To make adding and removing programs easier, Microsoft created the Windows Installer service. This service, and its accompanying .MSI file format, provides a way for end users and programmers to package executables and applications for installation without worrying about the details, like which Registry settings or files are being added or removed. Administrators who want to deploy an application throughout an organization will find .MSI tools very useful, especially when using a mechanism such as Group Policy Objects for the deployment.
Many third-party programs such as InstallShield from Macrovision Corp. allow people to create installer programs. One of the best for specifically creating .MSI files is Advanced Installer from Caphyon LLC. Now in its 3.5 incarnation, Advanced Installer offers:
- Authoring of .MSP patch files. Windows Installer now lets you patch existing programs using the standard .MSP (Windows Installer update files) patch-package format; Advanced Installer lets you create patches by automatically comparing the original and changed versions of the files.
- Multilingual support. A separate XML resource file provides language resources for .MSIs. To create another language version of the .MSI, all you need to do is provide a new resource file. LI>Java package support. Java programs can now be deployed through .MSIs via Advanced Installer as if they were conventional binaries.
- 64-bit package support. For installing 64-bit applications.
- Specific prerequisites. If your application needs some other application to be present, such as a .NET runtime library or the QuickTime codec, you can have the .MSI automatically inspect for needed components and warn the user before installing them.
- Custom actions on installation or removal, such as popping up a survey form.
- Digitally sign .MSIs with Microsoft Authenticode signatures. This makes it harder for your .MSIs to be corrupted or compromised when they are delivered. Just make sure that what goes into the package is itself clean!
The free 30-day trial version of Advanced Installer can work in a feature-limited version indefinitely. The full version starts at $249 (license discounts are available), with some features, such as Java support, extra. Packages created by the free version are not restricted in any way, save for the feature set that can be used to create them.
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!
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