How do you help clients install software?

Subject: How do you help clients install software?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, John Cornellier <jcornellier -at- abingdon -dot- oilfield -dot- slb -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:22:16 -0500

John Cornellier wondered: <<We are reviewing the documents we include to help deploy a software product. Ignoring such post-installation aids as... [deleted list]>>

Good thought. Installation should stand apart. If your installation software doesn't provide the necessary information onscreen, close at hand during the installation, you need to reconsider your choice of software. (Of course, it may be the only choice... don't recall seeing a "help" or "more info." button in an installer. Do the installer-maker programs such as Wise allow for this kind of sophistication?)

<<I wish to focus on: - release notes / readme>>

Again, these should be part of the installer. If you've got time to write them, you've got time to integrate them in the installer. I know this isn't commonly done, but that's poor planning and a lack of concern for the user, not "best practices".

<<- installation guide (could be broken in two: quick start + admin & config. guide)>>

Why not make this part of the installation? Step 1 in the installation should lead the installer through a quick process of analysis: Do I have everything I need (disk space, knowledge, etc.) to do the installation? If not, where can I get the necessaries?

Again, this isn't often done, but that's laziness, not careful thought. Why ask someone to go spelunking in Windows to find out if they have a specific DLL required (per the release notes), when it's trivial for the installer to check whether the right DLL version is present and, if not, offer to download it from the manufacturer Web site? Better yet, put it on your installation CD! Ditto for graphics drivers, database components, and on an on.

The purpose of an installation process is twofold: First, tell the user everything they need to know to determine whether they can or should proceed. Second, hold their hand throughout the installation, and give them all the support they need during the process. Why don't we write online help for installation software? Beats me!

<<- anything else e.g. install wizards, CD blurbs, download instructions, etc.>>

Download instructions are a pre-sale device, and nobody wants to read CD blurbs. Don't know about you, but I go out of my way to avoid reading installation instructions... 30 seconds skimming the readme.txt, then I dive right into the install and only go back to that file if something looks wrong. I doubt most people are any different. That means you should be relying on the install wizard to get things right, not forcing the user to do this work. Aren't computers supposed to make our lives easier? We're not here to make things easier for the software, after all.

<<I'm trying to reach a consensus among various interested parties - tech writers, testing, marketing, support, deployment engineers (the guys who burn the CDs and check the target operating environments). There is not much agreement on what these docs are actually supposed to do. >>

The one group that's significantly missing from this list? The users. Your support department will provide some useful advice, and Marketing may (if they actually polled your users rather than simply making assumptions about them), but why not go direct to the source? They'll tell you exactly what those docs are supposed to do... you just have to ask them.

<<E.g. some people think that the release notes are a kind of quasi-marketing brochure which trumpet the new features>>

That's a load of fecal matter. If someone has already bought the software, they either already know about the new features (that's why they bought it!) or they don't care.

<<Others (including me) think the release notes should be a "warts and all" late-breaking document including known bugs and workarounds.>>

That's my preference... as a user, not as a theoretician. The goal of creating an installer is to install the software successfully--not to test how good the user is at assembling a batch of cryptic "oh yeah, we forgot to tell you..." details in the readme file.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - --
Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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How do you help clients install software?: From: John Cornellier

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