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You are here: MacNN Forums > Software - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac OS X > Will 10.7 solve noob confusion re: DMGs?

Will 10.7 solve noob confusion re: DMGs?
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May 5, 2010, 04:59 AM
 
A while ago several people here at my lab converted to OS X. One from Linux and two from Windows. I wasn't evangelizing them before and they switched on their own (we do have a lot of Macs and Mac users though). Somehow I managed to be appointed unofficial switcher consultant. And accordingly they've been gobbling up my time with various questions. OTOH it's nice to see the joy flair up whenever they realize that on a Mac something's a real cinch and most stuff is done just the way you'd actually expect.

But the one things that's giving them all a major headache are disk images. Especially Windows switchers are at first shocked to learn that "installing" an OS X app is most often accomplished by nothing more than dragging the app from the mounted DMG to the disk. But the DMG still gives them a lot of trouble. They don't understand the concept of a virtual file system within a (compressed) file. They don't understand what they should keep around (the DMG or the mounted DMG or none of those?) and why/if they should remove the other stuff. They don't understand that dragging the mounted DMG to the disk creates nothing but an alias to the mounted DMG. They're confused by the fact that the mounted DMG isn't there anymore when they log in the next time, etc. This just seems to be the one single most confusing thing about OS X.

I've tried explaining the concept. I've tried the memory stick analogy. But it's evident some of the confusion remains and they still aren't comfortable with the DMG. And one thing's for sure: it certainly isn't intuitive. I can give them all the gory details but that's not what they want or need. These people are scientists with PhDs, they're not stupid, but most of them aren't interested in details. They just want stuff to work. As most Mac power users I know the advantages of the DMG and I appreciate having DMGs in certain situations. And I sure prefer the DMG over any custom installer or installer wizard. But it's obviously quite a confusing concept for about 95% of the people out there (basically everybody but us die-hard Mac users).

So isn't there an easier way to achieve this? Could Apple come up with something better? Or could they make handling DMGs easier (without compromising safety)? Can 10.7 somehow "fix" the confusion?
     
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May 5, 2010, 07:07 AM
 
Personally I think that disk images are overused. If you're only sending out an installer, just zip it and be done. If you're just sending out one app, zip the app and be done. Disk images make more sense if there are several files that you should see - a PDF manual, for instance - but those aren't very common anymore. Everything is included in the program package.

If Apple can fix it? Certainly - make a new installer format that is one binary file (not a package) that does not need to be unzipped or put on an image to be usable. All it takes is a zip or compressed tarball with a special extension that sends it to the installer app. The installer can then unpack this file, put the contents in /tmp or something and then open the package as it does today. Failing that, at least update the icon to something other than a white blob - to me, that blob means "we're not even trying here".
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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May 5, 2010, 03:12 PM
 
I've found the abstraction people have a hard time dealing with is the disk image. If they could double click on the disk image and have it open a window with the content (without mounting and creating another icon) it would be much easier to understand.

Also Talking someone through installing software over the phone is painful. In one window they have App Name(.dmg but that's often hidden) and App Name, then in another window titled App Name they have an icon for App Name. And since the window titled App Name is degenerate (no sidebar), they have to open another finder window to drag the app into.
     
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May 5, 2010, 09:24 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
If Apple can fix it? Certainly - make a new installer format that is one binary file (not a package) that does not need to be unzipped or put on an image to be usable. All it takes is a zip or compressed tarball with a special extension that sends it to the installer app. The installer can then unpack this file, put the contents in /tmp or something and then open the package as it does today. Failing that, at least update the icon to something other than a white blob - to me, that blob means "we're not even trying here".
They already have such an installer format. The .pkg package installers have been flat files since Leopard. The trouble is that having every third-party app require an installer would be a major step backward from the simplicity of the drag-and-drop install.

Ticking sound coming from a .pkg package? Don't let the .bom go off! Inspect it first with Pacifist. Macworld - five mice!
     
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May 5, 2010, 09:51 PM
 
Turning on the internet-enabled feature of disk images would help.
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May 6, 2010, 02:35 AM
 
Originally Posted by mduell View Post
And since the window titled App Name is degenerate (no sidebar), they have to open another finder window to drag the app into.
I can't begin to explain my frustration with this. It's one of a very few things in OS X that makes my blood boil when I encounter it. Yes, *I* know to just click the oval to get the sidebar back, but 95% of mac users seem to have NO IDEA what the oval does, nor do most ever see a window without the sidebar, EXCEPT for disk images.

