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Does this sound like the bubble in the lower right hand corner of your windows install? Are you still running a dated version of notepad, calc, MSPaint, or some other commodity program? Do you often wonder what is so important that the product designer became arrogant enough to interrupt your work and nag you for the fifteenth time to upgrade? Have you been avoiding the upgrade process for several months now? Hi, I’m Cliff. You’re here because some computer person designed an upgrade bubble into the software you were just using. If you are anything like me (and you must or else why would you continue reading this page?), then you are constantly annoyed by the ever insisting upgrade bubbles that pop up on your screen from time to time. Why won’t they just leave me alone??
Today I gave in to Adobe, allowing them to interrupt my progress, rape my computer and my web browser for what feels like the eleventh time this year. All this for the sheer privelige of installing version 9.2 of their PDF reader. Maybe its because I work across several computers both physical and virtual. Maybe its because I so often ignore these upgrades. Whatever the case I can’t seem to escape the upgrade nags. If its not Adobe then its Microsoft with their “close all of your apps and reboot your entire computer/workflow now? Or in the next 3 minutes just before you hit compile when we decide to ask you again?” prompts. And once I finally get both Adobe and Microsoft products up to date here comes Firefox discovering a new version of some plugin that I depend on desperately. To be real, I can’t remember the last time I started Firefox without it upgrading itself, a plugin, or presenting me for no apparent reason with the “You are now upgraded to the latest Firefox” web page. I digress.
Back to Adobe. Let’s talk about their Reader upgrade experience. First of all, when was the last time you did something with a PDF reader aside from searching, zooming or paging through a document? I’m sure there are those of you that will be like, “I annotate my PDFs with little yellow 3M-like sticky notes for future reference all the time!” But, c’mon son! How often does an average user take advantage of what’s crammed into Acrobat? What in Paul’s Pet Shop is it that they are upgrading anyway? I’ve been a professional software programmer for exactly 11 years as of today (I just realized that today is my 11th anniversary of my 1st professional programming gig! Go me!) and I have yet to use let alone understand any of the features in Acrobat other than is text rendering feature. If I could get Notepad to open a PDF I might as well uninstall the whole thing entirely.
Maybe I’m being too harsh? Maybe I’m just so spoiled by Acrobat’s ability to transparently do its job that I take it for limestone? (Most people take things for granite, here at “can’t see nothing but the source code” we take things for completely alternate rock forms because granite is so… boring. However I do take my work address for granite and that’s a joke that is so lame that I had to include it. If you didn’t get it just nod your head and laugh and look it up later.) Yes, that’s it. I’m being too harsh. Tune in next episode when we take an in-depth look at the more elaborate features of Acrobat. I’m off topic once again.
Let’s really understand the upgrade experience offered by Adobe for the one product I came to know them by, Acrobat Reader. I get the upgrade prompt when I open a PDF. Here I have the option of ignoring the upgrade, so far so good, right? As discussed above one eventually tires of ignoring so lets consider what happens when one accepts. Some applications (most notably on the Mac) know how to allow you to continue working while they take care of themselves silently in the background. Acrobat spawns a new window in your web browser pointing to the new version. You must then take action to initiate the download. I’ve had this happen to me in the past where I won’t even notice the window and I continue my work only to be reminded at the end of the day when I close my browser that I never actually upgraded anything.
If its not enough to interrupt your work with an upgrade then require you to manually download the new package, Adobe goes a step further by tricking you into installing yet another piece of software along the way. My experience this morning found me visually scanning the new browser window for the upgrade button and mindlessly clicking on it. I was not interested in any of the other adornments on the page, I was only interested in finding that button that would finally make the upgrade nags go away. The button I found did NOT download the upgrade. It downloaded what Adobe refers to as their download manager! Now I’ve been interrupted, I’m forced to interact with a web browser window that I did not open (which I’m sure is a direct no-no in some user interface guidelines), and I’m downloading something that is not the “thing” that I’m supposed to be installing. As if I hadn’t wasted enough time I have to do a double take to realize the little blip that my browser puts at the top of the page warning me that the site is attempting to install something in my browser. In other words, the download manager is not a stand alone program, rather it’s a browser plugin which means that if I switch from, say Firefox to Chrome in the future then I’ll go through the entire dance on the next Adobe upgrade. Now I ask not only why I need a new version of Acrobat, but why do I need another download manager. I then ask how many different download managers do I have installed across all of my machines? Do these download managers need to be upgraded over time as well? Will I need to download a download manager manager? Every time I switch computers will I need to worry about this?
After installing the download manager I then need to restart Firefox, which of course will probably upgrade its own nonsense. I take the restart firefox option after installing the software I didn’t know I needed in one final attempt at upgrading the software I knew I didn’t need. I get one of those Mozilla crash reports. I now accidentally allow Firefox to send the report back to Mozilla in a quick attempt to dismiss the crash window which expenses more minutes out of my schedule. (Mozilla was kind enough to default the option to “yes please waste more time posting an HTTP request before killing this process”) On my restart I discover that I was using a test profile in Firefox. my default profile knows nothing about the download manager install that went bad. (Profiles are the thing that Firefox uses to separate users and browsing sessions from one another so using a different profile is the rough equivalent of using a completely different install of the web browser. Fortunately you won’t have this kind of situation unless you know enough about the internals of Firefox to find the secret spot where they are activated.) I then restart the entire upgrade process from the reader client because I’ve now invested too much time to call it a waste. After finally getting the manager installed it is wise enough to automatically initiate the upgrade that I originally came for. My upgrade completes and I have officially forgotten which document I was originally trying to read. I open Acrobat using the new icon added to my desktop clutter (nobody asked me if I wanted yet another desktop icon) to peruse its newer interface and explore exactly what I spent the last hour and a half fighting for. Adobe now assaults me with another prompt for the EULA. I guess they need to be sure I wont pursue legal retribution for the $25.32 in salary exhausted over the 2 hours I spent trying to use their product to read some text. My eyes quickly dance over the wall of text overlooking the hidden clause, “I promise not to ask Judge Judy to embarrass Adobe or any representatives from Adobe even as Adobe has thoroughly begged for the TV prime-time humiliation…” to find the “I ACCEPT” button.
Finally an empty Acrobat frame! I discover that ooh! We can now collaborate in Acrobat! Isn’t that what Netmeeting is for? No wait, WebEx and Cisco solved the collaboration thing years ago. And wasn’t collaboration in version 8 of Acrobat? There’s a digital editions option under the file menu as well. I thought PDFs were already digital? Can you digitize a PDF? What happens then? What to do with the millions of PDFs that aren’t digital? I click this option and guess what happens? It spwans a web browser window! Here I am gifted another wall of text explaining the “Digital Editions” experience complete with an Adobe Digital Editions Installer button. (This will probably spawn another window to install the Adobe Digital Editions Installer Manager.) I skim the text and learn that Digital Editions has something to do with eBooks. You mean after all these versions and upgrades Acrobat can’t open an eBook directly? Looking over the other features in the menus I note there is a Text To Speech engine that allows PDFs to be read out loud, there are some security options, and a weird Analysis menu. I also see an “About Adobe Plugins” option with no apparent way to add/remove/change the included plugins.
I think I’ve analyzed the Acrobat experience enough for now. None of what I mentioned above was funny nor was it an attempt to be funny or cruel. This is all reality as I seriously try to understand not only why my work needed to be interrupted but what it was interrupted for. Holler back if you’ve ever fought an upgrade process like Adobe’s and wondered why.