i-Installer Testimonials

I regularly get e-mail about i-Installer, or people write about it on the Mac OS X TeX mailing list (where the most users are to date). Some reactions are critical, certainly, but mainly they are positive.

From the critical reactions (both positive and negative), I try to get clues on what can be improved. For instance, the whole version 2 of i-Installer was built because I wanted to improve on the basis of the feedback I got. So: keep sending your critical remarks.

This page, however, is dedicated to the fan mail I get. I place them here, because there is no better way to tell you about what i-Installer can do for you, than to let some users tell you. After all, I am biased ;-)

The i-Installer users are mainly from the TeX community. Installing and configuring a TeX installation is probably one of the most trying installation jobs around. Normally, on many systems, apart from compiling TeX from sources, this entails a lot of command line work, editing of files, running shell commands etc. which normally baffle all but the most computer literate users. Even scientific users are more often than not completely overwhelmed by the complexity of maintaining a TeX distribution. Heck, even I (and I automate TeX installations using i-Installer) find parts of the TeX setup completely incomprehensible (e.g. the whole font system).

i-Installer has been written to have a generic engine that can exist on top of such complexity and still offer a relatively simple interface to the user. So remember: even when TeX is mentioned a lot here, TeX is just the implemented example of what i-Installer can do. i-Installer is a generic software installer. TeX is just the best example to show what it can do.

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Installing complex software

Everyone who has ever installed and configured TeX on a unix system knows how trying the expertise is. Installing, updating and especially configuring TeX (formats, macros, fonts) is normally considered orders of magnitude more difficult than using TeX and it baffles even many academics (let alone an average user).

I'm a PhD student in Civil Engineering, focusing on environmental fluid mechanics. My research is primarily experimental, in an academic environment. I primarily use LaTeX to write papers for peer-reviewed journals and for conference proceedings.

I am hesitant to recommend TeX to my Windows-using co-workers, because one of them tried to install and configure a TeX distribution and it was hopelessly confusing. The same friend bought an i-Book and has become an avid TeX user, thanks to i-Installer and the Cocoa-based TeX front ends. The great thing is that i-Installer allows a user the flexibility to use iTeXMac/TeXShop/BibDesk/BBEdit/whatever, yet the system appears integrated to the user (this is due to Apple's Aqua HIG, too).

I tried installing TeX on an HP-UX box several years ago, but ended up using Word for my thesis because the combined learning curve to install, configure, and use teTeX, dvips, XEmacs, etc. was not reasonable for me at the time.

Installing a complete, working LaTeX setup is everything but trivial. i-Installer does a great job in making this process so easy that [...] a normal computer user will be able to [install] LaTeX. At the same time, a complex system like LaTeX remains useable in all its complexity. i-Installer [...] may be quite close to an "ideal" mac-like LaTeX [installer] solution, which serves novice users as well as experienced users.

After using these apps for some years you easily forget about how outstanding [i-Installer] is -- when it comes to questions like "I am a LaTeX beginner. What should I buy/download/use to start?" in the LaTeX newsgroups or forums, you often see Windows or Linux users who really envy us Mac users for the i-Installer [+ existing front ends] solution.

I'm a chemist working on my Ph.D. thesis and I've been using TeX since the early 1990's. I work in a university and I use TeX for all of my writing needs, most of all my thesis but also presentations, letters, faxes, orders and reports.

i-Installer wins hands down when compared to similar programmes on other platforms. In i-Installer [packages are] all there and just one click away from being installed whereas on other platforms you have to search the web yourself for installers or even worse, you have to compile them yourself. Understanding TeX is difficult in itself but having to figure out how to do all these other things really scares away many would-be-TeX-lovers.

Also, i-Installer is very straightforward to use and very unobtrusive when doing its work. On other platforms you get flooded with too many options and too much information both of which can become very scary for newbies. I mean there's books out there telling you how to install MikTeX for crying out loud!

On which another user comments:
Maybe you should write a book, Gerben, and make millions :) I don't know what you'd fill the other 998 pages with...

I'll add that once installing, which can take a while, i-Installer is happy to sit in the background and not bother the rest of the system at all---there is no perceived notion of a giant software distribution spiderwebbing its way invisibly all over your computer.

Actually, it is a giant software distribution, but the spiderwebbing is limited to one or two locations in the "unix" part of Mac OS X.

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Senior Citizens ;-) praise i-Installer

Given the power of i-Installer and the complexity of installing, updating and configuring something like TeX, the best illustration of the power of i-Installer comes from people who have experience (especially experience with respect to the complexity of installing something like TeX without having a tool like i-Installer).

Below are some comments from people who think their age has something to do with their problems installing or maintaining systems like TeX (in fact, the same is true for young PhD students, it is TeX's setup complexity that baffles all, old and young alike):

The tool is kool as in Blue Kool! (Is this Aqua?) :))

I have been using Apple since 1983 ... best move I ever made (apart from getting married). I have been a Computer Scientist all of my life (when I have not been a Mathematician. Now at age 54 I find that it becomes more and more difficult to do the simplest things that I could do at 30 :))) I have learned to program in about 15 P languages. Now ... my abilities fail and fade! It is a little surprising ... but then so do my natural language abilities (4+ languages). This is where the i-Installer needs to be praised. Words (of a technical nature) fail me to tell how wonderful i-Installer is ***for elderly people like me***.