Speaking of the oval (I don't want to derail the thread), I get a call every week or two with somebody who has suddenly "lost" their icons... I'm looking at YOU, mail.app...
     
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May 6, 2010, 03:53 AM
 
Originally Posted by AKcrab View Post
I can't begin to explain my frustration with this. It's one of a very few things in OS X that makes my blood boil when I encounter it. Yes, *I* know to just click the oval to get the sidebar back, but 95% of mac users seem to have NO IDEA what the oval does, nor do most ever see a window without the sidebar, EXCEPT for disk images.
Agreed.

But even though I know about the oval I still usually end up opening a second Finder window. The reason? Simple, there's cmd-n for the new window, but no keyboard shortcut for the oval AFAIK. To me cmd-n is usually just faster than mousing to to that tiny oval, missing it, aiming again, and clicking it.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:00 AM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
They already have such an installer format. The .pkg package installers have been flat files since Leopard. The trouble is that having every third-party app require an installer would be a major step backward from the simplicity of the drag-and-drop install.
That's exactly the point. The DMG and the installer have distinct advantages over a zip file or tarball, no doubt about that. But not every app needs to be distributed that way.

I often wonder why a simple installer package needs to be distributed on a DMG. Or why do some developers compress a DMG on top of the DMG's own compression (server-side MIME settings maybe?)? And finally why do some developers distribute a simple app for drag'n'drop install (no other support files no symlinks, no special permissions) in a DMG instead of a zip? Just to show me some fancy window background?

Maybe rather than fix the DMG, Apple needs to remind people of which format to use on which occasion. Also KISS - only use an installer when you absolutely have to. Only use a DMG when you can't use a zip or tar file, etc.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:03 AM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
They already have such an installer format. The .pkg package installers have been flat files since Leopard.
Really? Interesting, I did not know that. So there's no real reason to not distribute .pkg files directly, then.

Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
The trouble is that having every third-party app require an installer would be a major step backward from the simplicity of the drag-and-drop install.
Oh certainly, but you can use a simple zipped application for most of those cases - so what if the application is currently in the Downloads folder? The only place where disk images offer an advantage is when the user should be presented with multiple files, and that's not common.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:19 AM
 
Originally Posted by AKcrab View Post
I can't begin to explain my frustration with this. It's one of a very few things in OS X that makes my blood boil when I encounter it. Yes, *I* know to just click the oval to get the sidebar back, but 95% of mac users seem to have NO IDEA what the oval does, nor do most ever see a window without the sidebar, EXCEPT for disk images.
This is just another effect of the conflating of browser and spatial modes for the Finder. Most users of the browser mode always want the toolbar, so why make that toggle

a) on a per-window basis
b) an anonymous button without a label or any hint to what it does

? That last implies that it's supposed to be used as often as the close button, and that's just not the case. That pill was originally there for a single-window mode, but was reused to mean toolbar up or down.

New burned discs always have the sidebar on and the window way too large, btw, no matter what you do to the window or any other default setting. Annoys me no end when I on occasion have to use those discs on a crowded display.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:29 AM
 
Originally Posted by Simon View Post
Agreed.

But even though I know about the oval I still usually end up opening a second Finder window. The reason? Simple, there's cmd-n for the new window, but no keyboard shortcut for the oval AFAIK. To me cmd-n is usually just faster than mousing to to that tiny oval, missing it, aiming again, and clicking it.
I thought ⌥-⌘T was used to show Toolbar along with Sidebar.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:35 AM
 
I used to think that one advantage of the DMG over a zip was that it can contain symlinks that points to a target on the recipient's FS. That's actually how the link to your /Applications folder works on many DMGs.

But as it turns out SL's zip does that just fine as well.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:36 AM
 
Originally Posted by DarkStarRed View Post
I thought ⌥-⌘T was used to show Toolbar along with Sidebar.
You're absolutely right. Well hidden, but it works. Thanks.
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:51 AM
 
Originally Posted by Simon View Post
You're absolutely right. Well hidden, but it works. Thanks.
Well-hidden in plain view in the "View" menu, where you'd expect it.



(No, I've never noticed it before, either)
     
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May 6, 2010, 04:54 AM
 
Originally Posted by Spheric Harlot View Post
(No, I've never noticed it before, either)
Hehe, exactly what happened to me.

I read his post, checked the combo, searched through all menus for it, and actually found it. Then I realized it had never ever occurred to me before there.
     
