Is it just me, or is installing many applications on Mac OS X fairly newbie unfriendly?
January 29, 2009 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Is it just me, or is installing installerless applications on Mac OS X fairly newbie unfriendly?

For instance, say I download 'VLC' a fairly popular alternative media player. When I double-click the .dmg file, it shows a window with the following icons
- Read Me.rtf
- Goodies Folder
- alias to 'Applications'

The 'Applications' alias seems fairly common in many .dmgs.

It seems like the 'obvious' thing to do would be to select the first 3 icons and drag them to the 'Applications' alias, which now leaves a 'Read Me.rtf' and 'Goodies' folder in the Applications folder.

2 months later, I would have no idea that the 'Goodies' folder came with VLC. Also, both may get overwritten by another application that I try to install in the same way.

What I do to avoid this is create a folder first within 'Applications' called 'vlc' and copy the files to the newly created folder. Easy enough for me. But I'm pretty sure my grandma would be puzzled why the 'Applications' alias is shown, but I'm telling her to ignore it. And I also need to tell her how to create a new folder.

Is there a different way to install programs like this (no installer program, which seems to be more common in the OS X world) that I'm missing that is more newbie friendly? Is this just the way it is?
posted by realpseudonym to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I always just copy the application to the applications folder. I ignore the other stuff. Hasn't been a problem yet.
posted by Dorri732 at 12:21 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with Dorri732. I ignored the other stuff. Usually do.

I can;t see how it could get easier. The applications folder in the dmg is usually an alias, so it's a matter of dragging one icon onto another.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:24 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's semi-newbie unfriendly. I was totally flummoxed by it when I started with OS X and I'm somewhat computer savvy. But meh, every system has its roadbumps. It's easier than learning how to use apt-get.
posted by GuyZero at 12:30 PM on January 29, 2009

I'm not sure there's much of a way to make things any easier without there being some kind of automation in place, or the use of a Super Armitron robot arm to move your mouse. The process is already exactly one step:

1. Drag the application bundle to Applcations.

Admittedly the wrangling of disk images (and even more annoying, archived disk images) is kind of irksome and does add a little overhead, but the use of disk images for bundle distribution is pretty deeply ingrained in Macintosh software development culture dating back to the days when resource fork preservation was critical to the platform but poorly supported outside the Macintosh niche.
posted by majick at 12:31 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you're used to Windows where you download an exe file that installs the program and deletes itself with one click, then yes. Once you get used to it (as with most tech things) it starts to make more sense. My Dad just switched from PC to Mac and one of the biggest stumbling blocks he had was that he was running all his programs from the dmg files and not installing them because he didn't see the "drag this program to the shortcut of the applications directory that we've PUT RIGHT HERE" as being as simple as it was. Also cleaning up after installing a program is less intuitive than other mac things, to me.

I'm with everyone else, I don't save the readme and all that other junk, I just keep the application and figure I can get everything else from the web.
posted by jessamyn at 12:40 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree, the DMG is definitely confusing for new Mac users and makes uninstallation non-intuitive too, but it is what it is.

Maybe try making a screencast for 'grandma' and narrate it yourself to make it more human.
posted by ejoey at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2009

yeah what jessamyn said. I've been stumbling over this since I got my MBP in '06 and only just recently had a macintosh power user explain it to me clearly, in words of no more than one syllable.

IME, to previously windows-only installer users, yes, it can be a little counterintuitive. I think this is maybe just my Windows-user mentality of wanting to make utility related stuff harder than it should be. What I did was make a folder titled "crap" on my desktop for the additional stuff, until I determine I don't need it. That gets cleaned out in a once-every-few-months general cruft removal sweep.

posted by lonefrontranger at 12:48 PM on January 29, 2009

Regarding the readme and various other things that come along - I just hoard my dmgs. If I decide at some point I need to find a file that came with the application I just open up the image again. Really, though, I think this has actually happened all of twice. Most of them sit around for a few months until I decide to clean things up and get rid of them.

It might make more sense to copy the application bundle to Applications, and create a 'vlc' folder in Documents/documentation or something like that to put the other files in.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 1:04 PM on January 29, 2009

Just for fun, open up Read Me.rtf. What does that tell you to do?
posted by niles at 1:04 PM on January 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

I found the "drag to install" thing pretty nifty, actually, being a Mac semi-newbie. It's probably a bit confusing for most .dmg's because they assume you know your way around a Mac, but a few dmg's I've downloaded, when opened, actually had a big fat arrow in the background pointing from the app to the Applications shortcut, suggesting that anything else in the package was optional.

And yeah, most readme's in the package will just tell you to drag-n-drop.

