Bootstrapping application installations

Adobe uses a novel though hardly unique approach to distributing certain software. If you want to install say, Acrobat Reader onto your Windows machine, you go to their web site and download an installer. Only you don’t download an installer, you download a bootstrapper that downloads the right thing for you, based on your OS version, language, and platform. More and more vendors have adopted this approach over the years as different version of Windows have proliferated, 64-bit has became more widespread, and they have wanted to make the process easier on the user.

What Adobe does that is unique and unbelievable on Windows is once you launch the bootstrapper, it deletes the file. The program is running in memory but the actual executable file is gone. This means if something goes wrong during the download of the real installer or the subsequent installation, you can’t just restart it. You have to re-download the bootstrapper. Needless to say, this completely sucks and shouldn’t be necessary.

The Acrobat Reader bootstrapper has been like this for years and after recently rebuilding my laptop and installing it, I started to wonder if there was perhaps some technical reason, however outlandish, for that behavior. Is it because it needs to be chained together with other installers, or maybe bundled with some other completely different one? It needs to run silently and can’t leave any footprint on disk? They are trying to keep your machine clean??

Apparently Adobe has a direct download page that doesn’t try to detect the specifics of your machine, and will let you download a full installer that doesn’t have this behavior. A quick Google search reveals that several people have noticed this and none of them like it. Maybe Adobe should put a link on the Acrobat Reader download page in big type that says something like ‘Why we delete this file after you launch it’, which takes you to a page with an explanation. That would be nice.

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