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After all these years in development, the lack of an installer for Eclipse might indicate some relevant reasoning from the developers.

Are there any benefits for its users from not having an installer?

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Hi jcage - I'm not familiar with Eclipse, so do you mean that the app can run without installation, or rather that there are no precompiled binaries? Are you asking us about the UX of 'run and go', or the UX of self-building? –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Mar 16 '12 at 12:46
    
It's an archive (ZIP for Windows). You simply decompress this archive, and it's really to start... –  romaintaz Mar 16 '12 at 12:49
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No installer seems like ideal UX...no one likes installers, even programmers. –  Ben Brocka Mar 16 '12 at 14:23
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@BenBrocka: untrue. Installers also do things setting up shortcuts in the start menu and associating files to the application. All useful things. I know that can be done differently as well, but Windows users are used to installers. –  André Sep 26 '12 at 11:07

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

To my understanding it's to create such a loose connection to the environment/OS as possible. Applications that are installed need to update data in the OS registry and is therefore on some points restricted. In your Eclipse IDE you can specify own registries with data relevant for the project.

Another benefit is that it's easily updated and also easily shared between work stations without installation.

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In addition to the AndroidHustle's answer, thanks to this mechanism, you may have several installations of Eclipse on your machine (especially with different versions) without encountering conflicts due to installation.

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+1 that's a good point –  AndroidHustle Mar 16 '12 at 13:50
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I don't see how having an installer precludes you from having concurrent installs. Java, IntelliJ and several other programs have installers and allow you to have several concurrent versions. –  cdmckay Apr 25 '13 at 21:50

If it were such a good idea to separate it from the OS, then a lot of other IDE's would surely have followed this path. All the good ones (not saying Eclipse isn't good) have installers.

The real reason is that there are so many flavours of Eclipse for each platform and language, with many preconfigured modules, specialized vendor setups etc. that ... having installers is too much trouble.

No installers = much easier for the user to have multiple Eclipse variations on their development machines and much easier for Eclipse flavours to be brewed and distributed.

If Eclipse were a commercial product, or a tightly controlled code base, there would surely be installers.

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C++ and Java are not IDEs, they are languages. –  DJClayworth Sep 26 '12 at 18:59
    
Not sure why I said that. LOL! Edited that right-out-a-there. –  Wilf Sep 27 '12 at 4:52
    
If they have a build process for making the .zip files, I don't see any reason why that build process couldn't include an installer builder step. IntelliJ supports several platforms and languages and has no problem providing installers. –  cdmckay Apr 25 '13 at 21:52

In addition to AndroidHustles great answer, one must realize what Eclipse really is: a developer tool. Being a developer tool its target audience is developers who knows the file system very well. An installer of Eclipse (for Windows) would only unzip the files and copy them to the default location C:\Program Files\Eclipse. This location could be changed either by using the Browse-button or typing the location in the address field.

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Simply put, there is no real use of an installer for the target audience: developers.

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As you can see from the other answers, the benefits can be subsumed under one thing: Because it leaves setup to the user, giving him more control of fitting it to his environment and his needs.

But if you were to ask about the drawbacks, they are: it leaves setup to the user, increasing his cognitive load and general amount of work.

This is a trade off older than information systems. A highly customizeable tool is the only one which can produce results with high fit to the needs of each possible user. But the higher the customizability of a tool, the higher the danger that a user will misconfigure it, ending up with a configuration much worse than a good-for-almost-everybody default configuration.

All software producers of this world fall somewhere on the scale of customizability. The majority seems to orient itself on the side of low customizability, as this is the preference of a majority of users. But most open source software is created by tinkerers for tinkerers, so it tends to fall on the high-customizable end. Open source developer tools are even more subject to this philosophy.

Eclipse is a software which falls on the highly customizable end, even though it isn't as extreme as some other tools (e.g. Emacs). Its developers do as little configuration behind the scenes as possible, setting up a single default configuration and leaving the user to correct it as he sees fit. This also covers the settings which an installer normally fits to the user's environment. Where is the default workspace? The user has to enter this, not the installer. Where is Java installed? Sorry, if your classpath is messed up, you have to repair it yourself, there is no installer to go looking for Java for you. You need compatible versions of libraries? Go get them for yourself, or install Eclipse together with all dependencies from a repo using a package manager. You want a desktop shortcut? It is up to you to create it. And so on.

As you see, the nice experience of unpacking a zip and starting the program is counterbalanced by the user having to do the job an installer would have done in a different program. As to why the Eclipse developers decided to do it this way: not because it is strictly better than having an installer, but because this point at the trade off curve fits their preferred philosophy.

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