Flash Mob

Flash Player 10
My recent posts on deploying Flash Player 11.3 and 11.4 have generated a lot of comments. Some frequent themes: “Why are you bothering with all this? Just deploy the embedded package and be done with it!” and “Just repackage it with PackageMaker/Composer/etc and push that package!” These are certainly valid approaches you might decide to use in your organization.

But I worry that the larger point is being missed.

By recommending and supporting a non-standard deployment mechanism, Adobe is forcing enterprise admins to make choices about how to deploy their software. Some of those choices break the auto-update mechanism. Some are cumbersome to implement. Even Adobe’s recommended solution has several failure modes. But most importantly, it creates more work for the admin, since Adobe’s Flash distribution is not deployable as-is.

This is a colossal waste of time in the aggregate. Not only do I have to waste time packaging, repackaging or otherwise wrapping or modifying the Flash installer in order to deploy it; I must do so for each new release of Flash. And so must thousands of other admins all over the world.

Worse, because of all the possible choices (and no clear winner among them), there’s going to be many different permutations of what gets installed and how. This lack of consistency is a real problem, and must create additional support burdens, not only for local support, but for Adobe itself, as Adobe can’t even count on what is installed. I’m sure Adobe would like to get new releases of Flash out there as fast as possible; their choices actually make that harder to accomplish.

The only real path out of this madness is for Adobe to adopt and support a standard software distribution mechanism on Mac OS X: Apple packages. Enterprise admins should be able to take a Flash Player package and import it into their software distribution system without additional modification.

Part of the issue here is that there appears to be two parts to Adobe Flash Player: the actual Flash plugin, and the auto-update mechanism. These appear to be developed by two different teams. The team developing the Flash plugin itself seems to be doing (mostly) the right thing — they ship the Flash Player plugin as an Apple package that works perfectly with enterprise deployment tools.

The team responsible for the updater, however, is using non-standard deployment tools, leaving us with a mess. Not only is the installation a problem, but the updater doesn’t work when no-one is logged in. This was a nasty problem with Flash Player 11.3; the “fix” in Flash Player 11.4 seems to be that the updater just refuses to run if no-one is logged in. Here’s hoping that’s a temporary/quick fix until the “real” fix is in.

Flash Mob

9 thoughts on “Flash Mob

  1. JoshP says:

    Absolutely agree! Flash is such a ubiquitous piece of software that it should be a no-brainer to integrate into an enterprise setting. Shouldn’t these issues have been worked out a long time ago by Adobe? I’ve spent countless hours as a support pro chasing and tweaking the Flash Plugin on both OSX and Win 7. The only other plugins I’ve spent as much time with are the Java Plugins. Do you think Sun (now Oracle) got it right or any better over the years?

  2. On the other hand if deploying Flash goes from being effortless to requiring work it gives us an opportunity to remove it from our base configuration (where it resides now) and make it an optional install that users have to explicitly request. Considering that it’s one of the common malware vectors in our environment I’d love to see it removed. The only question is what kind of user acceptance we’ll see, but my gut feeling is that there are very few work related services that actually needs flash.

  3. Well said. I’m all for public shaming of companies who don’t use standard installation methods and good practices! 🙂 I’m a little surprised the internal IT people of larger companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Avid, and yes, even Apple, don’t hunt down the people responsible for these bad installers and smack them upside the head.
    Sysadmins should not have to work around bad installers. Good installers are not difficult to make!

  4. TGB says:

    While you’re not wrong that Flash Player deployment isn’t ideal, and it should be as easy as dragging and dropping a pkg, I don’t see how the repackaging route is any more of a waste of time than any other product. Adium, Mactracker, Firefox, Chrome and a whole bucket of other apps all require packaging to be deployed. Sure, they might auto-update, but you have to get an initial version out there, not to mention getting your preferred default settings out too.

    And now, ditto for Flash Player. It’d be nice if those other apps were wrapped in nice smiley pkgs – it’d be nice if every single piece of software out there installed via a pkg that worked with no user logged in – but you can’t have everything.

    Indeed, repackging Flash Player is faster and easier than Adobe’s entire enterprise-ready AAEMM solution. I can entirely repackage two versions of Flash Player (11.x for 10.6+, 10.x for 10.5-) and two versions of Shockwave in the same time it takes AAMEE to generate an enterprise-ready Dreamweaver. Getting SPSS, Autodesk and a raft of other products ready is far more frustrating. And after years and years of blinding pain with the larger Adobe applications, Flash Player repackaging is barely even a blip on my annoyance radar.

    Not to mention, with any of these products, testing them (yes?) is more time and effort-intensive than any actual packaging. 3/4 of deployment and integration is non-technical work. A couple of minutes difference doesn’t really matter in the scheme of QA, UAT and change management process (or are others just not doing that?).

    It seems like the changes to Adobe’s deployment technologies over the last few years mean we’re running out of things to complain about (although, AAMEE 3.0…..) and we’re down to the last few dregs.

    Mazel tov.

    1. “it’d be nice if every single piece of software out there installed via a pkg that worked with no user logged in – but you can’t have everything.”

      With all due respect, the above is incredibly rediculous.

      When you’ve got thousands of Mac users spread across the globe, you certainly should have proper PKG installers.

      There is no reason why hundreds of Mac administrators should subsidize Adobe’s Flash Player dev team.

      Time to clean house at Adobe.

      Don Montalvo, TX

  5. johnny says:

    “And so must thousands of other admins all over the world”

    Do we really? Why don’t we just as a community share our packages? As long it is freeware I don’t see any troubles with it.

    For the more exotic installs I miss a community who share packages or guides on how to do it, or like on iLife from DVD, the munki install file itself since munki can’t make this on it’s own.

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