Program Launcher/Auto-Updater

I remember the first desktop app that I developed for a client. All of my coding experience until that point had been as  a web developer. Sure, I had done QA and technical support for a  shrink-wrapped/installed program before, but I left that organization to take a web developer job.

Even though I hadn’t yet heard of Agile or Scrum, I had grown accustomed to the notion of frequent incremental releases of value. The web made that easy to do. You didn’t have to worry about installers or versioning, just push the bits out to the server and you were good.

So, the first thing I did for the client app was make a program launcher, so when you click on the icon to start the app, you don’t actually start the app itself, you start a little shell .exe that displayed a splash screen. It checked a web site for a newer version of the software. If there was one, it would pull it down, copy over the bits and then start it.

When the currently installed app was the same version as the app on the server, it would just launch the app directly. This process made startup take only a few seconds longer, and it gave me a chance to display the really cool-looking splash screen I created.

It had to be a distinct .exe because I couldn’t over-write the one that was running, obviously.

It worked like a charm, of course, and I could easily make updates to the client app as well as the server apps.  I never had to worry about supporting multiple versions of the software in production. The app was small enough, and the users all had LAN access, so that even on the days where you did have to download the new version, it always took less than a minute.

I remember thinking, at the time, “This is how all software is going to be in the future. A tiny little launcher app which will keep the main app in sync.”

If nothing else, this demonstrates my ability to predict the future, as I haven’t seen anyone else use this approach. On the Microsoft technology side, with .NET xcopy deployment, web services, and xml-based (vs. registry) configuration API, this should be easier than ever.

I wonder why this idea never took off. Is this like coding with fixed-width fonts where people are so stuck in the same way of doing things?

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