Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with the Java Enterprise System installers. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.
Brian Ehret is an interaction designer working on Sun's identity management products. He has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and works out of Sun's campus in Colorado.
Recently, I had a talk with Brian Ehret, the UI designer behind the web-based installer for our open source directory server, OpenDS. The really compelling thing about this installer (and it's hard to really make an installer compelling) is that it's launched right from the browser, so the user can configure the directory server properties without manually downloading a local installer application; everything is handled by Java Web Start. I know -- that was the promise of Java all along, and now, here we are :)
Jen: Brian, can you tell me what existed before the browser-based installer for OpenDS?
Brian: The open source project went live on java.net late in June 2006. At that point, you'd download a zip file to install the directory server, and then run "setup", a command-line utility that prompts you for configuration information. We wanted to drive adoption, so that meant making the software easier to evaluate. But we still support the setup utility for people who don't have web connectivity on their install machine or who simply prefer to use command line.
Jen: So how did you get from the traditional installer paradigm, of running a local application, to running the installer from the browser?
Brian: In one of my early meetings with the team, one of the developers mentioned the idea of using Java Web Start for upgrade and it just seemed like a natural use of the technology for installation. Since the primary face of the project is the website, the idea of putting a link up there that would launch a GUI capable of downloading, installing, configuring, loading with data, and even starting the server in a few quick steps seemed really cool. I put it in the spec along with the panel designs and the developers put in the plumbing to make it work.
Jen: Boy, I wish I'd thought of that. What's the user feedback been like?
Brian: I wish I had good numbers on how many people are using the web setup versus the command-line tool, but we don't yet. We did get some feedback on the user experience and that person's feedback was great; we've already made improvements based on his suggestions.
Jen: So, what's next?
Brian: We're now working on adding upgrade capability to the installer so that users can click the web start link and upgrade their servers to the latest weekly build of OpenDS. The idea is to allow them to stay up to date without having to install a fresh server and then have to configure the server all over again. We are also adding some additional capabilities such as configuring data replication between servers. The design spec and an HTML mockup of the installer is up on our project wiki.