Product Reviews

Build Windows Installations with InstallShield 2011 and Wise Package Studio 8.0

Flexera Software InstallShield and Symantec Wise Package Studio target different audiences, providing the services that developers and administrators need to reliably deploy complex applications across an enterprise.

Deploying applications may have gotten easier with the Microsoft .NET Framework, but working with complex applications in enterprise environments is still a challenge.

Visual Studio has always included support for deploying applications and, with every release, has added additional features (the latest deployment technology for Web application projects includes deploying databases, for instance). However, developers have always looked to third parties to provide support for more-complex installations.

Two of the leading third-party products are Wise Package Studio from Symantec Corp. and InstallShield from Flexera Software Inc. InstallShield has a marketing advantage over Wise because Microsoft recommends InstallShield for deploying applications and includes InstallShield LE in Visual Studio 2010. In addition, in April 2010, Symantec abandoned its venerable Wise Installer Studio, leaving just Wise Package Studio and two products for managing the execution of deployment packages: Deployment Solution for Clients and Deployment Solution for Servers.

Supporting Developers with InstallShield 2011
Installing InstallShield 2011 on your development computers adds a new set of project templates to Visual Studio 2010. These project types invoke wizards that allow you to create deployment packages using Microsoft Installer (.msi files), the proprietary InstallShield InstallScript or ClickOnce. Other templates support creating patch files, merge modules and transforms for modifying existing .msi files.

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Figure 1. The InstallShield Professional Assistant provides a structured way of creating a complex installation package. The step shown here allows you to specify that the required software is already installed.

In addition to adding new project types to Visual Studio, InstallShield has a stand-alone UI that includes the Professional Assistant. This tool goes beyond the wizards available in Visual Studio to help developers create deployment packages without requiring a deep knowledge of Windows Installer.

The Installation Designer is part of the standalone InstallShield product. Within the Installation Designer, you can configure registry settings, security, custom actions and SQL Scripts.

Install-Shield, not surprisingly, provides support for other Microsoft technologies including the Microsoft App-V virtual packages. The Microsoft App-V Assistant allows you to configure a deployment package to run on a Microsoft Application Virtualization Server.

The reality is that, for enterprise deployment packages, you'll need to go beyond the Standard package and the InstallShield tools. You shouldn't expect to handle complex installations exclusively through the InstallShield UI. As a Canadian, for instance, I need to create multilingual installations, which are only supported in the Premier Edition of InstallShield. I've also found that I've needed to develop expertise in the InstallShield scripting language, InstallScript, to tailor installations in ways that the UI-based tools don't support.

Supporting Administrators with Wise
The InstallShield product is aimed primarily at developers. Wise Package Studio Standard Edition, which targets a similar audience, is a standalone tool that doesn't integrate with Visual Studio. It provides dedicated wizards for creating .msi files, mobile device installation packages and Windows Installer patch files, but you won't find the support provided by the InstallShield tools.

Wise supports creating new deployment packages by repackaging existing packages from other vendors. Wise Application Watch, for instance, monitors your computer while you run an app and build a list of the DLLs or EXEs accessed. This provides a mechanism for determining which components (from a package that you didn't build) need to be included in your deployment package. Similarly, SetupCapture analyzes installations as they run to create an equivalent .msi installation (or WiseScript) package.

UpgradeSync compares existing versions of installation packages with new versions and identifies potential problems, while also handling the annoying details of coordinating GUIDs and keys between the packages. A command-line builder supports generating the command-line switches necessary to integrate updating deployment packages with an automated build process.

The Professional Edition of Wise Package Studio is aimed at administrators. It includes the Deployment Server, which acts as a repository for deployment components (executable images, scripts, security settings and so on). Deployment Server manages a hierarchy of remote deployment targets and synchronizes changes across those remote computers. In addition to centralized status reporting and control, it supports remote Preboot Execution Environment, or PXE, servers to manage the "pre-boot" environment.

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Figure 2. The Wise Package Installer is a standalone product that includes multiple tools. The Windows Editor Installer, for instance, allows you to create .msi files.

As a non-affiliated tool, it's not surprising that Wise Package Studio supports tools outside of the Microsoft stack. Wise Package Studio handles conversion between VMware virtual machine (VM) disk images and real physical device images, making it easier to test deployed packages on VMs while deploying to physical machines (and vice versa). The Wise Package Studio also integrates with a wider variety of administration tools than InstallShield.

Neither of these packages is cheap, and if you're just deploying simple client-side applications you don't need their power. But if you need reliable, complex installations at the enterprise level, then you'll need these tools.

InstallShield 2011

Flexera Software Inc.
Phone: 847-466-4000
Price: $1,979 (Professional), $5,449 (Premier)
Quick Facts: A complete installation toolkit with tight integration with Visual Studio
Pros: Currently the industry standard for creating deployment packages
Cons: Tends to focus on Microsoft technologies

Wise Package Studio 8.0

Symantec Corp.
Phone: 800-745-6054
Price: $2,088 (Standard), $5,338 (Professional)
Quick Facts: An installation package with support for repackaging existing vendor packages
Pros: Supports third-party packages and centralized control
Cons: No integration with Visual Studio

About the Author

Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His blog posts on user experience design can be found at

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