Wednesday Oct 31, 2007

"1-Click" downloading debuts at Sun


I realize this isn't exactly a ground breaking development, but it's still a first here at Sun -- we've just released our first product to use 1-click download. Basically, this simply means you click the "Download Now" button, and we use JavaScript to start the download automatically -- no further clicks needed! And we did include an enhancement that makes our implementation unique by integrating the Sun Download Manager (SDM) directly into the 1-click experience. If you check "Use Sun Download Manager" before clicking the Download Now button, SDM installs as part of the download process and starts up with your product already loaded into its file list.

Granted our first product is a relatively small file which doesn't take great advantage of SDM's ability to pause, resume, and restart downloads, but once we roll out larger files, this will be a very effective solution.

As I wrote previously, there are still a number of caveats around using this feature, and it will take time to enhance its functionality to support many more products. But it's definitely the direction we're going -- to streamline the download experience and remove as many steps as possible. 

If you'd like to give it a try, start on the page Downloads for Java Web Services Developer Pack 2.0, scroll down the page until you see "Java Web Services 2.0 Tutorial," and click the orange Download Now button.


Monday Oct 22, 2007

First Products Released on Sun's New Download System


I am pleased to announce that last week we released the first few products on our new download system -- an important and exciting milestone! We will continue migrating products to the new system in a phased manner in order to gradually add load and reduce risks associated with such a large product migration. This process will culminate later this year with the release of our top product downloads such as Solaris Operating System and Java software

If you'd like to be among the first to try the new system, here are a couple of products that are live now.

Solaris Operating System for x86 Installation Check Tool 1.2
(Note this product requires a Sun Online Account to download.)

J2SE(TM) Runtime Environment 5.0 Update 2
Click on the "Download JRE" link (not the "Download JDK" link).

These are older product versions, again to reduce risk and start out conservatively. Yet our stats show we've already had quite a few downloads on the new system, and so far it's going well! If you give it a try, please feel free to leave me a comment about your experience. If you hit any questions or issues, please check out our updated FAQ, or try the new download customer support form to reach download customer service.

I'm going to claim the distinction of having done the first live download on the new system until someone proves otherwise -- it went live at 8:00 am PDT on October 17, and I completed my download at 8:02!


Friday Oct 05, 2007

Sun's new Download System -- So what's going on?


I first mentioned we're building a new download system back in March (wow, was it really that long ago already?), and frankly, we had hoped to have it out the door by now. Alas, it's been a very complex project, and when you're dealing with the kinds of download volumes we are, we simply needed more time to ensure the highest quality system.

One of the complexities (and benefits) of the project has been our decision to use much more of a service oriented architecture (SOA). When we built the first system starting way back in 1997, the term SOA wasn't even coined, and we built all the functionality ourselves. Since then, we have worked hard to standardize web services and systems that all of Sun's web properties can share via SOA. We call this set of systems the "Common Web Platform," and it includes ID managementMy Sun Connection Portal, eCommerce, downloads, and more.

Here are some of Sun's common services that our new download system (internally, we call it "CDS" -- Common Download Service) will use and their benefits (similar functions were built-in to the old system, making it even harder to manage):

  • ID Management: By using common Sun Online Accounts, users don't have to create nor remember multiple credentials on different Sun properties and can move between them seamlessly using single sign-on and session transfer. CDS doesn't have to build its own customer registration system nor store the data for millions of downloaders.
  • Portal: When users download many of our most popular products, we'll automatically signal the My Sun Connection Portal about the transaction. Customers can then login there, go to their "My Products" tab, and it'll list their recent downloads. Using this info, the Portal presents really useful content. For instance, if you download the Solaris Operating System, you'll find informative links to articles, blogs, training, support resources, and forum postings. If you've never visited our portal, I think you'll find it very worthwhile -- check it out!
  • Outbound Email: Some products are set up to send instructive emails to customers after they download. By using Sun's common email service, we gain efficiency while better respecting customers' Sun-wide privacy preferences. (Trying to track opt-in/opt-out data separately on our many web sites just doesn't work!)

