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Freeware Rant

#1 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 28 December 2009 - 07:25 AM

This is partially a rant and partially a suggestion.

Those of you who find installing freeware add-ons for MSFS feel the same pain I know. Why don't more folks use freely available (as in FREE cost as well) windows installer applications? There are a handful out there and many of them are quite easy to use.

I find it rather humorous and a hair pulling experience to read through someone's instructions. Not to pick on anyone in particular, but case in point... this weekend after installing FS9 on my daughter's computer, I downloaded a multi-part scenery add-on. The instructions were more than a couple pages. The author went into great detail and excuses about having to perfect his documentation.... blah blah blah. Then he went on with several example scenarios of how to install his add-on. These, I suspect, were just copied and pasted into the document. What a royal pain to go through. And, X-Plane is no different. Having an installer makes SURE that you have a repeatable hassle-free installation and you remove human error from the installation process. And, hopefully reduce any negative email and constant questions about how to install.

Now, here is a 180 degree comparison; one of the best scenery add-ons for FS 2004 is the Inside Passage. This is a prime example of how ALL add-ons should be.... not just scenery but all freeware add-ons. It when you download the zip files for this (there are two), the actual files are isntaller files!

file 1: http://www.flightsim....php?fid=109713
file 2: http://www.flightsim....php?fid=109714

(by the way, if you've not tried this scenery, it's highly recommended for FS9... Great scenery)

For those of you who MIGHT be add-on designers, here's a few links to some installers. As with anything, please read the instructions and license agreements. The first one is free to use if your add-on is free. If payware, then it would require you to purchase a license. The other two are free.

Advanced Installer: http://www.advancedinstaller.com/
InstallRite: http://www.epsilonsquared.com/
Install Creator: http://www.clickteam...tallcreator.php
WinINSTALL LE: http://www.softpile....6745_index.html
Inno Setup: http://www.jrsoftware.org/isinfo.php
Spoon Installer: http://sourceforge.n...poon-installer/
Nullsoft Scriptable Installer: http://nsis.sourceforge.net/Main_Page

I think reviews should cover ease of installation. It does factor in to the enduser's experience. Flight Simulator is one of those things that hit a wide range of experiences and levels of technical ability. This applies to ALL Flight Sims out there... Having a installer of your add-on just makes sense.

Ted
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#2 User is offline   Fourtyfreak 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 06:41 AM

Hmmm, this subject has the potential to be a bit of a minefield and part of me wants to say something predictable like "If you don't like the Freeware products, simply don't use them", but the other part of me agrees with you completely. Some freeware products are spoilt by a very convoluted installation procedure, or installation instructions which simply don't work. I've personally spent many an hour trawling through forums to get an otherwise brilliant piece of freeware to work. Infuriatingly, this doesn't just apply to Freeware products either, one or two payware products have silly installation procedures too. One particular PITA is when a payware installer insists on installing to drive "C:" but my FS disk is "D:". I've been forced to manually move a few aircraft because of this simple bug.

I guess the first problem is that the best one can do is to try and coax the freeware developers into going the extra mile by packaging their products properly. I'd imagine that most are aware of any short falls in their products but simply don't have the time to produced a fully polished version. I personally have found that most developers are open to constructive critisism like yours if approached politely. They will value any feedback you give, but will probably add any suggestions to a very long list of things they themselves have noticed. I really can't blame them for wanting to spend as much of their precious time doing what they do best, ie developing the product, and not worrying about the packaging.

Another solution is to offer to help them out by packaging the products yourself and offering to send them a copy. I'm sure most developers would be eternally grateful if you helped them out.

Like I said, all in all this is a difficult problem to fix , as the quite frankly the Freeware developers have the right to release their products in whatever state they see fit. Our only recourse is to simply not use them.

Just my tuppence...

Many thanks for the list of installers BTW, I've bookmarked a few for my own use.

