Installers ease app distribution pains

If your company uses different platforms and OSes, it can be difficult to standardize on any one installation method. Many developers simply don’t have time to create reliable installers.

Fortunately, thanks to companies such as InstallShield and Wise Solutions, developers can now create single installation applications capable of handling several OSes. The result: better installers that take less time to create.

InstallShield Professional 4.0

For good reason the wildly popular InstallShield is ubiquitous: It is a reliable, easy-to-use, adaptable solution. The Professional Multi-Platform Edition offers the ability to easily and quickly create installation packages for multiple platforms, all within a single application.

Ironically, InstallShield’s install package was a bit clumsy. We had to download the package from the CD rather than simply determine the platform we were on and start the corresponding application.

In any case, we began by creating a new project from the main IDE (integrated development environment) menu. We could build either a simple product installation, a typical installation, a product suite installation, or even an empty wizard.

We chose to build a typical installation application and quickly found ourselves defining our features and components. You can set such variables as the ability to remove or update an existing application or execute prompts for installation locations.

We then added all the necessary files and created our file launcher. All that remained was to design an icon for the launcher and then test the application. In less than 20 minutes, we had deployed a simple installer with little effort.

With the latest release of InstallShield, you can now bundle a JVM (Java virtual machine) with your installer, solving the problems that different user JVMs can cause.

Another notable addition is the set of “platform packs” for IBM AIX, Caldera OpenLinux, SuSE Linux and Turbo Linux. The platform packs contain specialized Java classes and native code and make deployment even easier by allowing users to take advantage of the existing functionality on their machines.

For those who require even more customization, InstallShield provides a fully extensible, open API for creating items such as custom bean panels and actions.

In all, we were impressed enough with InstallShield to award it a score of Excellent. Its ease of use, widespread acceptance and powerful features should be more than enough for most enterprises.

Wise for Windows Installer 3

Companies that deploy only Windows applications may want to consider Wise for Windows Installer 3. True, the package is limited to Windows, but its ease of use, powerful features, and plentiful wizards helped the product soar to a score of Excellent.

Wise for Windows is an application development toolkit for authoring installation packages that use the Windows Installer service. The product does an excellent job of using Microsoft’s standard installation engine, allowing you to create just about any Windows application imaginable.

We began our testing by selecting the application from Windows’ Start menu. The package launched the environment from which we would build our applications and then prompted us with a graphical list of application types. We could create empty projects, empty modules, or transforms; we could also import existing Wise scripts or Visual Basic projects.

Using the same look and feel as Microsoft’s Office 2000 installation program, Wise then presented us with a graphical method for adding features and conditions.

We were especially impressed with the interface. Each of the required steps was identified at the top of the panel, which lets you see which steps remain and which sub-tasks are required for each step.

Throughout our tests, we were able to build applications very quickly. Wise even includes a handy Distribution Wizard; you can configure your packages for distribution via an FTP site, a piece of removable media (such as a CD), or even a network location.

Wise even helps you define the features you want to install by default for three different installation types (Typical, Complete or Custom), thanks to a new Installation Type Page within the Installation Wizard. As does the InstallShield product, Wise works with various application types, including Visual Basic, Visual C++ and Java.

Version 3 comes with numerous new enhancements. Most notably, a debugger for Windows Installer application impressed us with its capability of stepping through an installation, isolating and resolving problems as needed. The debugger works with any Windows Installer package, regardless of whether it was created using Wise or not.

Overall, Wise promises to be a very useful addition to any Windows shop that delivers software. It’s probably the best installer you can buy if your users run Windows exclusively. But if you need to scale across different platforms, stick with InstallShield.

Tim Fielden is a senior analyst with the InfoWorld Test Center. Send him comments at [email protected]

Review boxes:

Wise for Windows Installer 3

Supplier: Wise Solutions Inc.

Pros: Powerful scripting capability; allows users to create upgrade patches; easy to use; allows developers to define distribution methods; provides good debugging tool

Cons: Limits platforms to Windows

Cost: US$899

Platform: Windows 95/98/2000/Me, Windows NT

InstallShield Professional 4.0

Supplier: InstallShield Software Corp.

Pros: Supports numerous platforms and software distributions; easy to use; intuitive, customizable interfaces; integrates with other installation mechanisms; enables standard JVMs

Cons: Installs awkwardly at outset

Cost: US$2,199

Platform: Any Java 2-compatible platform

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