Saturday, February 25, 2012

Software Repackaging: Why Bother?

If you already deal with repackaging, or deploying software, silently, unattendedly (new word, I called it first!), to mass numbers of massively anti-IT users, you can tune out on this one.  You already know the song.  Choir: meet Preacher.  I said I'd have something to blabber about and here it is.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the beer while typing it.

I've heard this from business folks, end users, neighbors, relatives, and my kids' friends: "So, do you just copy the the CD/DVD to a hard drive and install it on all the other computers from there?"  It's a fair question, coming from neophytes and non-technical folks.  But is that how it's done?


It's not that simple.

I wish it were that simple.

I wish software vendors gave a flying shit about making our lives simpler.  Rather than caring only about sales and shareholder value.

I wish just TWO software vendors would work from the same playbook when it comes to what features they support for installing their products.  You know, like maybe Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Symantec, IBM, HP, Intuit, Siemens, you know, those little mom and pop shops like those.  Microsoft has tried to define some game rules, via Windows Installer, and platform guidelines, but even they don't eat the same dog food all the time.  Take a look at the installers for SQL Server, Office, Windows, RSAT, Configuration Manager, SharePoint, .NET and Silverlight.  It could be described as a school teacher telling kids not to do drugs, while meticulously packing the crackpipe and bringing the Butane lighter up to it slowly, all the while never breaking cadence with the DARE speech.  The kids are confused.  Do they follow the teacher?


They prefer to reinvent the wheel.  Why?  Because reinventing wheels can be profitable.  Forget what your school teacher told you.  Forget what you've heard and read.  Reinventing wheels is not only profitable, but it is now the predominant business model for American industry.  Why do they reinvent wheels (translation: invent their own installation methods)?

The answer is:  Because most, I repeat: MOST, software vendors suck at making installations.  MOST of them do not even bother trying to make their software easy to install from a command line (a standard requirement for unattended deployments).  MOST of them do not bother with making it easy to preconfigure options and incorporate them during a silent installation.  MOST of them don't bother using a licensing or activation process that works consistently with other vendors.  MOST of them not only assume all of your users are local Administrators, but expect them to be.  MOST of them just SUCK.  Period.

Then I hear from the smaller vendors that they can't afford to adopt tools like AdminStudio, or InstallShield. They would rather use some rusty old version of INNO setup, or roll their dope-smoke, bong-water, shag carpet with crumbs and hair balls solution that they call an "installer".  Wow.  Some of them just make you want to take a dump and read a month old newspaper.

Try this on...

You come back from a cool conference or presentation and your head is bursting with all kinds of new information you can't wait to put into use.  Things like streamlining security settings, administrative tools and capabilities, automation and more automation.  You start locking things down.  You start cleaning house.

Then a bunch of the software the minions use starts breaking.

Then you start breaking out the tools to see what's broken so you can devise fixes for each of them.

You start making progress, but as you start construction fixes and trying to automate their deployment to the masses, you get more reports of broken things.  Soon you are fighting them off like the bugs in Starship Troopers.  You can either exhaust all your bullets, snacks, drinks, and forget getting any sleep, or retreat to a new defense line.  That's more common than you think.  So many IT shops have had to retreat and give up some security protections in order to mitigate the impact on the software applications that keep the business running.

After all, it's one thing to brag about how tight your security configuration is, but see how well that grin of yours holds up when Mr. CEO **SCREAMS** across the conference room at **YOU** that *YOUR* "awesome security changes" are breaking business operations, and managers are **SCREAMING** about downtime and lost productivity.  Now your cool efforts are costing money.  It feels like telling Don Corleone that you accidentally chopped off Michael's finger while opening a bottle of wine.  Yep.  Not good.

Guess what?  IT is almost always viewed by the suits as being a "Cost Center" as it is.  As soon as you cost them more, you're putting on a clown suit and singing "I'm a fucking dumbass, please beat me to death right now?!".

Don't know what a "Cost Center" is?  That's ok, you're an IT guy and probably didn't study those stuffy MBA books while cramming for your CS exam.  A "Cost Center" is the opposite of a "Revenue Center", which means that while everyone smiles and loves the cute little "Revenue Center" for bringing cash INTO the business, your "Cost Center" is the ugly pug-nosed, crack-whore that "COSTS" the business money.  Sales?  Revenue.  Marketing?  Revenue (indirectly).  Support? Revenue.  IT?  COST.

This is unfortunate, since with a little effort and careful strategy, you can make any IT operation appear to the suits as being a "Revenue Center", but most IT folks aren't focused on that side of the battlefield.  The secret is in the numbers.  Remember:  Numbers are to MBAs as bribes are to politicians.  You can say you are saving the business money, but you have to put that into numbers with pretty charts and slick reports.  Works every time.

I'm straying off topic here.  Can you tell?  That's ok. I'm going to circle back around soon.  Hang in there...

With all this crazy bongwater drinking going on with software vendors, and their team of monkeys cranking installers off like an over-caffeinated wack-a-mole session at Chuck-E-Cheese's, you have an assembly line of crap coming in one door.  Then you have labor costs going out the other door.  You have to close this gap between crap installers and IT labor related to installing it on your computers.

This is the crux of the problem.   Read the last sentence above again.  Never mind, I'm going to repeat it for you...

You have to close this gap between crap installers and IT labor related to installing it on your computers.

This is tantamount.  This is epic.  This is vital, not only for your business, but for the value proposition of your entire IT operation with respect to the microscope being focused on your CIO and down from the CFO and above.

At the very least, you cannot continue looking ineffective and haphazard.  Just because you think things are great and nobody complains that you still handle things like it's 1998 and Prince is topping the charts, doesn't mean the suits aren't talking about your habits at cocktail parties with the heads of IT consulting firms.  Maybe IT staffing firms.  In any case, a few smirks and contorted faces from hearing how you handle tasks is enough to trigger the MBA response: "Oh?  Well, how would YOU handle this differently?" To which the other party will say "Well, for starters..." and it goes on for 30 minutes of (translation:) "Here's why your current IT staff is a bunch of clowns who couldn't herd frozen dead cats with a bulldozer"

Don't be that guy.

Take some time to bundle up the crapware and make it dance like a pig with lipstick.  This is what we repackagers do.  It can be unglorified at times, but for the most part it's actually not bad work.  It can be interesting.  Challenging.  Perplexing.  It will make you smile and growl, laugh and cry.  It will make you want to pick up the phone, dial the vendor and tell them how fucked up they are, then slam the phone down and laugh like a mad scientist, spilling Red Bull all down your shirt and shaking like a heroin addict on Monday morning.


There's always caveates.

If you support a dozen computers or less, this may not apply to you.  If all of your computers use the exact same software, you probably handle that with imaging (Ghost, MDT, etc.)  If you support computers that don't have human users touching them every day, you many not have issues like this either.

Here's a quick self-test:  If I handed you a disk and said to install it on EVERY computer in your organization, along with custom settings, a license key, and make it work regardless of the users not having local administrative rights, would it take you more than a single business day to complete the task?

If the answer is "yes", you might qualify for all this mess I discussed above.

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