Product Reviews

Advances in Software Installation

InstallShield updates its core products.

The folks at InstallShield have done it again. They’ve issued updates to both of the company’s core products, InstallShield Professional and InstallShield for Windows Installer. And as with past releases, both of these versions are well worth upgrading to.

Choosing between the two versions can be a bit difficult. InstallShield Professional is a mature standalone setup application that includes most features any developer could possibly want in such a product. But you can’t make Windows 2000 logo-compatible setups with InstallShield Professional, because it’s based on InstallShield’s own proprietary setup engine rather than the Microsoft Windows Installer Service. For logo compliance, you need to use InstallShield for Windows Installer. This product shares many features with its older sibling, and seasoned InstallShield users will be right at home with it. But it is a newer product lacking some of the extra touches that are present in InstallShield Professional.

InstallShield Professional offers a multiple-window project view reminiscent of the Visual Studio shell. You can build a basic setup application using a Wizard, and then edit any of its parts:

  • Script files
  • Components
  • Setup types
  • Setup files
  • File groups
  • Resources
  • Media

One nice touch in InstallShield is the use of “InstallShield objects”: predetermined sets of resources that encapsulate common chunks of Windows functionality. These make adding support for technologies such as DirectX, MDAC, MFC, and DCOM as simple as selecting a single component from a list.

Perhaps the most impressive innovation in InstallShield Professional 6.2 is the one-click Internet setup made possible by the InstallShield Player. It’s easy to build a setup that’s launched from a Web page using this interface. Even better, the page can dynamically determine which files need to be downloaded and so minimize the time it takes to install the application. One place to see this technology in action is with WeatherBug, which you can download from www.weatherbug.com/is_shield/install/default.asp.

This version also integrates the creation of self-executing installs directly into the main InstallShield shell, supports automatic FTP of new builds to a distribution server, lets you share shortcuts and registry entries between multiple products, and includes other updates and bug fixes.

In addition, InstallShield for Windows Installer offers a tabbed interface to track everything that’s going on in your setup. This interface does an excellent job of integrating help directly into the product. You can learn about the Windows Installer, globalization, Zero Administration for Windows (ZAW) and other important technologies without leaving the main product interface. InstallShield for Windows Installer also monitors your project for compliance with the Windows 2000 list of best practices, making it much simpler to create logo-compliant setup applications.

InstallShield for Windows Installer 1.5 introduces good support for Windows Installer patch files, which allow you to make updates to your application as easily as you installed it in the first place. These patches can be delivered over the Internet if you like. The automation interface for the program has been updated to make it easier to integrate into an unattended build process, support for COM components has been substantially improved, and you can now call any function in a standard DLL as part of a custom Installer action.

With the release of these new versions, InstallShield maintains its place as one of the leaders in the installer marketplace. Although Microsoft products such as Visual Basic and Microsoft Office Developer include their own installer programs, those bundled programs are simply not powerful enough to meet the needs of the average independent software vendor (ISV). Moving to a third-party product is a practical necessity for anyone who wants to ship bulletproof installations on a tight schedule. InstallShield remains one of the best choices in this market. (For a roundup of products that work with the new Windows Installer technology, see “Software in Nice, Tidy Packages” in the January 2000 issue.)

In addition to purchasing these two products separately, you can buy them bundled as InstallShield Professional 2000 Second Edition. The bundled product costs $995; for an additional $595 you can buy a one-year subscription to all updates. Considering the frequency of new releases from InstallShield, that’s a good investment. You can also download evaluation copies from the InstallShield Web site.

About the Author

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

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