One of the things I hate about installing software is the almost inevitable post-installation patching. This is unavoidable when one’s using physical media, since providing customers with updated versions of an optical disc is somewhere between impractical and impossible. But electronic software distribution is supposed to fix that, or so its proponents argue.
I seem to recall Apple’s CEO and founder Steve Jobs telling us last year when the Mac App Store was unveiled that it would offer updated applications with no fuss, instead of asking the user to download an application from the store and then download patches from the vendor.
That’s the way it should be, but that message doesn’t seem to have made it into Apple’s own software distribution network. Or at least, not so far.(As we all know, it’s a good idea to let someone else be an early adopter, especially when it comes to operating systems. For example, my rule for Mac OS X is to wait for a 10.x.2 release to come out before I upgrade the OS on the machines that I can’t live without. Yesterday, Lion got a little closer to my “ready for prime time” point, with the release of the 10.7.1 update; this contained the usual fixes that weren’t urgent enough to justify a delay of the launch.)
So, back to the point, and yes, there is a point:
One would think that Apple would set an example for other publishers using the Mac App Store, and make sure that point releases of Lion are integrated into the install package. Microsoft does this with service packs for Windows that are offered through MSDN; I’ve built my own Windows install CDs with service packs slipstreamed into the OS package. In the case of Linux, it’s taken for granted that distributions provide an install package that integrates minor releases into the major one. Apple would have every reason to provide the complete install package plus updates as a single download, right?
But, nooooooooooo. (That will sound even better if you imagine it in John Belushi’s voice.) Someone who buys and downloads Lion today has to download the update to 10.7.1 separately, either during installation or through Software Update. That’s as wrong as a football stick.
Now, it’s true that the 10.7.1 update isn’t terribly large: at most, 65 to 90MB; in practice, it might be as little as 15 or 20MB. But future updates can be expected to be far larger: taking Snow Leopard as an example, combination updates that roll up from the initial software release are a gigabyte and more in size. That can take an hour of download time, in many environments.
Ease of installation and maintenance are supposed to be among the selling points of the Mac App Store, but Apple’s fumbling an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of electronic distribution.
Update: Almost a week after I posted this, Apple released an installer that offers the 10.7.1 release of the OS in a single package. Maybe someone important is reading this, after all…