So what's this have to do with the project schedule? With all the benefits of SOA, we're learning about the added complexity as well and some new pitfalls:

  • Number 1, and probably obvious, but we don't control 100% of our fate anymore. Our team has to work with each service's business and engineering teams. Sometimes their priorities are different than ours, and a delay in any external system we rely on affects our entire schedule. (One of the systems lost a key engineer in the middle of our project, for example, and that hurt.)
  • Environmental complexities: We can't build and test everything in our shared production environment, so we work in development and test environments. But the non-production versions of the different systems aren't necessarily in the same place, and so your testing can come to a dead halt just because someone hadn't opened the right firewall ports for the systems to interconnect. 
  • Debugging can be more difficult, and quite honestly it introduces a whole new world of "finger pointing" (as in, "My service works perfectly, so it's obviously something wrong on your end!")

These complexities are not the only reason the project has taken longer than expected, but they certainly contributed. It's a good learning experience, and when we plan our next SOA integrations, we'll know to add some extra time and be better prepared for this new world of interconnectedness.


Wednesday Jul 18, 2007

Heads Up! Sun Download Links are Changing


We've been working very hard on preparing our new download system for release. We hit a snag with data migration from the old system to the new and lost a number of weeks on our schedule, but we're back on track now and preparing to release the new system within the next couple of months (hopefully!).  

I wanted to post this "heads up" to alert any sites that direct link to downloads on Sun that those links will change. We are taking care of this with an automated, systematic approach for web pages we publish. However, we know there are external sites, not owned by Sun, that link directly to downloads. If you own or manage such a site, this is your notice that your links won't work correctly when we release the new system. (We will put redirects in to handle requests to the old system as gracefully as possible, but clearly the best solution is to change the links to point to the new system.)

What kind of links are we talking about? Primarily, this concerns direct linking to the current SDLC application. All such links start with:

http[s]://javashoplm.sun.com/...

(For example, look at the "Get it" page for Sun Java System Web Server 7.0 Update 1 and you'll see a "Download" link at the bottom that goes to:

http://javashoplm.sun.com/ECom/docs/Welcome.jsp?StoreId=8&PartDetailId=SJWS-7.0U1-OTH-G-F&TransactionId=Try.)

Do you manage or know of a site with any URLs on them that start this way? If yes, we will be happy to work with the site team to let them know how to "translate" these URLs to our new download system. It's not difficult and can be done programmatically if there are a lot of them. 

(By the way, if you're using these links for Java software downloads, unless your customers require a very specific version or it's primarily a developer audience, we recommend linking to java.com instead. Java.com is much more of a consumer oriented download experience, and you can change your links now and remove any dependency on the roll-out of our new system. Java.com will not change as far as external facing downloads are concerned.)

Finally, there is one other class of effected pages that are "intermediary" pages on the way to the download system. All such pages start with:

http://www.sun.com/download/products.xml?id=

(The above example of the "Get it" page for Sun Java System Web Server 7.0 Update 1 is this type of page, located at http://www.sun.com/download/products.xml?id=467713d6 )

So, in summary, the new download system will replace these links and many of these "Get it" pages. If you link to them, you must update your site. To do so, please contact me at once by email at gary dot zellerbach at sun dot com. I will send you instructions on how to make the updates and ensure your are communicated with regularly about the changes and schedule. If you have general questions about what's going on, please leave me a blog comment. Thanks!


Wednesday Apr 25, 2007

Implementing "One-Click Download" at Sun


I wrote previously about the new download system we're developing, so here's an update on another new feature it'll include -- so-called "one-click downloads."

You've probably experienced one-click download, often used for consumer-oriented downloads such as those used on download.com or by Adobe for its ubiquitous Reader. It works something like this: First, you find the product page on the web. It describes the product and invites you to click immediately (a button or link) to download. Once you click, you'll see a message such as, "Your download should start automatically. If not, click this link." and then JavaScript initiates the download.

Our executive leadership has requested this functionality for some time. Why? Because it's strongly believed that the immediacy of the experience will increase "conversion rate" of visitors to downloaders. Furthermore, it's well known (and measurable) that we lose visitors with every additional click and/or page load between the user and the desired task. We want to give people the incentive to download our software, then let them act immediately.

