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Do you know what WiX is? If not, the value of this tool may be missed, so let me provide a brief explanation:  It uses "simple" XML files to generate MSI and MSM files. It was created by Rob Mensching, a Microsoft employee and former member of the MSI team and qualifies as Microsoft's first open source project (someone let me know if they've heard of another).

It is a bit confusing to the uninitiated as there are several different products the make up the toolset, including:

  • Candle, the compiler, this tool is responsible for preprocessing the input .wxs files into valid well-formed XML documents against the WiX schema, wix.xsd).

  • Light, a linker, responsible for processing one or more .wixobj files, retrieving metadata from various external files and creating the actual Windows Installer database (MSI or MSM). When necessary, it will also create cabinets and embed streams in the created Windows Installer database.

  • Dark, the Decompiler, can be used for converting an MSI or MSM file into a WiX source file.

There are other tools to help you create WiX files such as ClickThrough (to create simple MSI files that update via an RSS feed) and Votive (a Visual Studio 2003 extension for WiX). Despite all these tools however, what you will not find is anything quite like WiXAware.

WiXAware makes the use of WiX as easy as creating an MSI with any other full-featured Windows Installer editor. InstallAware is the first to provide a commercial solution for WiX and many who have looked at WiX and then proceeded to walk away scratching their heads now have a simple means of taking advantage of this format.

While there is no included documentation with WiXAware, there are links to an online WiX tutorial and a WiX reference which are the "official" open source resources for the information. However, when it comes to WiXAware, if you have used any other installation editor before, you will find it very intuitive and easy to use.

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Basic Operation of WiXAware is centered around what many will see as a familiar and easy to follow GUI interface. Click the simply named area of interest on the left and the form for managing that aspect of the setup is provided in the center frame. For example, if you wanted to add a new feature, you would simply click "Features and Components" from the project explorer treeview and then right-click in the main document area to choose "add new feature".

In fact, adding most anything to your WiX product begins with a right-click. Also worth noting is that WiXAware makes minimal use of dialog boxes. A property grid is used (often in a third, left pane) to provide details on any selected item for which you want to enter specifics. This does make the layout a bit wider than you might be used to, but windows can easily be set to auto-hide and will then slide in and out as you need them. In most cases, the property grid values are drop-down menus that allow you to simply choose a value (you don't need to know what options are available).

However, when you do enter text, a Localized String Editor is presented. This lets you very easily make use of properties, paths and other information already established in your project.

WiXAware is also helpful in that it does not do things like create features and components automatically. If you add something to your project, you'll be prompted to create a feature first. Then when you add something, you'll be asked in which component should it be included (where you can also very easily create a new component to put it in).

As a WiX tool, the thing that will interest many people is the XML tab in the document area...

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The XML view lets you view and edit the raw XML being created by your project. This allows those who know WiX (or want to learn it) a very quick way of manipulating the XML directly. The view offers syntax highlighting and code folding which work to make the code easier to read, navigate, and edit. WiXCop has been integrated as the XML checking tool to help you identify problems. When one is found, double-clicking on the error takes you to the area in the XML file where the reported problem may be corrected.

 

I reviewed a late beta release of the product which was not without errors. In each case I was able to choose "continue" and as a beta, I would naturally expect such bugs to be resolved either prior to release, or (perhaps for some of the more difficult to reproduce errors) very soon thereafter.

In closing, WiXAware is a very capable and easy to use Windows Installer editor. You could make use of it and never pay any attention to the fact that it uses the WiX format, but for those that are into WiX I think you'll find that WiXAware can be a very valuable tool. WiXAware is licensed per developer for $499 and competitive upgrade pricing is also available. Check out all the features and download the demo for yourself at http://www.wixaware.com/

12/10/2006
Bob Kelly
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