Installer issue mini-update

On Thursday I said that I’d gather information from the Adobe installer team and post it here when it’s ready.  On Friday and over the weekend, some senior Adobe folks involved in the installer effort started reaching out to Pierre (whose blog post occasioned the need for a response) and John C. Welch to talk through the details.


I appreciate that people are eager for more info, but it seemed only wise/courteous to try to learn more before posting a reply.  The timing just now is tough: many of us have been at Adobe MAX from 7AM-10PM since Sunday, so communication is taking a little longer than usual.  When I’ve had more time to pull together a proper post, I’ll share it here.  (In the meantime, I’d love not to get crucified for trying to do the right thing.)




21 thoughts on “Installer issue mini-update

  1. John, I’ve seen you on various lists and generally like your style. However: ‘some senior Adobe folks involved in the installer effort started reaching out to Pierre’ is, I hope, not a phrase that you will be remembered for. Reaching out? Puleeese!
    [I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. I’m tired, and everyone is a critic. I’m coming to see why few people stick with serious blogging. It’s hard when seemingly every effort to connect people with info runs into a hail of invective. –J.]

  2. Here. No crucifying, but here’s the message we want to see:

    “We’ve gotten, over the years, a lot of email from people about the custom installers we’ve created at Adobe. Most of it has been negative. Very negative, and to be honest, rightly so. To be fair, we didn’t set out to create a bad installer. We wanted to create an installer that worked the same on both platforms. We thought we could do this. Maybe we could have, but that would have required far more resources than we gave it, and still would have ultimately been a failure.

    We forgot that the installer for both the product, and product updates is a critical experience, especially in the case of the former, since that is a customer’s first experience with the product. We forgot that installing software is, in the end, the copying of data from one location to another. We forgot that while people want a simple, easy to use install, that doesn’t justify making a mess of their drives, and creating ever more complicated schemes that require ever more complicated install and uninstall procedures. We forgot that we aren’t the sole source of good ideas in the computing universe. We forgot that one size fits poorly.

    So here’s what we’ll do. While we cannot change the initial installation for CS4, what we can do is ensure that any updates for any Adobe product are designed in the way that is best for the platform that product runs on. For Windows, that means MSI installers, for Mac OS X, that means Apple Installers, and so on. It means that we will not make people quit applications they aren’t updating, or that aren’t Adobe products. We won’t make you quit your browser just to update Flash, especially if that update is being applied remotely. For someone installing manually, we’ll give them the option of restarting their browser at the end of the install.

    For CS5, we’re going to again, use platform-correct installers. We’re going to ensure that we’re doing things efficiently, but safely. You’re all right, we don’t need 5-7 disk operations per file copy when installing, and we certainly don’t need to log permissions of files we’re going to delete during an uninstall. We’re also going to have a major, and hopefully welcome change to our directory structure. All common CS5 support files will be in one directory called “CS5”. Within that directory, application – specific support files will be in a subdirectory with a name that clearly indicates that. Common support files will be in another clearly named directory. All directories will have clear, concise names.

    We’re also going to make sure that we vet new installers with a team made up of not just our traditional customers, but IT professionals, so that we know that installing our software on one, or one thousand machines is, if not pleasurable, at least not painful. Finally, the days of treating only certain platforms as “business” platforms, at least from the installation point of view are done. There are no more “business” platforms and “designer” platforms. There are only platforms our customers use, and we need to make sure that installing our products on those platforms is simple, easy, and “just works”, no matter the platform.

    Adobe has always prided itself on the care and quality of our applications, and now, we’re going to make sure that our installation procedures show that care and quality too.”

    Don’t “create a message” or “massage the truth”. Admit you screwed up, apologize, detail exactly how you’re going to fix it, actually fix it and for the love of Dog, don’t make us wait until CS5 to see any of it.
    This is a huge screwup, but it’s one that is easily fixed, *if* the people still pushing it are able to suck it up and admit that this simply was not the way to go.

  3. Hi John,
    I love your blog and regularly tell people that it is one of the reasons why I prefer Adobe products – because you provide an honest and genuine attempt to communicate and do your best working within a large organisation. At the end of the day, at least you try and that is what most customers appreciate.
    The blogosphere will be a much worse place if you bail, but I can understand. Hopefully you won’t be replaced by an IVR system! e.g. Press 1 for Random Invective, Press 2 for Installer Rants, Press 3 to Complain about Open Communication, etc.
    Go on folks, give John some e-lovin’!

  4. Wow.. I had no idea people felt this way and were so vocal about it. I find installers in general to be mostly annoying, but the amount of time I spend on the installer is .00001% compared to the amount of time I spend using the product.
    I never found the Adobe installers to be that bad.
    On the idea that people attack you for sharing information is amazing to me. People should be happy that in this day and age their is a line of communication between the product team and end user.
    Thanks for your blog.

