Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why you should install programs to the default location

AxCrypt since version 1.7 does not have an option for the user to select installation directory during the installation process.

Some like to change the installation directory, typically to D: or E:, instead of the standard location typically on C: and on English versions of Windows in C:\Program Files\ or C:\Program Files (x86) . This is no longer directly possible from the installation graphical user interface of AxCrypt, and sometimes I get asked why.

The main reason is to avoid trouble, and minimize user options where I as a developer believe I can make a better informed choice. AxCrypt is built around many such decisions based on that premise, we choose the algorithms to use instead of providing you with a bewildering array of choices for example. This is simply because I as an encryption expert believe that I can make this choice better in at least 99,9% of the cases and thus spare all those users a strange question they don't really know how to or even want to answer.

With several millions of installations of AxCrypt, just about anything that can possibly go wrong has at least once or twice. More than twice I've had to help users with trouble caused by not understanding the interaction between Windows, the registry, fixed, removable and network drives and AxCrypt installation. AxCrypt has been installed to network drives, on remote VPN-mounted drives, on USB drives on CD's and just about anything you can imagine. Often it works, but sometimes it does not.

With AxCrypt 1.7 and the upgrade to use Windows Installer technology, a major motivation was increased robustness. Part of this is to minimize the risk of a user mistakenly making a bad choice, and the safest and easiest way to do this is to make the choice automatically. Thus the option to select installation a directory was removed from the installer graphical user interface. It's still there - but you need to know a bit about Window Installer in order to force it to do your bidding. The idea here is that any user skilled and knowledgeable enough to do this, is also skilled enough to make that decision with small or no risk of mistake. It's also very clear that if something does go wrong, it's something that needs to be fixed by the user and it does not wind up as an error report about AxCrypt.

The thing that cinched the decision to remove the installation directory was that I could not, try as I might, think of a single valid functional reason for changing it from the system default! Aesthetical,  arguably yes. Functional, no. AxCrypt is tiny, has no performance impact on the drive it is installed to, and does not produce any growing data there. When we do change the installation directory, we also break some assumptions that are made by other software. We are also now responsible to ensure the right file system permissions for example, we might open a vector for a malware infection by installing to a directory that allows non-administrative rights to write to for example. Please note that AxCrypt, due to Windows design limitations, requires administrator elevation to install anyway. Other assumptions we break are the locations of 32-bit vs. 64-bit software in the various virtualized environments offered.

So, we wind up with a situation where I can find no situation where it's bad to install to the system default location, but several where it's bad to install to a different location. By making the intstallation easier for the user by removing one decision, we also make it safer and more robust. It's an easy call I think.

Finally, if you can provide me with a valid functional reason for not installing AxCrypt to the system default location, please do so and I will try to accomodate that reason in the best way I can think of.


  1. Svante, I like your reasoning, your software and your attitude to help make life simple, affordable and systems which are excellent and uncluttered. Please never sell your business to a corporate monster. Best regards, Al.

  2. I am no computer expert but I have been known in the past to install programs to non default locations with the logic of thinking 'this might beat a default location based trojan or virus' but this idea is probably flawed and I did run into a few minor issues with a few programs [not these] and now take your advice, thanks.

  3. I do not like those authors who handles me as a dummy. So I uninstalled it immediately.

    1. Fair enough. However, an expert can always override these things by using command line options to msiexec. Our goal is to make things as easy as possible for the majority, and at least 99% do not want to change the installation location, so we made the decision to streamline the installation as much as we possibly can for the majority.