Product Reviews

Get It Right the First Time

AdminStudio supports better quality control for software packaging and simplifies the overall packaging process.

Even though most packaging tools have full-fledged quality control features that help guarantee software installations work right the first time, many software packagers don't take the time to use them. Instead, they end up debugging installation problems later.

AdminStudio 6.0 may change that. It has a number of new features centered on package quality control, ease of use and tight integration with third-party deployment solutions.

AdminStudio's predeployment test helps ensure quality control. This creates an empty package you deploy on target machines to determine whether those machines meet package requirements. While this feature isn't new to software packaging, AdminStudio's predeployment test integrates nicely with its local machine tests and helps with conflict detection (see Figure 1). Going through this testing process will help ensure your packages work right the first time.

Figure 1. Predeployment testing helps identify issues on target machines.
Figure 1. Predeployment testing helps you identify any issues on the target machines before sending out the actual package. (Click image to view larger version.)

The Conflict Solver Process Assistant is another helpful quality assurance feature. Many packagers tend to skip this step because they're unsure of what impact any given conflict will have on other systems in their network. The process assistant helps demystify conflict resolution. It guides packagers through the five-step packaging process (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. AdminStudio's process assistant.
Figure 2. AdminStudio now provides a process assistant that takes users through the packaging process step-by-step. (Click image to view larger version.)

AdminStudio now lets you archive package validation data, another helpful error prevention feature. This lets you see what kind of issues your packages have had over time and helps you improve your own packaging process.

Start Me Up
The new version of AdminStudio is much easier to use than previous iterations. For one thing, it has a completely new and revamped interface called the Start Page. This page is like a dashboard that tells you which projects are active and gives you a status report, access to the tools included in the integrated packaging environment (IPE), access to help and a checklist of all packaging tasks (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. AdminStudio's Quick Start Guide.
Figure 3. AdminStudio's Quick Start Guide serves as a great introduction to the topic for packaging newcomers. (Click image to view larger version.)

Other improvements include automatic package importing into the packaging database, a full-featured version of InstallShield X Professional for package editing and scripting, new package reports that provide more comprehensive package information and tighter integration with third-party deployment tools.

For example, AdminStudio now sports a new Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) Web interface for shops where the packager is also responsible for deployment. With this interface, packagers don't need to change tools to deploy a package when it's ready. AdminStudio also integrates tightly with Novell's Zenworks, supporting the same type of functionality as the SMS interface. AdminStudio will soon have an SMS Edition, which is a toned-down version that Microsoft intends to use to replace the ailing SMS Installer that ships with SMS 2003.

Installing AdminStudio remains perfectly straightforward. It runs as a single MSI that installs most of the tools in the AdminStudio suite by default. It also creates a share point from which you can release packages when they're ready and share package databases with multiple packagers. You can include Patch Impact Manager (PIM)—a tool designed to integrate patch testing into your packaging process—with your installation of AdminStudio if you have a serial number for the product. PIM becomes an integrated part of the IPE.

AdminStudio can store project information in one of three databases—Access, MSDE or SQL Server. It's wise to use SQL Server 2000 though, since it's more stable and secure than either of the other two.

Cool Tools
Packaging is serious business and you need the proper tools to get it done right. AdminStudio includes a host of tools you'll need throughout the process. The Tuner lets you create custom transforms to modify the installation of Windows Installer-ready programs. If your program is not in MSI format, you use the Repackager to capture legacy installations and convert them to MSI format.

Besides its new quality assurance tools, AdminStudio still includes QualityMonitor, which lets you test software once it is installed. It runs a battery of tests to ensure the installed program behaves as expected, even going as far as using the Windows RunAs command to let you test packages in user mode in restricted networks.

ConflictSolver helps you resolve any conflicts between applications. It works with the Application Isolation Wizard to automatically modify MSI installation parameters to ensure that applications are isolated. In other words, it ensures they install their own versions of shared components without damaging or affecting any other application already on the target system.

InstallShield and Macrovision have combined their product offerings to provide a single integrated view. This makes a lot of sense and will flavor future product offerings from this group.

AdminStudio 6.0 doesn't seem to be a major upgrade, despite the full point change in version number. That's probably because there was such a leap in features when it moved from version 3.5 to 5.0. Also, it doesn't seem to include any special features to tie into Windows Installer version 3.0, which was just released by Microsoft through Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. Version 3.0 includes special support for patch control and to be fair, InstallShield will probably provide this support through its Patch Impact Manager product.

If you're not using a packaging tool yet, you should consider AdminStudio 6.0. It provides a clear interface into the packaging process and includes tons of support for new packagers.

Overall, AdminStudio 6.0 continues to offer the same high-level quality assurance and ease of use we've come to expect from InstallShield.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.

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