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May 6, 2010, 05:18 AM
 
I would have found it immediately, had I ever bothered to search for it (and did find it in all of three seconds, when I looked for it now).

I've never actually needed it, since I always keep the tool-/sidebar showing, and the once a month where some DMG will have them turned off, I either already have another window open, or just click the chill pill.
     
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May 6, 2010, 06:57 PM
 
I find Firefox and Skype to be the most common problems in this respect, but that's going to be because these are the apps that most people download. The number of people that end up running both of these from the disk image. Even though both have the app with a giant arrow pointing to the alias of the application folder inside the dmg people don't get it. They really struggle to conceptualise what a dmg is as well.
     
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May 7, 2010, 02:15 AM
 
Google Earth is a biggie, too.

People will have the alias to the app that's on one of the six DMGs they have in the Dock.

Two of those .dmg files will be in /Applications, along with three aliases to the mounted volume, one will be in Downloads, two at the top level of the hard drive, and one on the Desktop.
     
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May 7, 2010, 02:33 AM
 
Ugh. Am I the only one who is fine with disk images as they are? I'll say it again - Windows installation modes can often be far more unintuitive. I'm an experienced user, but I got stung three or four times looking for an app I knew I had previously downloaded, only to find that the reason why it was missing was because I was clicking the "Windows Explorer" button instead of "Save File," which put my download in a temp folder. If the software in question had been installer based I wouldn't have had an issue, but it was just zipped. I think some have the misconception that every piece of software on Windows is installed by an installer, but that's not true.

If a user is too dumb to understand or learn about what to do with a disk image, I say fark 'em. Harsh? Perhaps, but I simply can't understand why users would have problems with the metaphor. And, as others have pointed out, Disk images are far better than installers in most cases. I absolutely hate having to run an installer for a very simple application. I don't know what the installer's doing specifically, nor do I have control over where it installs (usually to the root of /Applications, whereas I like my third party apps in /Applications/Third Party).

Perhaps when a .dmg is downloaded for the first time on a new account, an assistant should appear to explain how to use the disk image properly. Oh, and you know Apple tried to address this concern that many of you raise. When dealing with some disk images, doesn't Safari download, mount the disk image, copy the application and then unmount the disk image and trash the .dmg? I seem to remember that happening.

If the Mac had a software download interface like the iApp Store, one could write an app to "Install" disk images and make a fortune off it.
( Last edited by Big Mac; May 7, 2010 at 02:46 AM. )

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May 7, 2010, 02:42 AM
 
Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
I'll say it again - Windows installation modes can often be far more unintuitive.
"Better than windows" isn't good enough!
When dealing with some disk images, doesn't Safari download, mount the disk image, copy the application and then unmount the disk image and trash the .dmg? I seem to remember that happening.
I think you're right, some .dmg files seem to do this. I think Transmission is one.
     
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May 7, 2010, 04:44 AM
 
I hear you Big Mac, but I'm with AKcrab on this one.

Just because they're better than Windows' brain-dead approach doesn't mean we should be satisfied. I don't mind the DMG and I know that there are situations where you absolutely want it, but I'm anxious to see how Apple could make it easier for newcomers to grasp the concept and use it properly.

Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
When dealing with some disk images, doesn't Safari download, mount the disk image, copy the application and then unmount the disk image and trash the .dmg? I seem to remember that happening.
Originally Posted by AKcrab View Post
I think you're right, some .dmg files seem to do this. I think Transmission is one.
Sounds like a huge potential security issue though.
     
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May 7, 2010, 04:53 AM
 
That was the original concept of DMG app distribution. It was the whole idea.

People rather quickly pointed out the security problem, and it was then quickly discouraged, leaving us with the kludge we have now.

And it's really bizarre to hear Big Mac argue that it's "better than Windows".
     
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May 7, 2010, 04:55 AM
 
Fair enough, but since we're close to a decade into OS X's existence, I don't know if anyone's going to push for improvements in this area. The closest we've seen is Apple's attempt with Safari that I mentioned above. I don't know which disk images it works with in that fashion and what makes the dmgs that work like that different from the ones that don't. I think Safari automounts all .dmgs if the "open safe files" option is checked, but it only cleans up after the ones specifically crafted to work like that. Is it a scripted action of some kind?

