InstallShield X reviewed

InstallShield has long been a heavyweight in the installation tools category. Have they held on to this status with the latest release? Find out in this review for Builder AU.
Written by David McAmis, Contributor

InstallShield has long been a heavyweight in the installation tools category and with this release, they are determined to hold on to their status as the market leader.

InstallShield X is the latest release of the popular toolset that can be used to develop installation packages to deploy applications across a number of different platforms, including Windows, Linux, Mac and mobile devices (Palm, PocketPC, etc.) InstallShield is probably best known to Windows developers who needed to create setups for their applications, but in recent years has gained the respect of other platform developers as well.

In this release, InstallShield adds a number of features that make it a more comprehensive toolset for developers, regardless of platform. This "one tool for them all" approach means that you can now develop installation and setup programs for all of the supported platforms (Windows, Linux, etc.) without having to use multiple toolsets.

The IDE environment itself, shown below in Figure 1, has been streamlined in this release so that common tasks are easy to accomplish and even newbies should be able to find their way around.

Figure 1: The InstallShield X environment

This has been a common design goal with a number of products we have reviewed recently, where the vendor has realized that developers need to come up to speed quickly with third-party tools. InstallShield executes this goal better than most others, as everything you need to get started is in front of you and you don't need to go searching for how to get started with the product.

For creating a new project, InstallShield X offers a plethora of options, depending on the type of application and target platform and once you have created a project, the "project assistant" takes over and will walk you through the steps required to successfully create your installation package.

Figure 2: Choosing your installation type

The assistant itself is fairly comprehensive and the progress bar at the bottom of the page is handy for jumping between installation steps while maintaining the "big picture" of what your installation or setup program will entail.

Another enhancement in this release is the introduction of installation prerequisites that you can use to determine if a software or operating system component is required before your program will work. By default there are a number of a pre-requisites already defined (i.e. Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6.0, etc.) that you can use to check before you install your own program.

Alternately, you can also use an editor to define your own custom prerequisite. This is especially handy for developers who create applications that are dependent on underlying technology--for example, if you had an Oracle application that required the Oracle database client to be installed, you could check for this before installing your own software application.

For most basic installations, you won't need to leave the assistant as it has the most commonly used features. You can build a professional-quality installation package in just a few short steps, which can include features that will allow the user to select which components are installed, where they are installed, etc.

One of the final steps that the assistant will guide you through is building your installation. With InstallShield, you have a number of options depending on the project, for whether you want to create an executable, Internet distribution or CD-ROM for installation.

Figure 3: Building your installation

The Internet distribution option will build all of the required setup files and an HTML page that users can visit to install your application. This functionality is provided through InstallShield's "One-Click Install" technology and if you are considering deploying your application through an Internet or intranet site, this feature is definitely worth the upgrade and a sign of things to come from other vendors.

Figure 4: The internet installation feature

If you choose to go the old-fashioned route and build an executable to perform the setup or distribute the setup on a CD, there are a number of new or enhanced features for you as well, including support for native UNIX installation launchers, which can be used to start a shell-based installation procedure.

And did we mention platform support here? After you start digging into the product you realize just how far InstallShield has extended the platform, with the ability to target applications to Windows, MAC, Linux, Unix, OS/400 and even 64-bit platforms.

For extended your installations, InstallShield supports "InstallScript" which will allow you to write snippets of code to support your installation and perform custom tasks that are not necessarily part of the product already. Having scripting built-in means that you aren't limited by the features that are within the product--you can use the scripting language and the 276+ functions to build any custom functionality that you require.

And for all of those Windows developers who are use InstallShield primarily as a method of deploying their Visual Studio and Visual Studio.Net applications, there is definitely something in this release to keep them happy.

InstallShield has new and improved support for SQL Server and IIS, making it a snap to deploy applications that use both of these technologies. You can run SQL scripts as part of your installation and the setup features for IIS mean that you can deploy web services, create new web sites, etc. This makes InstallShield a real contender for automating deployment of enterprise web applications and web services integration should make these types of projects more deployable.

So if you are developing applications that you need to deploy to a wide range of platforms and devices, Installshield should definitely be on your "must see" list. With a host of new and improved features targeted at Windows and Visual Studio developers, Installshield raises the standard for installation and setup development.

Builder AU rating:
- 4/5

InstallShield X
Company: Microway
Price: AU$1820 (US$1388)
Platforms: Pentium III-class PC (500 MHz or higher recommended), 256 MB of RAM (512 MB preferred) 500 MB disk space required (including redistributable code)

Designed for XGA resolution at 1024 x 768 or higher, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 6 installed, Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 (IE 5.5 or higher recommended), administrative privileges on the system, Microsoft IntelliMouse or other compatible pointing device.

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