Intel AppUp Center is an AppDown
Earlier this week my friend David pointed me in the direction of Intel’s AppUp software, as they are running a deal where you get Angry Birds Rio and Chicken Invaders 4 (Ultimate Omelette Christmas) for free when you make your account. I, for one, enjoy a quick, fun (and free) game and Intel seemed trustworthy enough, so I went ahead and installed it.
First and foremost it feels like it takes forever to even get inside the software. On my (Intel) SSD and 10Mbit connection it takes about 20 seconds to completely go through the startup procedure involving some weird progress bars, a logo which comes, goes, comes back, and a random Intel copyright message which shows up to signify the end of the process. Compared to the instant-ness of the Android Market or even iTunes in a virtual machine, this is hardly an ideal initial impression. Additionally, it’s consistently this slow too, not just the first time.
Once you get running you’ll find yourself in a framed window, with the usual custom user web-like interface and standard “app store” features. Design-wise everything seems typical, except in the default non-maximized state, elements in the interface seemed a bit crunched together despite ample space available on the screen. The maximized state was much better, so I suspect it was designed to operate in the larger size.
The downloads happen in small little boxes with tiny progress bars and even though both Angry Birds and Chicken Invaders used the Windows Installer, neither seemed to fully communicate with the AppUp software which simply scrolled “Installing” back and forth with a marquee progress bar awaiting the end of the install. Not a huge problem, but this lack of detail makes it seem like the applications aren’t integrated with AppUp and are on their own. An impression we’ll soon see is incorrect.
With the install complete, I went into Chicken Invaders and amused myself for a little while. The graphics were cute, the music was well done and the gameplay fairly fun. Clearly someone put some love into the game, but having gotten stuck on Chapter 4, I put it away and moved on to something else.
The next day brought Windows Updates, which led to the inevitable reboot and once that was finished, I noticed a new icon had appeared in my notification area. I’m sure it will not come of any surprise to you who the new icon invader belonged to.
AppUp had added two new entries, “Intel AppUp(SM) center” (which is an invisible background process I’ll come back to shortly) and “Intel AppUp(SM) center_Nagware”. I’ll give Intel full credit here, telling me their unnecessary notification area process is “nagware” truly assisted in making sure it doesn’t run again on my machine.
I unchecked both, logged out of Windows and logged back in.
Then I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to shoot some chicken invaders after all that?” Unfortunately Intel didn’t think similarity and was not pleased that I had the audacity to disable their startup process.
So I headed over to the Start menu and clicked on the Intel AppUp center shortcut. After the increasing annoying 20-second startup delay, I closed it and started Task Manager. Sure enough, a process belonging to Intel named ismagent.exe was running.
With all this determined, I tried to run Chicken Invaders again. It worked just fine this time and with Christmas music playing, I made fried chicken of the chicken invaders again.
In reflection, having been at the mercy of Intel software before, the quality shown here doesn’t surprise me much. Don’t get me wrong, the people at Intel are absolutely amazing at consistently bringing out hardware engineering marvels, but when it comes to software, well, they just don’t seem to get it.
And sure Microsoft can be poor with some of their choices at times (especially dealing with the installation of Windows Live products for example), but they’ve never deliberately broken themselves because you removed one of their applications from startup… especially when said startup process doesn’t even seem to be required to be running all the time. Surely if their background Services Manager is needed when starting one of these applications, why not just start it up in the background automatically? This really isn’t rocket computer science.
When I built Skype Call Button, one of the key components threw me into the realm of registry hackery and because of that, I knew it could be easily broken by other software. So to combat the problem, I have the software do a check on all my modifications when the software next starts, and if something has changed the configuration, it prompts to fix itself. Sure, it’s not perfect and probably could be expanded even more, but I thought it best that I try to help the user as much as possible.
So if I can do it, you would think one of the top technology companies in the world could too. That said, I figured I should take a quick glance at how this software is architected.
The main folder here is fairly uneventful. Explorer reports 124 files, 14 folders, totaling up to 53.2 MB of disk space. Of interest is the uninstall.exe, which I remember was created during the initial installation when the setup declared it was “creating uninstaller”. Since their “apps” use the Windows Installer, I think it’s fairly ridiculous that they felt they had to engineer their own installer and uninstaller.
In the main \bin folder, you’ll find 13 executables and 53 DLLs including a few well known favourites, such as cURL, gSOAP, OpenSSL, Qt (including WebKit), and SQLite. This isn’t bad thing in of itself, but the requirements for AppUp say it requires the .NET Framework. Yet, they don’t seem to have used the framework at all as they have used third-party open source libraries instead, and have completely over-engineered what appears to be relatively simple software.
I’ve used my share of these app stores in the past, and although some have been fairly disappointing (for example, the Games for Windows Marketplace didn’t have any search capability until it was recently absorbed into the Xbox website), this one ranks pretty low among them.
I’m not even entirely sure why Intel feels the need to be in this market; surely most of their software partners can provide a better offering?
I’ll be leaving both Intel processes off my startup. If I feel the need to shoot chickens again, I will happily just start their background process myself.