Windows Installer & MSI Packages
In the world of software deployment and software installation, there is only one real choice if you want robust and intelligent lifecycle management of the applications used in your company. Windows Installer has proven to be the best method for any software installation, and it has matured over the last twenty years to become the only go-to-method for serious handling of applications. Read on to discover some of the benefits you can achieve by developing and using MSI packages such as self-repairing installations and intelligent uninstallations.
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Windows Installer in brief
Windows Installer is a native Windows service that has been around since year 2000. Windows Installer handles software installations on Microsoft systems as long as the installations are packaged as MSI packages.
What is an MSI package?
An MSI package is a database containing all the information needed to install a software product on a Windows system. An MSI package may contain registry values, INI-file settings, shortcuts, files, services etc.
Microsoft created the MSI package format as an open standard meaning that everyone can access the information inside an MSI package.
What are the benefits of using Windows Installer and MSI packages?
Windows Installer not only installs software, it manages software throughout the application lifecycle as detailed below:
- When the installation of a new application is started, Windows Installer runs a lot of checks to make sure that the system is ready to perform the installation. It checks if there are any launch conditions or requirements, that the product is not already installed, and that there is enough free disk space and more.
- During the installation, Windows Installer follows many rules to ensure that other products are not damaged. For instance, it checks that files are only overwritten if they are older than the ones contained in the package.
- Every time you start an application that was installed by Windows Installer the application is checked to make sure it is complete. All files, registry keys etc. are checked to make sure they are correct and if Windows Installer detects any malfunctions it will automatically repair the installation before starting the application for the user.
- Windows Installer also handles patching, modifications and updates to the application in the same robust way as during the installation of the application.
- Uninstallation – Windows Installer excels at uninstalling applications. Because MSI packages are databases and because of the Windows Installer being very good at keeping track of everything, uninstallations are smooth and non-destructive for other applications. No more broken applications or operating systems!
Choosing an MSI packaging tool
Microsoft does not offer any native tools for MSI packaging except for Orca, which in essence is just a database editor to directly edit the content of MSI packages.
Typically, there are two paths for choosing an MSI packaging tool:
- Software Vendors or programmers
If you or your company are developing software and are in need of an automated MSI builder you should look for a tool like the Wix toolset (http://wixtoolset.org), which can be integrated with for example Visual Studio.
Deployment and handling of applications in enterprise organizations requires a suite of tools that includes:
- An MSI editor which is compliant with the Windows Installer Scheme
- A program that can capture legacy installations and convert them to MSI
- A test solution for proper testing of the packages before they are installed on client computers
Smart Package Studio
Smart Package Studio is an application suite that is designed and optimized for creating MSI packages in enterprise organizations. It consists of the following applications:
An intuitive MSI editor that is fully compliant with the Windows Installer schema. As the only product on the marked the Smart Editor builds MSI packages with only native Windows Installer tables. Most other products move Windows Installer functionality to custom tables that are not know to the Windows Installer.
Smart Editor is packed with useful features that makes it easier and faster to develop MSI packages. Among other tools it contains an Analysis module that test your packages for compliancy. It also features Smart Transform that enables you to create transform files in a few seconds.
The top of the pop when converting legacy installations to MSI packages. It uses machine learning to analyze what to exclude from captures to ensure high quality packages that can be distributed to your clients safely. It is also lighting fast compared to other tools on the marked.
The built-in test studio for MSI packages or any other application you would like to test. It features seamless integration with virtual machines to make it easy and fast to test packages on different operating systems. It will automatically load the virtual machine, install any pre-requirements, copy the package and install it silently without any hands-on required. It saves a lot of time and ensures that your MSI packages are able to install and uninstall without damaging other applications or the operating system.