The Experience Starts in the First Minute

Scott Francis
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I’ve worked chiefly for 3 companies in my career.  In each of the first two, there was quite a focus on installation being easy.  This cuts against the grain for most enterprise software companies.  They mostly get used to a nice tidy sum of installation $ coming their way for each customer they sign up. But those with a little more vision see a hard installation as a barrier to adoption of software.  The product experience starts with the install (if there is one).  The equivalent analogy for SaaS products is that the experience starts with registration.  The harder you make the process of installing or registering, the more people you’ll lose before you even get started. Lombardi was big on the “express install” – a single installer that would lay down everything you need to build and deploy processes.  This mindset has, thankfully, been transplanted to IBM, and so far, it has stuck, even though the installer is something well north of 1GB. Activiti is raising the bar in this arena – and one could argue that install experience is even more important for an open source project.  After all, if you have to configure a build before you can even run software, how many people do you lose during this process? But as Joram Barrez writes, you can get Activiti started in just one minute after downloading.  Actually he’s a bit late with getting this news out, as it was also true of the alpha and beta builds.  But they’ve made some improvements, and more importantly, they haven’t made it harder as the product has matured.  Hopefully they keep a relentless focus on keeping friction costs low – it is much easier to avoid them than to get rid of the friction once it is introduced. To me, this is just mounting evidence that the bar for Simplicity and The Experience is being raised higher.  The points of differentiation will be the how not the what.
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  • I laughed when I read this one. I had just installed Activiti myself a few days before. The one-minute install means going to the “terminal window” and running “ant demo.start”. I did figure out that terminal window was what MS calls Run “command”, and that “ant” was a program unknown to my computer. You can download and are referred by Activiti to the Ant website for instructions what to do with it. Not too hard. That’s to run the demo. To use the software you need to configure Eclipse. Well, I guess that means you need to download and install it first. There are about 100 versions of Eclipse and you need the right one. I am doing that now. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s a one-minute install for a programmer, but programmers aren’t really the ones that care most about one-minute installs. Don’t get me wrong – I like Activiti a lot. But it’s funny the part of it you chose to highlight.
    –Bruce

    • Bruce – Contrary to popular opinion, developers absolutely care about things like build and install time. It affects their productivity, as this is likely something they’ll do dozens or even hundreds of times if they build software on top of a BPMS engine like Activiti. It has to be highly repeatable – and if it is repeatable and fast, that’s better. Plus, it is a sign of a clean product if it installs simply. Not a lot of “clutter” so to speak.

      If you’re installing on-premise BPMS engines, Activiti is about as easy as it gets. Actually Bonitasoft is just as easy, and is closer to what you’re looking for – in that you can grab a distribution that is ready to go out of the box with the authoring environment in < 10 minutes. And I should have thought to include reference to them in the original post because I found their installation process to be quite painless as well.

      (granted, in my case, I already had ant on my machine and I'm used to switching context from *nix to windows and back)

      Always glad to give you a good laugh though :) I'm sure the Activiti folks will be interested in your feedback and improve either the wording of the instructions or the distribution itself.