Kill the Installers

By Deane Barker on September 30, 2003

I’d like to make an appeal to all the developers in the world for software that doesn’t install. Just give me an executable. Bundle everything up into that, or perhaps have a handful of DLLs in the same folder as the program. I get the program, I stick it in my Program Files, I make a shortcut on my desktop, and it just runs.

If you must have an installer, only have it do two things: copy the executable to a folder in the Program Files and create a Start Menu group. That’s it.

Nothing irritates me more than a program that scatters all over my hard drive. You start the installer, and it may as well just come out and say, “I’m going to vomit everywhere now…that okay with you?” Then it proceeds to spew files into each of three million different directories and add just as many registry entries.

When something goes wrong, you can never be sure you got completely rid of the program in case you want to reinstall it. You can just hope the uninstaller did its job. Sure, you can search for registry entries and delete the folder, but do you know you got all of it? When you reinstall, suddenly you have the same problem as before because the developer thought it would be smart to put a configuration file in some obscure directory somewhere.

Mozilla Thunderbird — no installer, just a folder with an executable and a bunch of DLLs. Same for FireBird. Same for the .Net RSS aggregator SharpReader. Same for a great little text editor called SC1 that Don Park turned me on to.

Yes, I know that these programs use more space because they have to duplicate a bunch of code. Who cares? Hard drives are big. Most people have space to burn. I’ll trade bigger space for the ability to simply delete the folder when I’m done. No commitment, no regrets.

I’m a whole lot more likely to start using something if I know I can toss it away with no ill effects when I don’t need it anymore.

(There’s always a catch…. What do all the aforementioned programs have in common? They’re free. How do you do licensing or rights management without an installer? I don’t know. Having the program portable and transparent like that naturally makes it easier to pirate.)



  1. You often wonder what Dave and I see in our Macs. This is one of those things. Install process on a Mac: 1. Drag application to hard drive. 2. Done.

    This is pretty much the rule, but there are a few exceptions. Adobe products tend to install more things than they need to. The above process works for Office v.X as well.

    If I need to replace my hard drive all I have to do is back up my Applications folder and restore it on the new drive. No DLLs to worry about.

  2. I hate installers that put a shortcut on the desktop, the quick launch, and the top of the start menu! There is no program so great that I need 137 different ways to launch it!

  3. I hate the apps that think they’re so important that they need to have a service running in the system tray. Real Player, Adaptec’s CD Burner, etc. Why do I need your program to stay resident in memory when I’m not using it?

  4. Bill Gates’ favorite pastime is to lurk in forums listening to people whine about how Windows works.

    Steve Balmer wears girls underpants.

  5. Hasn’t MS flip-flopped on this in the past? I remember hearing talk a few years back about moving back towards self-contained installs and away from the registry, but now it seems we’re on the path to an even more integrated system.

    Having spent time in tech-support during college, I can say the MAC way is superior from a usability standpoint. It’s counter-intuitive to have to reinstall everything versus simply copying the programs from your old PC to your new one.

    Still, you’ll have users complaining of wasted space, so perhaps the best solution is a “power” mode (maybe through a command line switch) that enables users to use shared DLL’s. Then everyone can be happy.

Comments are closed. If you have something you really want to say, tweet @gadgetopia.