In our past jobs, Gordon and I worked as part of larger technical teams. As developers, we never had to worry about the installation routine. It’s a highly specialized area of software development. We had people to do that job for us.
Fortunately I’d had a little experience working with InstallShield but that mainly involved stepped through the wizard and trying not to adjust settings that I didn’t understand. (Which meant most of the settings.)
Working on Infovark, we’ve had to absorb a crash course on Windows Installer. Windows Installer is the official Microsoft sanctioned technology for deploying applications to Windows. If you want to get the compatibility logo on your product, you must use Windows Installer or a tool that generates Windows Installer compatible .MSI files.
Windows Installer has been around for a long time, going back to at least 1998. Version 1.0 shipped with Office 2000. In the time since, it’s gone through many changes and revisions. If you didn’t “grow up” with the technology over the years, it’s a daunting challenge to get up to speed.
We figured our best bet was to pick a software package to help us build our MSI files. But since we didn’t know Windows Installer very well, it was hard to evaluate which one to use.
The best place I found for information about Windows Installer and setup and deployment tools is InstallSite. Finding my way around was a bit tricky, but there’s lots of good information there.
The series describes the slow evolution of User Account Control and per-user settings from Windows 95 to the present. This helps put all the hacks and kludges in context.
This long history is what makes creating good software installation routines on Windows difficult, especially if you want to support multiple versions of the operating system. The differences between Windows XP and Windows Vista are particularly large.
So if you’re planning to deploy your software to the desktop, make sure to include a lot of time in your development budget for research, testing and troubleshooting. It’s harder than you think.