Less obvious to end-users, applications installed using Click-to-Run exist in isolated operating environments that don't impact system-wide settings the way normal software installations do. Ordinarily you can have only one version of Microsoft Office installed on any single computer, because registry keys and other settings conflict between different versions. But Click-to-Run applications keep their settings private, which means a Click-to-Run installation of Office 2010 can actually coexist with an earlier version on the same PC.
A new paradigm for software sales
This new method of software delivery has obvious immediate benefits for software vendors. By making software installation a one-click process, it lowers the barrier to entry for inexperienced customers. Click-to-Run containers also make it easier for customers to test new software before they buy it, without risking conflicts with other software they may already have installed -- even other versions of the same product.
Does it really work? Here I have to say the jury's still out. In my own tests, there was no perceptible performance difference between a Click-to-Run installation of Office 2010 and a traditional one. But although installing the suite using Click-to-Run really was a one-click procedure, the initial installation took around 20 minutes on a modest laptop running Windows XP, and downloading modules post-install stopped me dead for minutes at a time. By Microsoft's own estimates, a Click-to-Run installation can take up to two hours on a slow Internet connection. That might still be easier than the traditional installation process for some users, but it's hardly seamless.
But making software easier to install isn't the only benefit of Click-to-Run. Because it breaks down applications into component modules, Click-to-Run could create new revenue opportunities for software vendors by making it possible to sell a subset of an application's full feature set at reduced cost. This could also allow vendors to ship functional trial versions of their software, where the upgrade to the full version is completely seamless.
For example, a suite like Microsoft Office could ship with certain feature sets disabled by default. Customers who wish to upgrade to a more advanced version could pay with a credit card and have the missing ribbon tabs streamed to them automatically. Microsoft's new Office 2010 Starter edition doesn't work this way so far, but I expect it will someday.
For now, Click-to-Run is still in testing, and it's far from being a drop-in solution for software developers. Microsoft had to make special modifications to get the technology working with Office 2010. The Click-to-Run technology is well worth watching, however, because if Microsoft is successful, it could have positive implications for the software industry as a whole.
Today's customers are accustomed to purchasing, downloading, and installing software on their mobile phones with just a few clicks. Meanwhile, the desktop software market has remained essentially unchanged since the 1990s. If PC application vendors want to remain competitive with SaaS, something has to change. Click-to-Run is a step in the right direction.
This article, "Microsoft Click-to-Run: The future of software delivery?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments on Microsoft and application virtualization at InfoWorld.com.