  5. I’m with Alan on this one. I appreciate that things could be done better. And maybe Adobe could listen a bit more closely to its users on some subjects. But of all the officials at Adobe, I appreciate your efforts more than any other to be a straight shooter and to tell things like you see it.
    I have been through many situations where outsiders who have no idea of how things work behind the scenes assume something is easy to fix, or who assume they know and understand all the issues involved and therefore the “insiders” are being disingenuous, or don’t care or are incompetent. It’s lazy and it’s unprofessional.
    Adobe really doesn’t have any real competition in many areas. And they should check themselves often so they don’t let their britches get too big to serve their customers. On the other hand, they deserve a lot of credit for pushing themselves to make better products.
    I count myself lucky I don’t have to install Photoshop (or the Creative Suite) on more than about 20 or 30 computers for any given upgrade โ€“ the price for being the Mac geek in my department. But I certainly don’t consider it an affront to me personally when things don’t go perfectly.
    Keep up the great work! And keep pushing yourselves to do better.

  6. Expecting an instantaneous response from Adobe right now, or ever, is just childish. it may not be the best XD in the world, but your still getting your programs installed. This shouldn’t be such an emergency for everyone.
    John, chill out. most of us love you, but its the haters who comment ๐Ÿ™‚
    [Thanks, Matthew, and all you guys for the support. It really makes a difference. (So does having a beer, doing push-ups til exhaustion, and playing with a cute little kid. ;-)) –J.]

  7. I’m with Alan too, except for his not knowing that “people” are ‘so upset’. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚
    “People” to me implies a significant number of humans, as opposed to a few individuals.
    We are, as is typical on the web, hearing from a very few. Which brings to mind someone’s comment about “Dear Adobe” being full of installer complaints. I counted 5 in the top 100 and only 2 of them even got replies (a total of 3 replies).
    Does anyone ever stop to think that if they are having a problem, it is MOST likely to be their machine? i.e. a conflict in software, or hardware someplace. If it wasn’t, a lot of ‘people’ would be complaining.
    This is particularly true of Windows machines, not because Macs are better, (lets not start a flame), but because Windows machines are not as tightly controlled environment as Macs (more software options, hardware options, etc).
    And an installer freezing up a machine for hours, or taking hours? You just KNOW that it has to be the machine (Mac or Win) somehow. (unless it came on 12 floppies ๐Ÿ™‚ This is independent of the installer being from any particular company.
    All of this blather from me does not of course mean that some individuals are not having problems, and being driven crazy. I’ve been there too, though not with Adobe installers. Still, as with everything else, they can improve.
    etc. (Epson is also a well know “villain” on the web. Just read both complaints ๐Ÿ™‚
    PS re stopping to think: I usually swear first too, but try not to post it. And sometimes fail at that.

  8. John,
    Jesus Christ himself would get negative feedback if He had a blog. Some people just cannot be satisfied. While no Adobe product is perfect, many are close. And Adobe remains in my experience the FOREMOST company of any in this country in responsiveness to customer needs, suggestions, and complaints. Very few companies every acknowledge product deficiencies and even fewer try to correct them. If more companies were run like Adobe, our economy would not be in the mess it’s in. I appreciate your blog and the company behind it very much.

  9. I too appreciate Mr. Knackโ€™s voice as an enlightened Adobe rep. However, it is easy to see the passion in folks like Mr. W. (just read the writing ๐Ÿ™‚ who demand the kind of user experience that they feel they paid for. There are serious issues with the way Adobe’s software installs. It took me almost TWO DAYS to install my CS3 Master Collection (PC). If it werenโ€™t for folks on both sides of this debate, accessible via forums like this, I would never have been able to use my software. The fact that the mere installation of a software investment of this scope is still an issue with CS4 will more than likely prevent me from upgrading the entire suite. At least until I here some better news about the situation than this… TLL

  10. John, you’re providing a great service here, and it DOES improve my perception of Adobe, so don’t let the trolls get you down.
    I am looking forward to seeing what the installer team has to say.
    I’m not a fan of the current installer/updater, and would be thrilled to see something similar to what Mr. Welch is proposing with regards to directory structures, and installer/updater software.
    But as others have said, it’s a small percentage of the time spent using the applications, and so while improving the installer/updater is on my wish-list, it is not at the top.
    Thanks for keeping us informed. It is appreciated!

