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On silent installations

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Listening to this weeks Java Posse podcast, they had a feedback item on a topic that was raised a couple of casts ago, the question of the increased difficulty in distributing Java applications to the common user due to the necessity of, at least once, having to face the possiblility of sourcing, downloading and installing the JRE. The usual options of bundeling the JRE, etc were also discussed.

The feedback item came from Romain Guy, who suggested that rather than having the user self source the JRE, why not just bundle the version of the JRE that you are using for your application and, during your application installation, run the JRE installation in the background silently. He draws the idea from the Java Distribution Team's own Stanley Ho, who suggests that "[the] users will also see a single user experiecence during application installation because the JRE installer will not present any UI."

No. No, no, no, no, no and no again. Please.

In my opinion, silent installations should only ever be used by one type of user, and that is the administrator. While perhaps nobley intended, there are simply too many things that can go wrong with this. Compatability for other applications can be broken if a different version of Java installed, especially if for any reason your application uses a customised distribution, or install an older version of the JRE than was previously installed. Installers have traditionally not been very good at determining if it should overwrite a newer version.

The problem with Java being that even if it does install beside the newer version, the damage is done when the CLASSPATH variable is changed. There are other problems that can exist is a customised distribution has been installed, such as Oracle JInitiator.

The user should always be informed as to what is taking place. Unless someone who can tackle any possible problems caused by installing the software is at hand to help through any issues, silent installations should not be invoked. They should never be invoked automatically.

What should happen is that the installer should check to see if the necessary version has already been installed - or in the case of Java necessary or higher - and prompt the user to install if it isn't. But please don't do anything behind my back.
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