The downside to this nifty Mac feature: worrying whether dragging to the Trash for uninstalling will actually review everything related to the app.
posted by curagea at 1:26 PM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: niles, the readme says to ignore the supplementary files and folders.
posted by realpseudonym at 1:26 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I consider myself a savvy computer user, but when I first switched to the Mac, I was also puzzled by this method of installation. I understood the concept of dragging the application to my Applications folder via the Finder (and thought that was pretty awesome compared to Windows) but it took me far too longer to realize that "the pretty background image" on many of those dmg's was an arrow pointing to an actual shortcut to the Applications folder. I had always thought it was just a helpful abstract diagram telling me what to do by more complicated means.
posted by Nothlit at 1:33 PM on January 29, 2009

In my experience, it's not common for a drag-to-install application to subsequently create large support folders somewhere else that get left behind when you drag the app to the trash. Sure, such an app will create a preferences file, but leaving that behind isn't such a big deal.

It is generally true that applications which involve large amounts of not-in-the-application-bundle data come with installers and uninstallers. Adobe WhatEver, Microsoft Office, etc.

There are a couple of products that deal with this:

Hazel will automatically sweep your drive for related files when you drag an app to the trash and ask if you want to get rid of that stuff while you're at it.

AppZapper is similar, but isn't integrated with dragging the app to the trash. With Appzapper, you drag the app to its window.

I'm sure there are others.
posted by chazlarson at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2009

If you like, just make a folder in the Applications Folder likes so: "Application name" stuff, and then drag all the bits in there.

Personally, I just drag the app into the Application folder and call it a day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:42 PM on January 29, 2009

I agree, it's a little bit of a PITA. You have to explain to Granny to move the files off the dmg, run them from the hard drive, dismount the dmg, and (optionally) throw it in the trash. And I'm not exactly sure why the dmg format is preferred for distribution—seems a zip file would do fine for almost all cases.

There is a way to create a dmg so that the contents extract themselves and the dmg file disappears. I forget what it's called, but I'd like to see more of that.
posted by adamrice at 1:43 PM on January 29, 2009

the readme says to ignore the supplementary files and folders.

So if one takes the time to read the Read Me, everything is explained? Or is that not what you were looking for?

At work I see this all the time - i.e., "A message popped up on my computer... is that a problem?" What did it say? "Oh, I didn't read it. I think it was an error or something. That's bad, right? What does it mean?" Well, next time it happens tell me what it says and I can tell you what it means
or, at home:
[Looking at download page] "Which version do I want?" What does it say? "Well this says Macintosh. I don't have that, right?" What else does it say? "Um...Macintosh, Windows, oh, wait, I have windows, right? I'll download that?" no response "Ok, I'll try that..."

I don't know what it is, but people tend to not read things provided to them (I see this in the non-computing world, too, but that's a whole other issue). Part of it is probably the reputation of computers as black-box machines that must be treated exactly right lest they go nuclear (which isn't wholly inaccurate), but I don't fully understand it.
But hey, it keeps me employed.
posted by niles at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

adamrice, That's an "internet-enabled" disk image. Not sure where the name came from. I don't like those, as I'm one of those guys who saves all the DMGs for when I need to reinstall.
posted by chazlarson at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2009

The process is already exactly one step:

1. Drag the application bundle to Applcations.

And even that one step is optional. The Applications folder is a traditional place to keep applications, but isn't necessary.

The biggest problem Windows users seem to have moving to Mac is believing that an icon is 'real', not just some kind of shortcut to a mess of mystical stuff hidden on a C:/ drive somewhere.

I say: "No, that icon IS the application." a lot.
posted by rokusan at 2:12 PM on January 29, 2009

In line with what rokusan is saying.... for my Dad who really does want to know how the Mac can do that sort of stuff... I opened his eyes to the "show package contents" option that you can get by right clicking on an application "See? All the stuff that goes along with a program, it's all hidden in there, this thing IS the program...."
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think 'drag to Applications' is more newbie-friendly per se, but if you're familiar with Windows installers, they establish an expectation that's hard to break.

It's complicated on OS X by those scenarios where you have an 'Extra Stuff' folder in the disk image, or an arrangement where you need to create a folder in /Applications. A good rule of thumb, though, is that if you don't see anything in the 'Extra Stuff' folder that immediately strikes you as worthwhile -- often AppleScripts or similar -- then you can ignore it. That applies to your granny.

(Some developers style the DMG background to make it clear what needs to be dragged and dropped where.. That seems to work well.)
posted by holgate at 2:41 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really wish there were an "App store" for macs as well as iphones, minus the itunes DRM. People like my father have a LOT of problems with the concept of applications without installers. However, my father at least understands the itunes/iphone app store concept fine. It would also make updating applications much easier.
posted by TimeDoctor at 2:50 PM on January 29, 2009

Only if you're coming from Windows.

If you're going the other way (to Win from knowing only Mac) it's even more boggling since every application is different, puts things everywhere, and has arcane options.
posted by Ookseer at 5:42 PM on January 29, 2009

Best answer: If you encounter a .dmg image that has a number of files/folders you want to move to your Applications folder, you don't need to pre-create a folder for the items. Simply drag the whole disk image to the desired location while holding down the option key and it will copy everything to a new folder named after the disk image.

posted by pmbuko at 6:50 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

You know what really throws people? That you can copy most application bundles from one computer to another, and that just works. "You mean I didn't have to reinstall it?"... "Nope."
posted by Caviar at 7:07 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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