  11. And an installer freezing up a machine for hours, or taking hours? You just KNOW that it has to be the machine (Mac or Win) somehow.
    Really, Scott, you KNOW, do you? People unboxing 20+ brand-new machines would beg to differ.
    Installers shouldn’t generate press either way. They should just be invisible. An installer without comment either way is a good installer.
    There is no way you can say the Adobe installers are that. They are broken in just about every way it’s possible for an installer to be broken and still ultimately end up with the files copied from point A to point B.
    I too am desperate to see what the installer team has to say. They must *know* that it’s indefensible crap they’re punting out. I’ve got a feeling the memo they’re trying to massage is: “look, the PS team wants 400 different folders for all its crap, the Flash team will not tolerate a previous version of the plugin running for even one second, the management don’t want drag-and-drop installs because they fear piracy from ripped-off Europeans, remote deployment sounds like hard work and hey, we work on installers. We’re stuck with this gig till something better comes along. Piss off”
    But that’s not going to swing with the PR team, is it?
    It’s such a pity. Adobe can make great stuff — Lightroom is lightweight and easy to install, but it was a skunkworks number. As soon as the juggernaut of execs come to town, though, all bets are off.
    I mean, even Microsoft gets this right. Office 2004 was a drag-and-drop install! The installer was optional.
    John: Sure, you’re going to get pushback on this. That’s because Adobe installers are all too often like being punched in the face. It makes one angry. Calming noises are really not what’s required. Mea culpas are.

  12. The great tragedy with Adobe is that their APPLICATIONS — Photoshop, InDesign, etc. — are such great, great products of human intelligence and careful attention to detail. But then it’s such a horrible experience to INSTALL (and, partly, to activate) these wonderful applications. If Adobe’s applications had been shoddy, second-rate products, the installation/activation issues would not stand out so much. But it’s the contrast between the quality of these truly great apps and the often dreadful install/licensing experiences which drive so many of us Adobe customers up the wall. And then we rant and rave at poor John Nack — just because he cares enough to listen, publish and respond! So let’s not p…. John off too much with our gripes — I, for one, want him to hang on in there until he’s the Adobe CEO, and then can run the show properly!

  13. Yes. Here’s an example of something that obviously is “just my machine” being wrong.
    The Adobe Reader 9 installer for Mac OS X.
    Okay, so it’s architecture specific, which is lame, but it’s an installer package. Sweet!
    Fire up Apple Remote Desktop, select my test machines, run the installer from my task manager.
    No errors, but no install.
    Try it again. Nope, no Adobe Reader 9 installed.
    Okaaaay, this time, let’s copy the installer to the test machine, and run it via the “installer” command.
    Well, I got something, namely /Users/Shared/Adobe/ISO-19770/Creative Suite 4 Master Collection-MasterCollection-CS4-Mac-PR-MUL.swtag which is an XML file.
    So I run the installer manually via Apple Remote Desktop. Oh look, it’s not really an Apple Installer Package. No, the installer packaged is a wrapper around an iNosso archive, (
    This means that to push out this version, I have to manually repackage this installer. Is that a lot of work? No, maybe an hour or so, but it’s work that is completely uncessary, except for the fact that even when Adobe uses Apple Installer Packages, they still have to mess it up, and kill the ability to install them remotely without having to rebuild the installer from scratch.
    To get the Flash installer to work right, I had to delete the preflight script, because it will not install if any browser is running.
    As far as the “It’s obviously your machine” theory, I have had Adobe CS3 Updates repeat the exact same problem with absolute consistency on every Mac Pro I install them on. It works across models of Mac pro, hard drive and RAM configs, (and I THINK that a TB drive with naught but the OS, iWork ’08 and CS3 on it, and 10GB of RAM should be enough to UPDATE an application.)
    Yet I know it won’t, until i’ve forcibly reboot the machine multiple times.
    On one machine, it’s annoying. On hundreds?
    Again, keep in mind that for IT, 95% of our interaction with Adobe products are the installers and the updates. I know the products are great, once you get them installed. But when you’re trying to maintain them? It’s a different story, and it’s obvious by the pain inflicted on people who try to maintain the computers and the software running on them, that Adobe has really not giving a lick of thought to making this stuff easier.
    Documenting pain points is not the same as making them go away.