We'll offer this functionality by integrating our new download system with a simple, Sun standard web component that can be embedded on any product page. Perhaps the term "widget" is a bit overused now-a-days, but that's basically what this is -- a new, "pluggable" download widget that can go on any Sun web page. It'll look generally like this:

One-click download widget

Clicking the Download button loads the download page and simultaneously starts the download automatically. If the user selects to use Sun Download Manager (SDM), SDM starts automatically with the file in the queue, ready to download. Future enhancements will add more features and flexibility to expand this capability.

You might wonder why we haven't done this sooner, but the fact is that this model has typically been more applicable to simple "consumer" type products rather than the often-complex enterprise software we deliver. Our complex products typically come along with what we're calling "barriers to download" -- extra steps required before users can start their download. These barriers cause measurable user abandonment at each step, reducing conversion rates and the number of customers getting our products.  But removing them is not so simple -- there are technical hurdles as well as the need to modify some long standing business practices.

Here are the key barriers and suggested remediations:

Barrier Remediation
Registration Required Do not require registration. Build it into the product installer and/or offer incentives and opportunity to sign up after downloading.
Software License Agreement (SLA) acceptance required. If SLA acceptance is built into the product installer, we can remove required acceptance from the download flow.
Multiple files must be downloaded. Use Zip or similar method to bundle the product as a single file.

Our first widget can only handle products that have none of these barriers. Since we're sure this is a good thing for our customers, we hope this capability will be incentive for our product teams to look at how they release their products. (Of course we'll continue to support more complex download scenarios too). We're putting out the word to the product teams and hope they'll take take advantage of one-click download when it's released.

Wednesday Mar 21, 2007

RSS Feed Provides Notice of New Download Releases



Thanks to some excellent engineering work by Harley Milne, we now have an RSS feed available on our New Downloads page. By subscribing to this feed, you'll be notified whenever a new download is released on Sun Download Center. To subscribe, just grab the feed URL from the small orange RSS icon near the top right of the New Downloads section, as shown here:

RSS feed icon

This offers a very easy and convenient way to be notified whenever new software is released, and I hope it's helpful for our customers.

Note that similar feeds are also available now for the list of Top Sun Software Downloads and Top Java Downloads if those topics are of interest. (I'm not sure how often those lists are updated but believe it's done monthly.)

Wednesday Mar 14, 2007

A New Download System for Sun


We are currently devoting a lot of time and resources towards building an all new download application to replace the one powering today's Sun Download Center (SDLC). Why? Because the current SDLC code base started in 1997, and as you can imagine, that is terribly ancient in Internet Years. After careful analysis, it was determined we should not put more time and effort into trying to make an older system meet today's needs. A new system is needed to provide the flexibility, capabilities, and advanced functionality supporting a "Web 2.0" download experience.

As our current system is pushing tremendous volume, obviously it is a very complex system and cannot be replaced overnight. We've been going through the full process of designing a new system, from business to functional requirements, user experience enhancements, and so forth. (We recently saw the first conference room demo of the new system -- very exciting, it works!)  While initial emphasis has to be on a functional replacement for the current system, we want to put in many usability enhancements as quickly as possible.

I wanted to share one of the new designs, to give a flavor of what we're working on. One of the key challenges with current systems is handling "bundles", which are essentially multiple software products put together in logical bundles to facilitate marketing, selling, and buying. The prime example right now is "Sun's Software Portfolio." As you can see, this provides the user the option to select multiple products for download in one transaction. But when you actually get to the download page itself, we needed a solution to present so many products and links! 

Options discussed included a sequential set of pages -- download product 1, then hit continue to the next one -- but this required a lot of page loads and forced users to download in a set order. Another option was to make one BIG download page with all the products and links from top to bottom, but that's really awkward and difficult at best. After some collective brainstorming, we came up with a new design that we're very pleased with, and Greg Reimer provided some great JavaScript code to make it all work. Here's a mock-up to show the concept:

CDS Download Page


When the page first loads, all of the sections are collapsed -- with one glance, you can see all the products selected for download. Clicking the "+" icon expands to the full download page for that product, as illustrated for "Product 3." When you're done, you can close up that download page section, then expand the next one and so on. This solution eliminates the issues seen with the other options and is one of the many user experience improvements we'll be rolling out in the (hopefully) not too distant future.


