gonna have to pay your ISP for every time you run the installer. This isn't really a point for those who are on a flat-rate plan, more for those who pay by the hour or megabyte, or those with capped plans. Another thing is, of cause, something may be missing in the new version that is in the older, or the new version may be too cluttered, or...

The penultimate reason is because of archivists, those who regularly swap disks between Windows Vista, Win3.1 and MS-DOS 5, those who long for the beta version of Windows 1.0 shown in Byte in 1983, or for that one hard disk containing Star Trek (the cancelled Apple port of System 7 to Intel-based processors). These people want to be able to preserve what once was, or just do so because they like it. Half the screenshots on Wikipedia are due to these people.
If everyone had had an Internet-based installer, we would hear tell of how Netscape 4 sucked, how Windows Live Messenger was once dubbed "MSN Messenger", or Firefox went through three name changes, or how Microsoft Office used to have cute little characters bouncing around their work, and we'd say, "yeah right, prove it." Proof is one of the key concepts in history, and many people have spent decades arguing proof of historical fact.

Lastly, what if Microsoft disappears? What happens if their servers go down? People of tomorrow may start up their installers, only to find the message "Server not found" staring them in the face. (Of cause, Messenger won't work anyway, but stuff like Mail and Writer, which works with other stuff, and Photo Gallery, which doesn't need an Internet connection, won't install either.)

Again, I have no problems with the Windows Live Suite installer. It's a good idea. It means I don't have to go all over the Windows Live site to get the various programs in the Suite. It's just the lack of alternates, or of something tangible on our hard disks, that I don't like.

So my suggestion to Microsoft is this: provide both an offline and online installer, or better yet, optional standalone installers like in previous versions. Or maybe make the installer so it download the stuff to a non-temporary folder where we can get it and use for later. Don't do this to us, the users.

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