Product Reviews

InstallShield Developer 8 Gets Inside Visual Studio

A new version of this venerable installer suite adds full integration with the VS.NET IDE and redistribution support.

Last issue I gave you a heads-up on the new features in InstallShield Developer 8, the latest MSI-based (Windows Installer) setup tool from InstallShield. Over the past few weeks I had a chance to pound on a copy, and here's some thoughts about what I saw.

The nicest thing here is the full integration with the Visual Studio .NET IDE. That seems to be a growing trend among developer tools; it's reaching the point where, if you like, you can sit inside the IDE and do most everything. All we need is Windows Explorer in there and we're all set (actually I wouldn't be surprised if someone has already added an Explorer shell to VS .NET).

Anyhow, it's certainly convenient to be able to add your setup project right to the same solution tree as the code that you're planning to install. Yes, VS .NET's own setup projects can do the same, but Developer 8 offers a lot of features that aren't in the built-in stuff. One of these, the ability to bootstrap everything including the .NET Framework and MSI 2.0 on to a clean box as part of the setup, will be appreciated by just about anyone building a product, no matter how simple. We're far from the days when we'll be able to take the presence of the Framework for granted.

Whether in the IDE or standalone, Developer continues to offer flexible ways to work with MSI data. InstallShield has their own organized IDE to lead you through everything from defining features and components to choosing files and registry keys to install to building IIS virtual directories. But in case that's not sufficient, you can also get to the raw MSI tables and work with them directly.

Another area worth noting is the wide range of redistributable support. Want to install MSDE 2000? A wizard walks you through picking the right components, deciding on database locations, instance names, and so on. Then it adds all the necessary preconditions to your setup. Other troublesome things like MDAC or MSXML are handled equally well.

Overall, Developer worked well on the projects I tried it out with. The resulting setups are professional-looking and work well. If there's anything to nitpick about, it's the sheer wealth of options and power here. That may be overwhelming for simple projects, which can be just as well installed by the built-in VS.NET stuff (assuming you're working in .NET and don't mind the lack of a bootstrapper, anyhow). But when you want the power, this is a great package to turn to. The full package has a list price of $1,199, but InstallShield is offering a $200 rebate on new and upgrade purchases through the end of the year.

About the Author

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


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