Paul
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#3 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 07:08 AM

You are correct and I'd have to agree for the most part. Many of the freeware add-ons I've tried aren't much of a big deal. But, there are those where the instructions are poorly written. Another example is that I find that my daughter already has wanted to download and add items to FS9. I'm glad I caught her and read the instructions for her. What she thought she had to do would have created a big mess. I've got a friend who has an 8 year old who flies FSX and I've heard similar stories. Posted Image Sometimes instructions can be misunderstood or misread due to language or age differences from the author.

I guess it's a double edged sword so-to-speak. I'm also looking at it from the perspective that if the install process frustrates a user or causes them to walk away from the add-on, then they might be missing out. It could be that the add-on is a great piece of work. If someone is good enough to step into the world of payware, then packaging of their product becomes important.

Honestly, I had thought of creating install packages as you mentioned. Still tossing that idea around. It would be easy to create a virtual machine with VMware player with a static install of FSX and FS9 just for this purpose. I just need to make sure I have the disk space. Posted Image

I might give that more consideration.

Ted
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#4 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 07:26 AM

Honestly, I think I will do that for packages that we use/try out and then offer the exe installer to the author or re-upload them to the site where we downloaded the add-on from.

Ted
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#5 User is offline   Fourtyfreak 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 08:02 AM

View Posttrwagner1, on 29 December 2009 - 07:26 AM, said:

Honestly, I think I will do that for packages that we use/try out and then offer the exe installer to the author or re-upload them to the site where we downloaded the add-on from.

Ted


Sounds like a great idea, might be an idea to get permission from the author first as some developers can be a bit funny about this kind of stuff.

On a slightly broader subject, one thing that does intrigue me though, is the apparent reluctance for FS developers to embrace the idea of Open Source. Sure OS does come with other problems such as managing the projects etc, but the main benefit is that people with seemingly little to offer can pitch in and help take a product to the next level. Sure, I'd have no idea of how to modify aircraft in Gmax, but even I could manage to spell check installation instructions or package them with an installer.

Imagine a community of Open Source FS developers who all pitched in to make everyone's products better. Each using their own expertise for the benefit of all... Imagine if the developer who abandoned FSNavigator made the source available so the community could carry on developing it... Imagine all those great aircraft which are doomed to be stuck in FS2004 format being picked up by new developers and made FSX compatible...

OK it'll never happen, but one can dream. :lol:

Paul
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#6 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 08:24 AM

View PostFourtyfreak, on 29 December 2009 - 08:02 AM, said:

View Posttrwagner1, on 29 December 2009 - 07:26 AM, said:

Honestly, I think I will do that for packages that we use/try out and then offer the exe installer to the author or re-upload them to the site where we downloaded the add-on from.

Ted


Sounds like a great idea, might be an idea to get permission from the author first as some developers can be a bit funny about this kind of stuff.

On a slightly broader subject, one thing that does intrigue me though, is the apparent reluctance for FS developers to embrace the idea of Open Source. Sure OS does come with other problems such as managing the projects etc, but the main benefit is that people with seemingly little to offer can pitch in and help take a product to the next level. Sure, I'd have no idea of how to modify aircraft in Gmax, but even I could manage to spell check installation instructions or package them with an installer.

Imagine a community of Open Source FS developers who all pitched in to make everyone's products better. Each using their own expertise for the benefit of all... Imagine if the developer who abandoned FSNavigator made the source available so the community could carry on developing it... Imagine all those great aircraft which are doomed to be stuck in FS2004 format being picked up by new developers and made FSX compatible...

OK it'll never happen, but one can dream. Posted Image

Paul


Ironically, I'm all too aware of that subject since I have worked in IT for many mooooooons. Posted Image I've also created my own freeware a couple years back for morse code. Most likely, me shooting them an email offering to do that will be sufficient and most probably would like the offer.