Friday Feb 09, 2007

Update on Sun Download Manager 2.0 -- Delivering Results


It's been two months since the release of SDM 2.0, so we took a look at some key statistics to see how it's going. We're very pleased with results so far.

One of the key goals of the project was to improve download completion rates. We know using SDM helps, but not enough customers were using earlier versions because they had to be installed in a separate transaction. By integrating SDM directly into the Sun Download Center (SDLC) download page, we figured more people would use it and completion rates would improve. (Better completion rates are great for our customers and benefit Sun as well.) Happily, we're seeing immediate improvements, as illustrated in this chart comparing completion rates in November, 2006 (before SDM 2) and in December, 2006 (after the release).

Completion rate comparison

I also ran some preliminary numbers for January and found that one of our largest (and most critical) downloads, the 5 segments that make up the Solaris 10 OS DVD images, are running at a greater than 80% completion rate. That's pretty remarkable when you consider it's over 3 gigabytes of content. (When we started obsessing on Solaris completion rates years ago, the files were much smaller yet running at completion rates around 20% -- so you can see why I'm excited by the progress.)

As to increasing adoption of SDM, average download volume for earlier versions was 20-30,000 downloads/month. Since release of SDM 2, we've had 1/2 million downloads!

Another key indicator is customer support issues. Honestly, it was a little scary for us releasing this brand new use of Java Web Start (JaWS) technology -- integrating a JaWS application directly with the download links on SDLC in a highly visible and trafficked environment. But we've only received about 30 support incidents from our customers, which is a great ratio considering the number of downloads and installations. (Some of the support inquiries received were covered in our SDM troubleshooting guide already, but we understand not everyone "reads the manual.") 

Finally, a quick Google search didn't find too much chatter about SDM, typically a good thing I guess. "Milek's Blog" had some nice things to say as well as some suggestions for new features -- much appreciated. On the negative side, I found little as well, though there are rare cases where SDM using Java Web Start may not work properly. This is often a case of multiple older Java Runtime Environments on the same system, possibly combined with issues introduced by corporate firewalls and proxies. As we recommend, if possible, uninstall older Java versions and install the latest/greatest. Also, the stand-alone version of SDM is still available and offers a good option when proxy or firewall issues may keep the JaWS version from starting up properly. All in all, considering the volume, these issues are very rare.

So that's a quick summary of results so far. SDM 2.0 is off to a great start and is meeting and exceeding the goals we set for the project. (Now I better get back to work on our current major project -- an all new download system that will replace today's SDLC application. We sincerely hope this project goes at least as well as SDM 2.0!)


Friday Jan 05, 2007

Two Billion Files and Counting...


It was just last April that I reported breaking the "1 billion files delivered" milestone on Sun Download Center (SDLC). Amazingly, I just saw the November '06 stats, and we have doubled that volume in a mere 8 months --> 2,198,074,973 completed file downloads from November 1-30! (As I noted previously, these are not individual "products" but rather individual files, as many products are composed of multiple files.) The bandwidth figures are pretty impressive as well. I probably shouldn't get too detailed here, but suffice it to say it's many terabytes per day.

The biggest volume driver continues to be Java technology, and I doubt that will be tapering off any time. Java is alive and well, and more and more OEMs are including it on their systems as they ship. Because these systems use Java auto-update (as do all recent versions of Java), whenever we put out a new release and enable it for auto-update, hundreds of millions of computers pull files from our back-end systems. (The same infrastructure that supports SDLC also supports java.com and java auto-update via web service integrations.)

Now I can't help wondering what the December numbers are going to look like, since in that month alone we released another auto-update release of Java SE 5, the major first release of Java SE 6, and the latest update to the Solaris 10 Operating System, version "11/06". Three billion files in December perhaps??

The growth rate is fairly astonishing and certainly an excellent indicator of the escalating adoption rate of Sun and Java Software. And if you're wondering, I'd say we are prepared (and expecting) to see volume continue to double every year or so. For starters, our "next big thing" is a completely new download system that we're working on now. The SDLC application has served us extremely well but the foundation code is now about 8 years old, and a lot has changed since then. It's getting way beyond the "duct tape" stage for keeping it together, so we're building a whole new system. This is very exciting, and I'll be writing more about it over the coming months.

About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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