To me there has always been a feeling a of excitement to be able to build an application and then deliver it to someone that wants it. When I first started programming over 20 years ago with GW-BASIC on my Tandy 1000 EX, it was limiting that what I built could only be run within GW-BASIC since it was an interpreted language environment and not compiled. When I bought Quick Basic 4.5, I could finally compile my applications into an EXE and run them outside of the interpreter. Then I felt like I hit the big time when I was able to build my first setup package in Visual Basic 4. I remember I built a Hello World caliber application and created a setup package that took 3 or 4 floppy disks. I didn’t think it could get any better than this :) Over the years the the excitement about delivering applications became more from the what was built and not how it would be delivered. Visual Studio has always included functional, no frills setup projects. 3rd Party vendors have created easier to use and more power tools for creating deployment projects such as InstallShield. Developers who didn’t purchase a 3rd Party tool were limited to using the OOB (out of the box) setup projects within Visual Studio. While this is functional, the developer has to know where and how to do things and the usability is not very intuitive. It requires many steps to creating a MSI that I have blogged about in Deployments with TFS Part 2: How to create an automated deployment MSI. In Visual Studio 2010 there is finally an easy to solution without purchasing an additional production.
Last week I saw this post from Somasegar on Building setup and deployment packages in VS 2010. Microsoft has partnered with Flexera, makers of InstallShield to create InstallShield Limited Edition for Visual Studio 2010. This brings the InstallShield graphical interface to Visual Studio. In addition to providing a highly intuitive interface for building setup packages, this product allows setup packages to be built from with TFS Team Builds. This has been a major pain point for automated deployments and SCM (Software Configuration Management) processes. I downloaded and installed InstallShield 2010 LE and here is a walkthrough of the tool.
Download and Installation
Read Somasegar’s blog post on how to download and install it. (see link above)
InstallShield 2010 LE Setup project
Once it is installed and you create a InstallShield Setup project, the Project Assignment view is the default view. As you can see, the graphic is a guide that explains the parts of the MSI and the steps to create the package. At the bottom of the screen are the steps to the installation project. In addition to the steps at the bottom of the guide, there are also intuitive steps to the right that keep all of the package settings cleanly organized.
This first step is to fill out the basic information about the application that is going to be deployed.
In the second step, required operating systems and prerequisite applications can be specified and enforced when installing the application. Custom prerequisites can be defined by choosing “Create a custom software condition” under “More Options”.
The installation Architecture section step is disabled in the Limited Edition. In the other editions different features can be defined for users to choose what sections they want installed.
The next step is the Application Files. Here the application’s files can be added to the installation. The “Add Project Outputs” is the primary button for adding the application files. I found this dialog window to be a lot easier to use than the Visual Studio setup project.
The Application Shortcuts step is where desktop and start menu shortcuts can be defined.
If the application requires any registry entries, they can be defined in the Application Registry step.
The last step is the Installation Interview. This step asks a series of questions that drive what dialogs the user running the installation will see. Custom dialogs are not supported in the InstallShield Limited Edition. Custom dialogs are supported in the Visual Studio setup projects. For the automated deployment MSIs, I create a dialog that allows the user to specify the environment.
Custom Actions are non-standard activities that can be performed at different points of the installation process. The Limited Edition supports VBScript, JScript, and Exe custom actions. However, as shown in the following image, there are only a couple points in the process where custom actions can be defined. The Premier and Professional editions also support InstallScript, a powerful scripting tool to create more advanced customizations to the installation process.
After I built the MSI, I ran package to install it. Users will see this message box that the installation was created with a beta version of InstallShield.
InstallShield 2010 LE for Visual Studio 2008
The InstallShield 2010 LE Installation also installs a version that works within Visual Studio 2008. This interface looks the same in Visual Studio 2008 as it does in Visual Studio 2010.
Building MSIs with Team Build 2010
This is the feature I am most looking forward to in InstallShield 2010 LE. Standard Visual Studio 2008 setup projects can not be built within Team Build without some tricks. Unfortunately TFS Source Control and Team Build integration is not available in this beta version. I verified this with Flexera. They are currently working on it. As soon as an updated version is available with this enabled I will do a follow up post detailing the TFS Source Control and Team Build experience. I’m interested to see the following in action:
- Triggering a build and having the MSI compile with the updated assemblies.
- Curious to see if the InstallShield Setup project build can detect new dependencies added. My tests will include adding a reference to the primary output application. Then do a new build to see if the MSI will automatically include it. It might be expecting too much but this would be very beneficial.
- The Project Assistant is a very simple to use series of steps to create a complete setup project. As users feel more comfortable with the too, they will probably jump to the specific screens they are looking for in the navigation pane on the right. Both are highly intuitive and significant improvements over the the standard Visual Studio setup projects.
- Most things that are supported in the standard Visual Studio setup project can be accomplished with InstallShield 2010 Limited Edition. For most installation packages, these limitations will not be problem. However, I will not be able to create automated deployment MSIs because of the limitations of no custom dialogs and not being able to create custom properties.
- Being able to rebuild the MSIs during each Team Build is a huge benefit. Once this feature is available, I think it will become my favorite feature.
- I believe Microsoft and Flexera will both win with this product. Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 will include an improved tool for creating installation packages without having to reinvent the wheel. Flexera has built an amazing and easy to use product that will work for the majority of scenarios, but many will want to upgrade to the Express, Professional, or Premier editions to get the full power of InstallShield.
- The final product should be great, but this beta version is not ready to be used for more than evaluation purposes. Between the beta message box that is displayed when the user installs it and the fact that the TFS Source Control and Team Build integration features are not available yet, I recommend waiting until the final version is released.