That is an interesting topic... There is an Open Source flight sim called Flight Gear. Some time ago, I tried it out with very little luck. This may be a good FSBreak topic too considering X-Plane and the ACES news has been heavy this year. I think the concept (and the potential of the project) is fantastic. Now you have me wondering if I should download that and try it again; I'm sure it has improved considerably since I last tried it. www.flightgear.org

I will have to research this project further at home and give it a review perhaps. The idea of a community driven flight sim project is interesting. The whole "Open Source" idea is interesting when you consider that it's hard to get more than two people to agree on anything.... especially developers. But, with Open Source, just having that common goal brings people together and it's an exciting world.

There is a good deal of information on how to do aircraft and scenery for X-Plane.... plenty of tutorials. I've not made that leap. I may some day, but not at the moment. While I like my A2A J3, I thoroughly have fun and get a kick out of flying the V-22 in X-Plane. Some aircraft are just fun to fly; they don't necessarily have to be "perfect". So, some day I probably will give it a shot and create something just for fun.

There's a lot of cool "stuff" to fly in X-Plane.

By the way, one of the add-ons I'll do first for offering the author an installer package is something that I found hard to come by after finding out about it. It was the Harry Potter school from the movie for FS9. It's pretty funny. That really got my daughter excited when I showed her that.

Ted
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#7 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 09:08 AM

I love sites like dariawal.com ;) I can get to things in the middle of the day when curiosity sets in. Well, I definitely need to download flightgear again and give it a whirl. Looks much more impressive than the last time I looked at it. http://www.flightgea...g/Gallery-v1.9/ It definitely would be a good thing for someone interested in development to throw their hat in the ring.... help out on the project, get some experience and skills, etc. that they might be able to use in FSX or X-Plane or wherever...
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#8 User is offline   Brendan 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 03:54 PM

Just generally about those auto installers... I hate them. I prefer manual all the way, dont really trust an installer going to and messing with my installation of FS9/X.
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#9 User is offline   Fourtyfreak 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 04:50 PM

View PostBrendan, on 29 December 2009 - 03:54 PM, said:

Just generally about those auto installers... I hate them. I prefer manual all the way, dont really trust an installer going to and messing with my installation of FS9/X.


True enough, a bad auto installer is worse than no installer at all, and for some products such as aircraft, it's no real hardship to drag a folder in to your FS directory. But it's worth noting that things have changed bucket loads since I started with FS some 25 years ago. Personal computers are no longer the purview of hardcore computer buffs and are now in almost every household. Some users have no wish to understand how to do things manually (Yeah I know it's strange, but it's true :rolleyes:) and it's only fair that things be made simple enough for them to use.

Take my mother for instance, she's in her seventies but uses her laptop on a daily basis. She wasn't interested in computers until recently, but email and VOIP came along and changed the way she sees computers. Now obviously she's not going to be digging about in program folders or manually tweaking config files, but she is happy to download and install updates to the software she does use on a daily basis.

IMHO it's for this very reason that the FS community should try to make things as simple as possible for the newbies. It's the reason Windows 7 is easier for casual users to use than Vista, and Vista was easier to use than XP, and... Well you get the idea. Of course it does make it harder for those us who do prefer to get our hands dirty, but that's all part of the fun surely. :D

Apologies for the ramble, but the red wine is starting to kick in. ;)

Paul
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#10 User is offline   kb1tom 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 04:50 PM

To Ted,


Ironically, I'm all too aware of that subject since I have worked in IT for many mooooooons. Posted Image I've also created my own freeware a couple years back for morse code. Most likely, me shooting them an email offering to do that will be sufficient and most probably would like the offer.

Morse code Freeware....thanks Ted

I have tried Flight gear and it was pretty impressive for open source.

Tom
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#11 User is offline   ussmidway 

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 11:14 PM

i actually am on the side of manual installs also. I think it my be a OCD or control freak thing, but I like to know where the addon is going so I can clean it out if I dont like it.

