From Installscript to MSI

We are prototyping the installer for our next version. We will be moving from an Installscript-based solution to an MSI-based solution. What is my thought process for re-designing and re-writing an installer in MSI? That is what I'll be writing about.


The first decision is what tool to use. Because of the Installscript heritage in our installer, Installshield is one candidate. Other choice being considered is WiX, the project led by Rob Mensching. A third choice is scripting the Windows Installer API directly. Something important to mention is that choosing one doesn't necessarily exclude the others, we want to find out what we can get from each tool. If the most effective solution is combining them, that is a good choice too (as long as it is cost effective, but the Windows Installer API and WiX are free and we already have Installshield licenses, so it is easy to make the case)


For evaluating the tools, I already have experience with MSI-based Installshield projects, a fresh look from another team member will be more effective. I will focus on WiX myself.


Regarding WiX, the question in front of me at this time is: what version of WiX? We want to target MSI 4.0 so it should be WiX 3.x but, are all 3.x sufficiently stable for production? Where to find info on which versions are "good"? For individual development, the typical "get the latest and then upgrade" may be a good solution but one internal goal we'd like to achieve is that tools required for building  should be checked in the source control tree. I don't want to be upgrading often and causing a lot of churn.


How good is the WiX project with regards to the balance between "stability" and "release often"? That is what I have to find out.



[edited: Corrected Rob's name]

Comments (2)
  1. WIX is pretty sweet and pretty stable.  It depends on what you are wanting to do in your installer.  Figure out the hardest things and see if those are easy in WIX.

  2. WiX v2 and WiX v3 are both capable of targeting all version of the Windows Installer (v1.0 – v4.0, to date).  The version of the Windows Installer you are targeting should not be a factor in which version of the WiX toolset you want.

    If you’re looking for stability and not needing to update your WiX toolset often then you should pick WiX v2.  WiX v2 is in lockdown mode and we are only taking severe bugs (only about 3 bugs were chosen to be fixed in the last 4 months, IIRC).  WiX v3 is under development and can have some pretty radical changes happen to it.  But… WiX v3 has some nice features that makes life easier if you’re willing to deal with pain of upgrading.

    Finally, my name is Rob, just Rob.

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