Ever agreed to something you thought was a quick favour, just to see it balloon into a massive project?
Well, towards the end of last year a customer asked me for a list of “best practices” for the Installer. Being helpful, I agreed to send one and started looking for a list. Now, as the Installer was released last millenium, I assumed that someone would have created such a list by now and my search would be short. How wrong I was.
After much hunting, I couldn’t find any document solely devoted to Installer best practices. Sure, there are recommendations and advice scattered around various sources – from my own experience and that of other Installer users in Microsoft to white papers and the SDK – but nothing dedicated to giving straight advice on what to do and what not to do with the Installer.
Having agreed to provide the list, I had to get one somewhere, so I decided to create my own from the many individual bits and pieces I gathered in my search. This is where things just seemed to take on a life of their own. I had envisioned a short (1-2 page) list, but some months later ended up with a 30+ page document!
Once I had this in reasonable shape, someone pointed out that it would probably be useful to the whole Installer community and not just one customer. So here it is – or at least here is the first part.
I initially looked into publishing the list as a white paper for download from the Microsoft web site. Unfortunately, the process of editing and reviewing white papers can take a while, so I decided to post here on the Installer blog first. Mainly so that the information can be made available quicker, but also just as importantly, so you can give some feedback to help improve the final white paper.
The paper is currently divided into various section, including a brief description of Installer functionality, troubleshooting advice, etc. However, the bulk of it is a series of “rules” (that is, the “best practices”), split into the following subtopics:
Rule 1: Learn the Windows Installer Technology
The importance of this rule cannot be overstated. If you only follow one rule, this is the one to choose.
Rule 2: Know Your Way Around the Installer SDK
The best resource to help with Rule 1 is the Windows Installer SDK (usually just called “the SDK”). It is the definitive guide to the Installer technology and covers all aspects of creating packages, including detailed descriptions of database tables, properties, custom actions, etc.
Rule 3: Use the “Windows Logo” Program as a Basis For Good Practices
The “Designed for Windows XP” Logo Program is designed to help give users confidence in the software and hardware they buy to work with Windows. The logo ensures that any software conforms to a Microsoft-defined set of criteria that are designed to provide a consistent, high quality software experience. So, even if you do not intend to submit your application to the logo program, you can still use the guidelines to help make your Installer packages better.
Rule 4: Always Use the Latest Version of the Installer
Using the latest version of the Installer gives three important benefits:
Rule 5: Build Setup Into Your Application Development from the Start
Installation absolutely should not be an afterthought in the development process. Many developers don’t like the idea that “setup” should influence the design of a product, but when using the Installer it is crucial to develop the two in parallel.
Rule 6: Get to Know ORCA
ORCA is an MSI package editing tool that ships with the Installer SDK. It has a basic GUI interface but supports advanced editing of Installer Databases. It is possible to create a new package completely with ORCA, but this would be very tedious and error prone; equivalent to writing the Microsoft.com website in Notepad – possible, but not something you’d really want to do.