About the new Install Software Page
How Do I Install Software?
Step 1: Select Software Title
Step 2: Click Download
Step 3: Choose OS then Click Agree & Download
What has changed?
The new Install Software page will serve as the primary repository for all software at Lehigh University. Currently, widely used software such as Microsoft Office and Symantec AntiVirus, as well as all software available at public sites, is available. Over the coming months, the list will grow to include all software available to the Lehigh community. Read about some of the new features below.
The main software list now displays every piece of software available currently via the new install software page. The availability column allows users to see at a glance the operating systems that are supported by the software. It is important to note that these are not necessarily the operating systems for which there are installers available. When logged in, if a green box in the "Web Install" column, there is a web installer that is available for use at their current location.
Role-Based Software Viewing
When viewing details about a particular software title, users will only see versions of the software that they are eligible to use, regardless of location. In the case of Microsoft Office, faculty & staff would only see the version available for use on Lehigh owned computers, while students would only see the version available for use on their personal computer. If a staff member is also taking classes, he or she would see both.
Location-Aware Installation Privileges
While role based software viewing shows users all versions available for the user at Lehigh, the users location is used to determine which of those versions are eligible for installation. This allows users to know that certain software is available for their use at Lehigh, but not at their current location.
Why has the software distribution method changed?
What was wrong with the old system of installing applications?
In order to fully answer this question one needs to know a little background on the current system. This system, which will continue to be used at public sites for another semester or two, is built around a package called "Prism Deploy" from a company called "New Boundary Technologies". Although a different product was used several years back we've been using this method of installing software for over 15 years. In order to perform a "Prism installation" you must have the Prism client installed, which is what recognizes and applies files with a ".pwc" extension. These .pwc files contain information about an application as well as the application files themselves and can therefore be very large, sometimes well in excess of 4 gigabytes.
In order to build these .pwc files an administrator runs a special program called the "Prism Deploy Editor". During this process the administrator uses a test computer in which this Editor is installed with little else, and basically takes a snapshot of the test computer before installing the application using the vendor's installer. Once completed, he then takes another snapshot which picks up the changes and builds the .pwc package. Building these .pwc files requires a tremendous amount of staff time. A single installation of a complex application can easily take over 40 hours and when completed you are left with a single configuration for a single operating system. This process must be repeated for each new release of the application and for each different operating system. Therefore, in order to deliver an application such as Matlab for the 32-bit versions of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 would require 3 full weeks of staff time; add another 3 weeks to support the 64-bit versions of the aforementioned operating systems. This complete process would then have to be repeated for each new Matlab version if we are to make them available as they are released. For Matlab major releases occur around twice per year.
As time-consuming as this process is though, staff time is not really the issue. In order to appreciate what is involved in replacing a vendor's installer one must first recognize that the complexity of installer programs has grown to a level that is commensurate with the applications themselves. It is not uncommon for vendors to invest many man-years of development on an installer program for complex application suites such as Microsoft Office, for example. One can easily see the inherent difficulty in reproducing something that took years to develop in only a few weeks. Furthermore, an increasing number of applications are becoming incompatible with Prism. Some of the applications that we've been unable to install using the Prism tool include virtually all newer Microsoft products (Office, SharePoint client, Visual Studio, Visio, others), all CAD (Autodesk, SolidWorks, Vectorworks, etc...), Aspen, ArcGIS, Cadence/Pspice, CRSP, SAP, Groundwater Vistas, Intel Fortran, most Adobe and Macromedia products, and Oracle.
In addition there are many others that while somewhat Prism-compatible, have issues. Even among working Prism applications in-place upgrades don't work, nor do features that "hook into" existing applications. Finally, there is always the chance of an errant Prism installation literally rendering a computer unbootable, breaking core OS functions such as TCP/IP, or causing even more subtle problems. Most recently a flawed Prism package was causing clients to lose not only their drive mappings but also the ability to manually map drives. Interestingly, this problem didn't surface immediately but weeks after the installation. It was several months before this problem could be identified and fixed due to its insidiousness.
Why is this process so complicated?
Consider what happens when you install a large application suite. The installer program might first check many aspects of your system prior to starting the installation. It might check your available disk space, operating system, processor, amount of memory, or video card. It might also check that you have other software prerequisites such as Oracle's Java Runtime Library, Microsoft's .Net Framework, C++ Runtime Library, or SQL Server. It might also do different things based on what it learns about your system. It often asks you questions about how you want the software installed, such as where on your computer you'd like to put it, which parts of the application you want, which languages, if you want it to regularly check for updates, if you want to register your software, or whether you want everyone on the computer to be able run the application. In other words, by using the Prism system and other third party products in this genre you are basically throwing away all of the intelligence, functionality, and flexibility of the vendor's installation program and replacing with it what is essentially a brute force method of forcing down files and registry changes as fast as possible without first evaluating whether or not it makes sense to do so.
How did this method ever work?
Like many things software was a lot less complex 15, 10, or even 5 years ago. Vendors wrote more cross platform software, which by its very nature had to be more accommodating of different platforms. There weren't as many different libraries that vendors could link into. Vendors have become increasingly concerned about protecting their software from copying and their logic often interprets a Prism or other third party installation as having been inappropriately acquired or installed. So while we've gotten a tremendous amount of mileage out of this installation method, it is now fully showing its age and it now makes sense in every way for us to move to fully native installations the way that the vendor designed them. This is the only way to take advantage all of the benefits, features, and functionality of the application. Each vendor is the expert of their own software so they are the best people to reliably, completely, and correctly install their product.