Mac App Store: It’s all about installation usability

I think the biggest thing that Marco and Rafe are missing in predicting the success of the Mac App Store is the (current) pointlessly complicated installation process on a Mac. Have you ever taught someone how to install apps on a new Mac? Or remember what it was like the first time?

Since most people come from Windows, they're used to this process:

  1. Download an .exe/.msi installer (or if it is a zip, unzip to get your installer)
  2. Run the installer, run the app

On a Mac, the process usually goes like this:

  1. Download a zip file
  2. Unzip
  3. Drag application to Applications directory
  4. Delete downloaded zip and extracted contents, then run application


  1. Download .dmg file
  2. double click it to "mount"
  3. Follow whatever instructions are given, usually have to open a new finder window to drag application into Applications
  4. unmount disk image after installation is complete, run app


  1. Download zip/dmg (unzip if needed)
  2. Run .pkg file installer
  3. Give your admin password, complete install
  4. remove/unmount downloaded files, run app

As easy as the Mac is to use, I've never understood why the installation process is so varied and tedious (I understand there are obvious security issues that complicate the process, it still sucks for the user that wants everything to be easy). I've had to walk friends and family through this several times and it takes half a dozen tries before they start to get it right on their own (Try explaining to someone new to computers why you must "unmount the disk image" or what that even means conceptually). People often get tripped up when nothing happens after they download a .dmg file (Why do I have to mount it first to use it, why doesn't it just work?).

My biggest Mac app installation pet peeve is when a mounted disk image runs in its own Finder window without the helpful sidebar, so I can't simply grab the application and drag to the Applications folder on the sidebar, but I have to open a new Finder window because the features were disabled by the application writer.

Make no mistake, every Apple store in America is selling new Macs like hotcakes, to many people that have never owned one before. I bet a large percentage of new owners just stick with the shipping apps of iTunes, Safari, Mail, iLife, etc and don't install apps without help from the Genius Bar or friends. It seems crazy to someone like me that has used a computer daily for 20 years, but you can probably do a lot of things with a stock Mac without installing any additional apps.

A Mac App Store is going to be a boon for developers and Mac owners because it'll finally get rid of the clunky installation process and make the whole thing as easy to use as installing an app on an iPhone. Click into the App Store. Click an App, Click Buy, Run the App.

Marco (and Rafe) are right that this will be huge, I just think everyone is underestimating the potential upside of improving the usability of Macs in a big way that has been overlooked for far too long.

image from


Published by mathowie

I build internet stuff.

8 replies on “Mac App Store: It’s all about installation usability”

  1. I didn’t mean to imply that easier installation is a minor gain — it’s absolutely a huge deal. Today’s usual DMG-mounting process, as you explain, is horrible.
    I just lumped it into “Easy and quick to purchase and install.”
    Equally as important, as Fraser Speirs pointed out on a recent episode of The Conversation, is the “Easy and quick to delete” part. You’re much more likely to take risks on trying new apps if you know that you can delete all traces of them with a few clicks. This is one aspect of the Mac App Store that I’m curious to see in implementation: will Macs track where apps put files, and delete them if the app gets deleted? Will apps be required to be more sandboxed in where they store files?


  2. I’ve been thinking more about the security issues of having automatic installers in an App Store situation (I can almost picture the crazy headlines at a place like about it) and I’m sure having sandboxed, instantly installed apps is going to make the approval process longer to make sure no one stuffs objectionable code into an approved app. If even one app got through that did something nefarious, it’d ruin the trustworthiness of the store (not to mention the way some security is going to be bypassed by offering easier installations).
    I hope it isn’t too much of a pain for developers to jump through these hoops to get approved. I’d hate to see the same thing happen that has for the iPhone app store.


  3. Total agreement, though I think it’s even worse than you think for Windows and Mac because you’ve skipped the first few steps. We take them for granted that the process actually starts with.
    Go to a website with some hard to remember address that someone wrote down for you.
    Find the download link on the page and click on it
    figure out where that download link saved the actual file
    Then we get to the part that you described. I had a hard lesson recently trying to teach a room full of undergrad education majors how to use a piece of open-source software, and their eyes had glazed over before we even got the file downloaded.
    Go to App store, search for X, click install absolutely seems like a massive improvement all around.


  4. I worry that Apple will use this new control for dubious purposes: particularly, in order to compete in unfair ways against people who make software that rivals theirs, or threatens their business models.


  5. Hey raster,
    I honestly don’t know where your position is coming from. If you can think of any process involving a computer that has say, four steps, moving it to three steps often leads to more people being able to complete the task, and people that do the task do it more often. It’s win-win.
    I mean, I guess I kind of get the vibe that I might sound like a lazy complaining person by saying installation is too hard, but you really should spend time with the elderly and the disabled and you’ll find things we take for granted like keystrokes (even just for copy and paste) are very difficult for many people to first remember and then to physically do. Anything that makes computers easier to use has the power to change more peoples’ lives (my dad’s computer is his window to the world but he has limited expertise in using it).
    I stand by my point that making installation automatic will be a huge win for Apple here, and could easily dwarf the tech-savvy userbase you and I are a part of and interact with daily.


  6. I agree that easy installation is a huge plus. Those multi step processes may seem simple and natural to those of us who came to computers in the early days of running everything straight off the operating system, but those types are a smaller and smaller percentage of users. Even those who can do it don’t want to mess around with it. I for one am through with the C: except in cases of dire emergencies (yes, I’m a PC and ease of installations these days is one reason I stay that way.)People want to drive down the road, not build a car. The attitude that only the tech savvy should buy your machine is one that would cost sales to the point of disaster.


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