Monday, July 17, 2006

Install Aware Rocks !

I just wanted to take a few minutes to rave about installation.

Over the last six years or so I've had the (dis)pleasure of working with a number of install products, including those that shipped with various versions of Visual Studio, and some from both InstallShield and Wise.

While I have managed to use all these products to some extent in the past, after trying InstallAware I don't think I need ever try another installer again.

I was a bit suspicious at first, since I've never knowingly used an installer created by InstallAware and I figured it can't be that popular. Whether it is or not though, it's great !

InstallAware inherently allows for creating and applying SQL scripts to database, including SQL Server and MySQL databases. It also has inbuilt functionality for creating and configuring IIS applications, virtual folders and properties. A simple, if somewhat clunky, scripting language is easy to use since every line of script has an associated dialog you don't have to learn a whole new script language to get started. A UI provides access to most functionality (although not always on a per-feature basis). The dialog editor is also very simple and familiar to Visual Studio/Basic users, and has a number of useful controls, including a non-IE based HTML view that can be used to display billboards during install time.

InstallAware also features an incredibly powerful compression engine, and inbuilt logic for creating web-download-components on a per feature basis, so only the features selected by a user are downloaded and installed.

Best of all, the InstallAware IDE is fast and stable, and has never yet corrupted an install project on me (unlike some other products). All setups produced with InstallAware use the Microsoft Windows Installer technology, and have all the associated benefits.

This is in fact the first product where I've ever been able to create a complex install without resorting to custom actions that run little VB6 or .NET applications to perform complex setup operations. It's also the first product I've used to create custom dialogs for a real-world project.

InstallAware also has all the other usual features, i.e integrated install debugger, default scripts, pre-requisite installation etc.

It does have some limitations, for example there is no inbuilt ability to edit XML configuration files for .NET applications, although there are some text and INI file functions and there is a 3rd-party plug-in that uses the text file functions to perform tag replacement on XML files installed with an application (which is a good work around). It can also be hard to diagnose why database operations failed or created unexpected results, although it may be I just haven't found the right way/depth to enable logging that helps with this.

All in all, InstallAware is the best install builder I've seen, and I'd suggest possibly the best on the market (although I haven't looked at the latest offerings from the other big players). In any case, I highly recommend you try InstallAware first. I'm sure you'll love it too.

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