Agile Platform Community Edition - Adventures and Lessons

Agile Platform Community Edition - Adventures and Lessons

  

Dear community,

 

 

 

As most of you should know by now, we released a free version of the Agile Platform on August 12. We called it Community Edition. If you haven’t downloaded your copy yet, give it a try!

 

This edition includes a whole new set of videos, tutorials and sample applications that make the bootstrap experience for newcomers to OutSystems really easy. And we have been tweaking and changing everything in the meantime: the download page, the installer, the tutorials, you name it!

 

Some Numbers

 

To satisfy your curiosity, here are some numbers… Since August 12, we have had 1050 Downloads! In only 20 days! That means an average of 51 downloads a day. And we are in a holiday period… Imagine in a couple of weeks!

 

Ok, a lot of downloads… and do people use it? Our analysis shows that 75% of the users that installed the platform are actively following the tutorials. It’s really cool to see a percentage like this! But not all is perfect!

 

The Installer Challenge

 

As you all know, we have a piece of software that installs the Agile Platform in your desktop and servers. It is officially called the Agile Platform Community Edition installer… Internally, we call it the “installator machine” or “instaladeira” in portuguese… We are even considering the launch of a new product that actually makes your machine work better… Kidding. The challenge is that this installer must setup the Agile Platform in all sort of systems: XP Professional, Vista (Y, Z, W, …), Windows 2003, and Windows 7… With or without Service Pack A or B… With or without version 5.1, 6 or K of Internet Information Services… With or without SQL Server 2005 or 2008… Yes! The Community Edition supports SQL Server 2008 and Windows 7!

 

We can tell you: the combinations and variables do not end here. Depending on the software a user has installed in his machine, a whole range of things can happen. For instance, if you have installed VMWare on a 64bit OS, ASP.NET may stop working. If you are connected to a Windows Domain in the office, hibernate your laptop, and open it again at home to install the platform… Well, Integrated Authentication to SQL Server through TCP/IP stops working… And the list of combinations that result in installation failures continues ad-nauseum... The long tale of personal computer configurations is our working environment. But we did it!, and the success rates of installations are increasing everyday with every new installer build we release!

 

Yesterday we just released a new version of the installer that fixed a “Blue Screen of Death”… Yes, a “Blue Screen of Death”... How can this happen during the installation of the Agile Platform? Well, we start packing SQL Server Express 2005 SP3 because Windows 7 requires the latest SQL Server Service Pack. Guess what? The SQL Server Express 2005 SP3 causes a blue screen on systems running Windows XP with Service Pack 2. You can read about this in a Microsoft blog, here. Microsoft says the system may restart. Well, restart is not exactly the word…

 

So we are now packing SQL Server Express SP2 and having the Community Edition installer download the SQL Server Express SP3 on demand, only if you are running the installer in Windows 7. And now you may ask: why not pack both the SQL Server SP2 and SP3 versions and install one or the other depending on the computer configuration? Well, here is our research and decision process. SQL Server SP3 occupies around 30MB and packing it would make the installer of the Community Edition around ~100MB. Given that only about 5% of the users are attempting to install the platform over Windows 7, we decided not to penalize the other 95% of users with a larger download… A larger download implies a larger time span between the moment a user presses the download button and the download ends. The longer this time, the more chances are the user will start doing something else and forget to install the platform… Everything matters when it comes to delivering a good user experience at install time! We will keep improving the installer until we reach a success target of 90% and above.

 

We are currently just passing the 70% threshold. Having to setup software in your machines forces us to make this effort… This is for sure the end of an era for software as we know it, but we’ll discuss that later on…

 

Make it Simple

 

With the Community Edition initiative, we got yet again a validation that “make it simple” is a must! First we decided to remove all questions from the Community Edition installer: you just have to launch it and press the install button. Well, you must accept the license agreement first… Damm!

 

Second, removing all questions was not enough to get the users to the end of a successful installation. Some background first… The installation of the Agile Platform Community Edition runs several installers of 3rd party programs the platform requires: Windows Installer, Microsoft .NET Framework, and SQL Server Express, to name a few. The installations of such 3rd party programs take some time. Further, we used to make those external installers visible, that is, once the Community Edition installer launched the SQL Server Express installation, the user would see the installer of the SQL Server. No questions were asked, but the user would see both installers: the SQL Server installer on top, and the Community Edition installer behind, waiting for the other to finish.

 

Not surprisingly, about 20% of the users that started the installation aborted it at some stage. They would just hit the Cancel button either on our installer or in the installer of a 3rd party software that popped up, such as the SQL Server installer. Loosing 20% of the users is not acceptable. Thus we made 2 simple changes:

  1. We added a little spin gif to tell the user the installer is working and doing something - there is nothing worse than wondering if your install has hung!
  2. We made all 3rd party installers silent, that is, they won’t popup any new window - there is no need to scare users with windows popping up!
   

 

Guess what, the percentage of users aborting the installation dropped from 20% to 2%! Once again - the details matter! Keep it simple is not just about asking no dumb questions, is also about telling the user the right information (the spin gif!) and not scaring him (silencing the 3rd party installers!).

 

 

 

We hope some of our lessons are of use to your team!

 

Please let us have your questions and comments! And hey, download and install the Agile Platform Community Edition, it’s free for life!