Product Reviews

Updates, Without the Hassle

The job of updating users with your latest, greatest software just got easier with vBuild for InstallShield Professional.

vBuild is a tool that helps you through one of the biggest problems of selling software: providing updates to users with a minimum of hassle (both on their part and yours). A product of Red Bend software, there's now a version that integrates with InstallShield Professional, which I had the chance to take for a spin.

To see where you'd want to use this product, consider a typical scenario for a "release often" product. Say you've already got 1.0 and 1.1 in the field, and you've started sending out CDs with version 1.2 on them. Suddenly, your QA department finds a serious bug, and you need to put out 1.2a. Now what? You might send a full set of 1.2a setup files to every customer, but that could get expensive fast. And the full setup can take a long while to download.

What vBuild will do for you is build patches that turn 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2 into 1.2a. These patch setups are based on byte-level differencing of the installed bits, and are compressed to keep them small. Even better, vBuild can wrap all of this up with their OCI online setup technology. This combines all of the patches and the full files into one set of media that you can deploy on your Web server. When a user browses to the package, they get a small agent which then inspects their system and determines which files actually need to be downloaded.

The integration with InstallShield comes not at the IDE level, but in the fact that vBuild understands the InstallShield package format. It can extract a list of files from two versions, match them up (possibly with your help if file names have changed) and put the changes togeether with the UI and logic you've created using InstallShield Pro. The process is quick and easy, and although the vBuild UI can be a bit confusing (there are too many sets of buttons), it gets the job done. The results can be deployed to your own server and hooked up to InstallShield's update notification service.

vBuild is certainly not inexpensive, but you have to balance off the initial investment against cost savings when you've got a substantial customer base. InstallShield is also offering a $500 discount for a limited time, as well as bundle prices with InstallShield Professional. Note that this only works with Professional (the product that uses InstallShield's own scripting engine), not with Developer (the MSI-based product that I reviewed in the previous issue of Developer Central).

About the Author

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

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