When I wrote the piece about my bad experience with installing WIndows XP, I must admit I was a bit puzzled. My experience confirmed that Windows installation from scratch is not easy and still represents what one must go through to install any operating system on a customized white box 10 years ago. I even concluded that Windows installation technology is seriously lacking behind Linux because it does not have a “unified installer” that does everything for you. Still, why didn’t the smooth installation of drivers, something everybody tout as an advantage of Windows, help me in the installation?
It finally dawn on me that the reason is every driver is living in its own lala-land and is only aware of itself and Windows but nobody else. In the Window’s world, products from the same company often shipped with installers that are unaware of other products offered by the company. There are one or two dominant installation technology used by multiple companies, but they themselves are unaware of any other instance of the same installer. In other words, we do not have a repository of software that we can tap into to download and install the software we want, even if they use the same installation technology.
In Linux, we have multiple installation technologies, just like Windows. However, the installation technologies providers maintains a repository of drivers/software it can install. Therefore, inside one installer, you can pull in a lot of different drivers/software. Initially, this was a necessity because most vendors do not even have a linux driver. However, this pooling of resources means we now have “unified” installers that can pretty much pull in every piece of software you need.
Of course, open source licensing terms helps here. You can easily include OpenOffice.org, GIMP and other programs in your installer because the developers give you the rights to and actually encourages you to do it. With proprietary licensing, there is at least a layer of bureaucracy, i.e., you need to ask for permission, and some technical problems, e.g., remitting licensing fee to the developers that put hurdles into the implementation of a unified installer, then you have the problem of competitive rivalry between developers that dictate to you to exclude rival software if you want to include this software. All these are hurdles. A unified installer can be done of course and it might be done one day, it is just more difficult to do it in a proprietary world.
So, in a proprietary world, you have no collaboration on repository of software/driver installation, eventhough vendors may be using the same installer technology? Don’t ask me why. I don’t buy the idea that installation technology vendor haven’t thought of it. May be it is the software comapny that thinks this does not make the business case, or the finance department see this as an avoidable cost. I don’t know.
Having an unified installer save users a a lot of time but why should vendors care? It is your cost, not theirs. Besides, may be one day they can charge you for a service that makes this easy for you and therefore save you time. Will I buy into such a service? Let’s say given my experience, it is a “May be”.