Under The Microscope

Live Disc

Every time we exhibit at Macworld Expo, we hand out CDs with trial copies of all our software on them. And every time, we face the same problem, of how best to create these discs such that the software on them is up to date with the latest we have.

At our first Macworld in 2004, we had 5,000 discs professionally pressed, placed in CD sleeves with product information printed on them, and delivered directly to San Francisco. This is the easiest option, but turns out to be the worst in terms of having up-to-date discs. Pressing has many weeks of lead time, particularly due to Christmas and New Years (with Macworld in early to mid-January), so we ran a high risk of discs being out of date by time we got to the show. It also makes it impossible to do something like release a product at the Expo, as it would have to be done weeks or months in advance to get it onto the disc.

So for our second Macworld in 2006, we devised an alternate system. We ordered 5,000 pre-printed blank CD-rs, as well as 5,000 blank paper sleeves, and a CD duplication robot. We then waited until two weeks before the show, at which point Paul then burned, sleeved and finally shipped out our 5,000 CDs. A lot of work, but with just two weeks of lead time, we were able to have all the latest versions of the applications on the disc. We were able to release Airfoil 2 at the show, while still getting it onto the disc. That said, the discs all became out of date two weeks later when we released Airfoil 2.0.1.

This year we’re employing a modified version of this same system – pre-printed blank CD-rs, with professionally printed CD sleeves (the fabled infosleeve) so we don’t have to give out a flyer as well. However, we’ve improved the CD itself with a solution to prevent the discs going stale after the show. Instead of just burning our applications directly to the CD, we display them through an application we wrote called Live Disc:

LiveDisc

Live Disc presents a window much like a customized Finder window, with application icons that you can drag for copying or double-click for launching. The magic is, if a newer copy exists on our web server, it will copy or launch that version instead, seamlessly.

When Live Disc launches, it compares each application from the disk, to what our web server reports is the latest. If you then copy or launch an out of date application, it automatically downloads the newest copy from the web server, extracts the .zip or .dmg (thanks to SUUArchiver from Sparkle), and finally presents that version instead. From the user’s perspective, you drag an the icon for an application such as Fission, drop it on your Desktop, and get the latest version, every time.

That said, it isn’t a truly perfect solution. If there is no internet connection available, Live Disc has no choice but to use the versions it has on the disc. Even when there is an internet connection, there are progress bars to watch as downloads complete and are extracted. But otherwise it works pretty nicely.

If you are attending Macworld this year, be sure to come by our booth (#2738 in the South Hall), say howdy, and grab a disc to see Live Disc in action.

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