My main gripe with freeware stuff is just bad instructions. Im an airport scenery fanatic, and I have downloaded a few that 'assumed' I was a mind reader.
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#12 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 30 December 2009 - 07:18 AM

View Postussmidway, on 29 December 2009 - 11:14 PM, said:

i actually am on the side of manual installs also. I think it my be a OCD or control freak thing, but I like to know where the addon is going so I can clean it out if I dont like it.

My main gripe with freeware stuff is just bad instructions. Im an airport scenery fanatic, and I have downloaded a few that 'assumed' I was a mind reader.



I love the way you put this. Very well and succinctly phrased.

I suppose that's my issue with the ones I have had problems with. I typically am also a control freak when it comes to certain things PC related. But, what I deal with in IT during my day job is that I consistently see the pay in providing consistent and repeatable installs that remove human error factor. More often than not (again, in what I typically deal with) a lot of issues are caused by poorly written instructions or multiple steps during the install process that introduce the risk of human error.

I suppose most of my opinion is rooted in my early days with unix (and seeing the same issue with linux app deployments over the years) and lack of good documentation. This has greatly improved in "recent" unix and linux history both in the command line with the yum installer and in the X gui and has proven the success of having packaged installs.

Now, granted, what we haven't touched on (and you have alluded to) is that removing the manual control places some trust in the developer. How do you know that THEY are placing the files in the proper locations and they do not put a file somewhere it shouldn't be located. Or, worse yet, do something you don't want them to do. This is a well founded concern!

However, there is a bit of a solution to that. You can monitor and log all installs with an application like Install Watch. On some systems I manage, we use Install Watch to audit changes. The nice thing is when you may have to manually remove traces of an application. Having a log of the install is a great pay off if you ever have to take steps to manually (or forcefully) remove something... OR if you had a complex manual installation. When you have a complex manual installation, having a log of those changes provides you with the information you may have forgotten about.

Ted
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#13 User is offline   Eric 

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 07:21 AM

I've designed some freeware before, and I did use an installer application. The thing I would like to see even more than an auto installer is something that auto adds the scenery to the scenery.cfg file.

I know I've messed around with it when designing my installer, and without some pretty advanced scripting it is very hard to do automatically. Unfortunately when my instiller ran I had to pop up instructions on how to manually add things to the scenery library.
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#14 User is offline   trwagner1 

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Posted 31 December 2009 - 11:59 AM

View PostEric, on 31 December 2009 - 07:21 AM, said:

I've designed some freeware before, and I did use an installer application. The thing I would like to see even more than an auto installer is something that auto adds the scenery to the scenery.cfg file.

I know I've messed around with it when designing my installer, and without some pretty advanced scripting it is very hard to do automatically. Unfortunately when my instiller ran I had to pop up instructions on how to manually add things to the scenery library.


This is a very good point that kind of runs both ways if you think about it. Doing a scripting install where a file is edited is a learned skill obviously. Not everyone will know how to do that and you don't want THAT to be recorded by the "simple" install package creators... all they are going to do is replace the file. Your example is an excellent solution to that.

At the same time, your example also reminds me that some less-than-technical users are VERY hesitant and uncomfortable about editing files like that. If you have any experience with past versions of Windows (or DOS or linux like myself) that kind of thing is sort of "old hat". But, some newer folks may not necessary have that same comfort level.

Actually, I've been thinking about this a bit more...in fact, if anyone out there is CURRENTLY working on some freeware for FS9 or FSX and would LIKE to have a packaged install, I will volunteer to assist you.

Ted
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#15 User is offline   Dredd 

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Posted 05 January 2010 - 05:56 AM

Installers are, on the whole, a nitemare! I much prefer to add things manually, especially scenery! Theres nothing like an installer to truelly 'break' things. And, in all honesty, installing things by hand lets you get get to grips with the sim at a new level, increasing your awareness of the interaction of the various bits as well as giving you a better understanding of the OS as well. I have had problems with both freeware & payware thats made a total mess of FSX ..
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