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.