I have used TeX and then LaTeX all of my professional life since about 1983(!). I am a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. I take great professional pride in the quality of my public examination papers (and lecture notes) that have always been typeset (originally in TeX, now in LaTeX). Bottomline: I claim to be representative of a certain AGED class whose failing faculties are rewarded by Mac OS X (panther), iBook, eMac, and the ability to keep up with the wonderful world of TeX

What competition is there to i-Installer?
... pause ...
fink, of course ...
which I also use ...
but for some strange reason I *love* the (new) i-Installer interface.

I am a Prof. in Chemical Engineering/Systems and Control. Have done research and teaching for the last about 20 years in India and in North America. Used typesetting packages like script, scribe and exp in early days. But have been using latex since late eighties. Have written all my research papers, reports, class notes, slides for talks and books with latex. Have been using emacs for the past 20 years. Have been a linux fan since the early nineties. Started using PowerBook and OS X 10.2 about two years ago. Use Mac at home and linux at office.

I don't like to play much with the OS and new installations of software packages unless absolutely required. There are two reasons for this: (1) I am worried that I may mess up something (2) I may have to spend a lot of time to fix things. I like the red-carpet in redhat as I just have to update things. I have used fink and i-installer in Mac OS X.

I used the i-Installer about four months ago, don't remember the version, but it was the latest one at that time. It worked very well and an average user like me could use it without any difficulty. I know that I will go back to it next time when I have to update things. I am not saying much, but for a person who does not like to change things often, it is as good as it can get.

Also an aged computer user (58 last Saturday!). Just a Secondary school teacher in Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland not a Professor or computer scientist. I am currently trying to get exam paper solutions and Mathematics journals onto http://www.imta.ie and I find LaTeX great. I have been using Apple computers since the early eighties. Without this installer I probably would have finally had to change platforms.
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It sells Macs:

I have heard a variation on the one below from several users:
I teach mathematics at a small liberal arts college near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I've used LaTeX since graduate school---about 7 years.

I'm one of the 3 mac users on an entirely windows campus (the students get Dells as part of their tuition), and recently, a research student of mine bought herself an iBook---in large part, because I kept saying how fabulous [... and] i-Installer is on OS X!

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Even critics find room for praise

I received a long mail with critical remarks on an earlier version of i-Installer. These remarks led to changes in the user interface and made it possible to have an even simpler installation. When I wrote the original sender to inform him of the new version, he wrote back:
Thanks a lot for listening (although I know from other sources my feedback reports are annoying to read). I confess I haven't yet had a look at the new i-Installer --- the good thing with this installer is that it gets everything right the first time, so I won't really need to use it again until I upgrade to 10.4 :-).
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My view on the matter

Wierda's Law:

Functionality × Security = Complexity

Functionality is what the computer program does for you in terms of what you want to happen. Security breaches are misuses of that functionality, and less security means the use of that functionality in ways you do not want to happen. Complexity is the power of the computer system times the power of the user.

For instance: Microsoft has for years focused only on functionality (everything should be supported by the system). They always were very functionality-oriented and their systems are intended to do as much as possible for the user. E-mail messages containing scripts that would run automatically was invented because it opened the way of smooth functionality. However, whithin a certain level of complexity, increased functionality leads to decreased security. And given that Microsoft's whole company philosophy is built around functionality, it is extremely difficult for them to take care of security.

i-Installer tries to do the impossible, given the fact that it caters to both powerful and novice users (e.g. take the different view options of i-Installer, most of which will baffle non-technical end users), that it wants to offer rich functionality (e.g. the ability to have interaction with the end user) and that it wants to be as secure as possible. It still follows Wierda's Law, because though the end user of a package may be a novice, the creator of a package that is meant to be used by novice users has to be a powerful technician because he or she needs to use the functionality of i-Installer to create something for the end user.

The fact that it can make a TeX install, update or configure (the epitome of complexity) as painless as possible is the illustration of the fact that i-Installer is rather powerful tool. It is powerful because the end user does not experience the complexity of TeX or other components below. E.g. the end user, when installing TeX may opt to have the public domain Latin Modern fonts installed. When the TeX i-Package detects that the right tool is available it will automaticall convert those fonts for use in Mac OS X GUI apps. Without the i-Packages, this operation would be beyond most users and it is largely invisble for them that it happens.

When I get a message like this:

I was alarmed when I saw how huge the installation was, but it installed perfectly, and I had a preprint on LANL in under 24 hours.
I know something must be right ;-). After all, the goal to get the situation that "it just works".

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The entries of user mail have been edited by me. I have (as they can see) left their messages unchanged as much as possible. What I have done is to remove doubles (people saying the same in different parts of the message), sometimes changed the order, and removed anything they wrote specifically about different TeX frontends.