No-Fuss Installation Work
InstallShield Developer has too much power? Try the Express version.
InstallShield has had a busy year. Their latest product release is a new version
of InstallShield Express. Express is based on the Windows Installer (MSI) engine,
but doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the high-end InstallShield Developer
product. But if you're doing straightforward installations, you may find that
this product is the sweet spot -- definitely more powerful than the setup bits
that ship with Microsoft's current products, definitely easier to learn than
Developer (or the non-MSI product, InstallShield Professional).
Express is a sort of dedicated editor for MSI files. Rather than put you down
into the raw data, though, it splits up installation tasks into a treeview,
with each node of the tree leading to dedicated editing screens. You add files
and registry keys to your installation by drag-and-drop operations, for example,
or set the overall setup properties by filling in a form on screen. When you're
done, Express translates your work into an actual setup file, complete with
the bootstrap bits needed to install the Windows Installer Service and the .NET
Framework if necessary.
Version 4 has a lot of new features which bring it in line with recent releases.
For starters, you get full Visual Studio .NET integration; when you're deploying
a VB .NET or C# product, InstallShield Express runs as another project alongside
the rest of your solution. You also get full support for deploying Web Services,
including the ability to set up IIS virtual directories. There's a new condistional
feature and custom action area that lets you customize your setups, better Registry
editing, and a version of DemoShield to let you create attractive CD launching
I used Express to build setups for a couple of C# projects, and was quite happy
with the results. Navigation is intuitive, and things worked well when I brought
the setup files to a clean machine. Even things like adding assemblies to the
GAC were easy to accomplish; this is a product that works well with .NET.
Of course, there are times that you'll want to move up to Developer. Some of
the features in Developer that you won't find in Express are multiple logic
conditions (mixed And and Or) for conditional actions, better patch and update
support, user interface editing (Express can edit text and images, but not add
controls or move them around), InstallScript debugging, source code control
integration, Windows CE support, and an automation interface.
InstallShield has several promotions on Express running through the end of
the year. These include a $100 rebate on new purchases or $50 on upgrades and
discounted bundles of Visual Studio .NET with Express (available through Programmers'
Paradise and other resellers).
Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.