Product Reviews

No-Fuss Installation Work

InstallShield Developer has too much power? Try the Express version.

InstallShield has had a busy year. Their latest product release is a new version of InstallShield Express. Express is based on the Windows Installer (MSI) engine, but doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the high-end InstallShield Developer product. But if you're doing straightforward installations, you may find that this product is the sweet spot -- definitely more powerful than the setup bits that ship with Microsoft's current products, definitely easier to learn than Developer (or the non-MSI product, InstallShield Professional).

Express is a sort of dedicated editor for MSI files. Rather than put you down into the raw data, though, it splits up installation tasks into a treeview, with each node of the tree leading to dedicated editing screens. You add files and registry keys to your installation by drag-and-drop operations, for example, or set the overall setup properties by filling in a form on screen. When you're done, Express translates your work into an actual setup file, complete with the bootstrap bits needed to install the Windows Installer Service and the .NET Framework if necessary.

Version 4 has a lot of new features which bring it in line with recent releases. For starters, you get full Visual Studio .NET integration; when you're deploying a VB .NET or C# product, InstallShield Express runs as another project alongside the rest of your solution. You also get full support for deploying Web Services, including the ability to set up IIS virtual directories. There's a new condistional feature and custom action area that lets you customize your setups, better Registry editing, and a version of DemoShield to let you create attractive CD launching applications.

I used Express to build setups for a couple of C# projects, and was quite happy with the results. Navigation is intuitive, and things worked well when I brought the setup files to a clean machine. Even things like adding assemblies to the GAC were easy to accomplish; this is a product that works well with .NET.

Of course, there are times that you'll want to move up to Developer. Some of the features in Developer that you won't find in Express are multiple logic conditions (mixed And and Or) for conditional actions, better patch and update support, user interface editing (Express can edit text and images, but not add controls or move them around), InstallScript debugging, source code control integration, Windows CE support, and an automation interface.

InstallShield has several promotions on Express running through the end of the year. These include a $100 rebate on new purchases or $50 on upgrades and discounted bundles of Visual Studio .NET with Express (available through Programmers' Paradise and other resellers).

About the Author

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

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