But if we're just going to day dream. . . Maybe there could be a simplified disk image preference mode, in which when a .dmg is double clicked or otherwise opened (by a browser perhaps), a Finder dialog box would appear asking if the user would like to install the application. If the user clicks Install, a save dialog would appear with the default destination being /Applications. There could also be a preference to add the application's icon to the Dock. Then, after installation, the .dmg would be either left in the Downloads folder or trashed (depending on the preference chosen) That seems like a pretty elegant solution, no?

Spheric, what was the original behavior that you're referring to? That a script would copy the app to /Applications and then dismount the disk image when done, something like that?

As for it being bizarre to see me argue that at least disk images are simpler than Windows, I don't find it strange. I'm currently in Windows 7 more than I'm in OS X, so I have ample awareness of both environments. As for those who say disk images are too confusing because people can't understand the concept of a virtual volume, I assume that those who can't understand that concept probably can't understand the concept of real volumes, either. They sound like the kind of user who yanks the connection from a hard drive because he or she doesn't know to dismount the volume from the system first. Those are the kinds of people for whom the iPad was invented. I'm all for making computing easier for everyone, but the fact remains that full computing environments shouldn't be dumbed down to the lowest possible level.
( Last edited by Big Mac; May 7, 2010 at 06:55 PM. )

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May 7, 2010, 05:44 AM
 
So how about this.

Why can't the DMG open a Finder showing the contents without ever showing the user a 'mounted partition'? Mount as hidden in /tmp for all I care. And upon closing that Finder window unmount the DMG. That would already take care of half the confusion. And power users still have access to the mount point. Noobs would hopefully quickly learn not to run their stuff off of the DMG because it takes longer. And if they don't, well...

...Already now SL is bugging us with a dialog when we attempt to run something off a DMG ("Are you sure you want to run this as you've downloaded it from this dangerous thing called the Internet?"). How hard would it be to use that dialog to inform noobs about what they're doing and instead offer to copy and run the app from /Applications. If they say yes, then OS X copies the app, unmounts and removes the DMG, and launches the app from /Applications. Done. Again, power users can still just say no and and have it the way it is now.

Wouldn't that let us continue to work the way we're used to but make it easier for all the grannies (and some of my more mazed colleagues) who are buying their first Mac?
     
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May 7, 2010, 01:25 PM
 
Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
I think Safari automounts all .dmgs if the "open safe files" option is checked, but it only cleans up after the ones specifically crafted to work like that. Is it a scripted action of some kind?
Like I mentioned above, those are "Internet Enabled" disk images. It's a flag set on a disk image.

Code:
hdiutil internet-enable /path/to/dmg
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May 7, 2010, 04:56 PM
 
Originally Posted by Spheric Harlot View Post
That was the original concept of DMG app distribution. It was the whole idea.

People rather quickly pointed out the security problem, and it was then quickly discouraged, leaving us with the kludge we have now.

And it's really bizarre to hear Big Mac argue that it's "better than Windows".
This actually isn't true. Internet-enabled disk images were added several OS X versions in, and that feature is still there. The feature you're thinking of is remotely mounting disk images. It used to be that you could make your download link start with disk:// instead of http://, and then instead of actually downloading the file, it would mount it straight over the Internet, onto the Desktop. This was really nice as it allowed you to put a file straight in your Applications folder without having any garbage files to trash at all. Unfortunately, the security issue, which was discovered in 2004, not really "early on", was that this functionality combined with crafty use of LaunchServices could cause a JavaScript on a web page to execute arbitrary binaries or scripts on the user's machine. This led to the disk:// URL handling being removed, but the functionality itself is still there, although you now have to use the Terminal to access it by typing something like this:

hdiutil attach http://www.somedomain.com/path/to/somefile.dmg

I use this quite often actually, to verify bug reports in Pacifist that people send me. Running the currently released version directly off the server ensures that I am testing this in the exact same version of Pacifist that the reporter has downloaded.

Ticking sound coming from a .pkg package? Don't let the .bom go off! Inspect it first with Pacifist. Macworld - five mice!
     
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May 8, 2010, 11:06 AM
 
Security issues aside, I'm not sure that blurring the line between the unsafe Internet and the safe computer on your lap and desktop is a good thing.

How about this, then: An extension to .zip that gives a "suggested installation path". When opening the zip with the extractor in the OS, a dialog pops up saying that the distributor of this app suggests that you unzip this file in /Applications, and asking if you'd like to do so. This is not quite an installer, because the only code in question comes with the operating system and it only operates on a very limited set of data in the downloaded file (Installer packages usually include scripts, third party installers obviously run their own executable code).
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
   
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