  14. I have to say it’s great that you are tying to do something about this, rather than simply ignoring the complaints. I was also wondering how often you received your skin transplants, as it must have be flayed off your back on a
    few occasions this year alone! Last time was the application frame hoo-ha. Me, I love the big improvement it made and am very gratefull.
    Keep up the good work.
    I don’t have any real issues with the installation as I simply set it off and left machine alone for a while after clicking a few options. However I only have a 2 machines to do it on. If I had to install a shedload of Suites, then the little niggles like closing browser down etc would indeed become annoying.
    My issue however is with what happens next. Setting up Preferences/workspaces etc. It took longer to find and copy the various preferences, presets and workspace tweaks that are scattered all around the OS [ both Mac + PC], than it did to install the Master suite. And that was just PS, Bridge + LR that had prefs set.
    Now a single file you could output from each Adobe programme that contained ALL the settings and presets [actions, brushes..etc] that could then be imported by the same programme on either platform would be so much easier. Upgrading when you already have say PS installed is quite painless, I went through numerous beta builds wirth no issues at all, each new build had everthing set up the way I wanted on install. But I seem to be doing fresh OS installs far more than I would like and therefore clean CS installs. But I was also Beta testing stuff and I like a clean system when switching to the RC version.
    Other benefits of this All Preferences File is easy back up, you can keep your prefs on a memory stick and if using someone else’s machine or temping, you can simply add your prefs for the time you need machine. Not to mention if you use your laptop and add some new actions/brushes when away you can simply export global presets/prefs and add to your home machine and vice versa.
    Currently remembering what you altered, finding the hidden subfolders nested way down somewhere on the HD and copying the bits across is a complete pain. Even worse I use both Macs + PCs, so and everthing is in slightly different places t add to the fiddlyness.

  15. Ok, here’s another, more serious installer issue I am running into.
    Even though I purchased both CS3 web premium and the CS4 upgrade, I was searching for serial numbers / key generators to install my CS4 upgrade when I came across this blog entry.
    So, why am I searching for serial numbers when I’ve paid over $1200 for the software? The installer won’t take my CS3 serial number, and Adobe won’t rectify the situation. In multiple phone calls, Adobe reps verified that my numbers are valid, but I have to go through a long, drawn out hack which involves phoning up Adobe every time I want to install my software. After spending 3-hours on the phone and getting nowhere (Adobe tells me that a lot of people are running into this, trying to make me feel better….gee, thanks), I wrote a long email to support explaining the problem and asking for a non-defective serial number. They wrote back telling me to phone up Adobe support and withdrew the case. Pitiful customer relations.
    Another example of how overly aggressive installer activations just infuriate paying customers! I still don’t have a working copy of CS4 on my laptop.

  16. Hi,
    I’d just like to chime in with my appreciation of John Nack’s blogging. It’s great to have the insight into the current state of PS development.
    Buuuuut, John Welch is absolutely right. Adobe’s installers and updaters are horrible, especially from a lab or enterprise deployment perspective. my experience here is on Mac OS X.
    I de facto manage a small academic lab (16 seats), which is large enough to make one-off installs too time consuming (especially with Adobe’s glacial install speeds). Yet, i have repeatedly had to do this, since Adobe’s installers don’t work with any of the standard deployment tools. For CS3 they had deployment instructions that were a miracle of opaqueness, and referenced files on the install DVDs that did not exist. For CS4, the instructions are somewhat more explicit, but I still have yet to get it to work. The time troubleshooting the deployment process quickly swells to make it unrealistic.
    Standard installer tools would have avoided this, just as John Welch suggests. For the record, we have a range of large, complex software suites to deploy (the OS, Maya, Cinema 4D, molecular modeling tools, etc.), and none are as time consuming or frustrating as the Adobe installers.
    And there is the inexplicable glitchiness that reduces confidence even further: I just did a one-off install on one of our (freshly rebooted) machines that was taking even longer than usual. It seemed to be hung up on the Air installation. I finally moved the install window to the side, and found a modal dialog sitting behind it, in French , that said something about the Air install. I clicked the OK button, and the install proceeded for a little while, ’til it hung again; again the French modal dialog, this time complaining that Air wasn’t installed. This repeated several times, until the install was done; I then installed Air from the installer on Adobe’s web site. I do live in Canada, but I have never chosen French as a user language.
    In short, I, for one, endorse everything in John Welch’s letter, and wish that it would show up on the new Adobe installer team blog (if that happens…).

  17. A quick update to my previous comment on 11-20-2008.
    Briefly, I have a purchased copy of CS4 that won’t install due to overly aggressive activation, and Adobe refuses to rectify the situation.
    Adobe told me that “many” customers are experiencing similar issues, so to these customers, here is a remedy:
    [Removed; sorry, I can’t condone efforts to subvert the license compliance code.]
    [John, sorry to rant here; I know it’s not your fault…but no one else–phone / email support–will listen.]

  18. I am sort of a greenhorn; am unable to understand the instructions shown for installing the Adobe reader, as a Firefox user. I downloaded the Adobe reader just now, but the installation procedure is Greek for me. Help, please. Thank you, Ken Hill. P.S. – I use Windows Vista.

  19. Hi
    John, all installing issues are also my concern, but today I would like to express appreciation for you work – you’ve been helping for long time, so – just to let you know – people are still in great need of yr help!
    Do not be discouraged by the critics, keep up the good work!

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