Sunday, September 21, 2008

Installing software?

Most people get by with the software that comes with their computer: word processor, spreadsheet, email client, etc. Some need specialized programs to pursue a course of study, or for their jobs, or sometimes just for a hobby. Some of these programs are commercially produced, and that accounts for my present job. I work from home, and I take calls from people that are trying to install and/or register student versions of Autodesk products.

Over the nearly 18 months I have been doing this, I have learned some general things that can save people some grief if they are trying to install a large and complex program.

1. If you need a software package for a course of study (degree or certificate), make sure you get the right product. Later courses might require more advanced features that are not in the basic product. The best people to advise you on this are the instructors or professors who will be teaching those courses. Don't rely on salespeople at a vendor, they probably don't know the difference, unless the vendor specializes in programs for that particular field. This is especially true of college bookstores. Many of the people working at college bookstores are business students, and if the product you need is not business-oriented software, they probably won't know enough about the programs for your field.

2. Before you open the package, check your computer against the system requirements. This is best done before you buy the program if you are on a tight budget. If your system won't take the program, or if your system doesn't meet the minimums, calling tech support won't help much to complain about the program not loading, or running so slow it crashes.
Be aware that companies are issuing large and complex programs on DVD's, and CD drives won't read them. This is a cost-saving measure because they can put on one DVD what would require 2 or 3 CD's, and they don't have to pay as much for raw materials.
One aspect of system requirements that I am aware of is graphics (video) cards. If you are using a program for drafting or animation, the manufacturer of the program might have a list of cards that are compatible, or they might specify how much memory the card has to have. The memory on the card is a separate item from the memory on the motherboard.

3. Make sure you are logged in as Adminsitrator, or with an account that has admin privileges. Not doing this can block you from installing the software.

4. If your computer is over 1 year old, or it has seen a lot of use in the few months since you bought it, clean it up. And I'm not talking about Formula 409 and Brawny paper towels, even though it might need those too. I'm talking about cleaning up old files and excess.
If you have any antivirus or antispyware programs, use them to scan the system for bad stuff. If you do have a virus hiding on your computer, you definitely want it off your machine before you start installing software. You never know what kind of mischief those things can do when you start the installation process.
The next step is to run Disk Cleanup or a similar program to remove excess files and empty the Recycle Bin.
Finish up by defragmenting your hard drive.

5. The last thing to do before inserting the installation disk into the drive: turn off all security software such as firewalls and antivirus programs. You can always turn them back on later. They can block or corrupt an installation, and make you have to uninstall and retry.
From what I have heard, the firewall built into the various flavors of Windows is not that good. You're better off leaving it off and using one from a different source.
Norton antivirus (AKA Symantec) is known for not getting along with Autodesk products, and I suspect that it is the same with other products.
For free alternatives to the Windows firewall and Norton, go to, and click on the Kim's Security Center button.

6. At some point during the installation, you might be asked or given the opportunity to configure the product. If you are a new user of the program, you will probably be better off accepting the default configuration.

7. Many software manufactuers allow you to register the product online over the Internet, or offline over the phone. Online registration works best with high-speed connections such as cable or DSL. Wireless and dialup connections are iffy at best. Offline registration might not be available on the weekends, so I recommend registering during the week. Most software companies allow you to use the program for a trial period before you have to register, and if you wish to use that period, be sure to register during the week if the period is set to expire on a weekend.

8. If during the installation or registration process you cannot go on because you don't see a button at the bottom that says Next or Continue, you need to increase the screen resolution. Minimize the window. Right-click on an empty area of the desktop. Choose Properties in the menu that pops up. In the Display Properties dialog box, click on the Settings tab. In the lower left hand corner should be a slider that sets the screen resolution. Moving the slider one spot to the right usually does it for most people. Then click Apply and OK. Maximize the window, and you should be able to see everything.

Of course, these tips are for Windows, mainly XP. I don't think Mac users have these kinds of issues unless they are trying to run a Windows program.
The one tip I do have for Vista users is, if you do have any problems and the cause looks like it might be related to the operating system, turn off the User Account Control (UAC). It's that feature of Vista that tries to restrict everything you do.

Happy computing!