Product Reviews

Installation Software Marches On

Wise raises the bar in Windows Installer software — again.

Anyone who doesn’t think competition promotes software innovation hasn’t been paying attention to the Windows setup market. It was only about a year ago that both Wise and InstallShield released full-featured products to help developers work with the Microsoft Windows Installer Service. Then, earlier this year, InstallShield released a major upgrade to its product.

Now, Wise is here with a new version of Wise for Windows Installer that once again adds impressive new functionality to a well-polished product.

Wise’s core remains the Wise for Windows Installer itself, which is really two programs in one. Most users will never need to venture out of the Installation Expert, which offers a step-by-step approach to building a new Windows Installer file. The Expert is very easy to use. If you’re starting with a Visual Basic project or an existing setup program, you can have a Windows Installer file in 10 minutes or less.

For those who need more power, though, Wise also includes the Setup Editor, which can get down into the low-level details of an Installer file. This includes editors for tables, actions and dialogs. The last offers both property-based and visual control editing. The table editor is vastly improved in this release, offering field-level validation and the ability to do a global search and replace.

Once you’ve created your installation, the Wise interface offers a standard compile/test/ run cycle that lets you make sure it’s performing as desired. You can then distribute your installation via removable media, FTP or a network share point. Wise also can create the files necessary to let Microsoft SMS handle installation duties.

Two new applications in the Wise package deserve special attention — the Debugger for Windows Installer and InstallTailor. Once you’ve worked with these applications, you’ll probably find it hard to do without them.

The Debugger is, as you might guess, an integrated debugger for Windows Installer files. You can step through or into any action or dialog in an installation and interact with the installation user interface while doing so. The Debugger interface lets you inspect, in detail, what’s going on inside the Windows Installer service during this process. This application alone would have saved me much more than the cost of the entire Wise product the last time I worked on a large installation. It’s amazing how much easier it is to pick up problems by looking at the process in real-time instead of wading through log files.

Wise for Windows Installer 3.0
Wise for Windows Installer Professional 3.0 includes an integrated debugger that lets you single-step through an installation and inspect properties as you interact with the interface. (Click image to view larger version.)

InstallTailor is Wise’s solution to the problem of creating Installer transform files. A transform is a group of settings that can be applied to an existing Installer package to customize it. For example, a system administrator might use a transform file to customize the location and components that all users on the network should use for a Microsoft Office install. InstallTailor makes the process simple. You just run through the installation user interface, making the choices you want to standardize, and it generates the transform file to do just that. Those responsible for user support will appreciate this component even if they don’t ever need to build an Installer package.

Overall, Wise for Windows Installer Professional 3.0 is an impressive and polished way to manage setup tasks. If you’re creating software for the modern Windows platform and want to take advantage of the latest advances in installation technology, it’s a solid choice.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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