InstallShield AdminStudio 2.0


Overview: InstallShield AdminStudio 2.0 is an integrated set of tools for the creation, customization and conflict resolution of application deployment packages.
Cost: $2,899 (Upgrade From InstallShield Tuner or InstallShield Professional: $1,799)
Operating System: Windows NT4 SP3, Windows 2000/ME/98/95. IE 4.01SP2 or higher is required on NT/98/95 systems.
System Requirements: Pentium-class PC (300mhz or better recommended), 64mb RAM (128 recommended), SVGA display set to at least 800x600 with "small fonts" selected. For CD Installation 400mb is required before installation, 200mb after installation is complete. For Web download, 600mb is required before installation and 400mb after. If InstallShieldProfessional- Windows Installer Edition is installed, it must be removed prior to the installation of AdminStudio.

A Tool For Administrators

It is great to see tools like AdminStudio finally hitting the streets. In order for administrators to really work with the Windows Installer (customizing and configuring) they often are forced to work with tools designed for use by developers. AdminStudio is an excellent example of a solution geared toward providing administrators just what they need, with the option dig as deep as possible if the need should arise.


Main AdminStudio Screen

The tools that make up AdminStudio 2.0 are integrated in that they work well together and can share data between one another, but AdminStudio is essentially a suite of four stand-alone tools: Repackager, Author, ConflictSolver and Tuner. 

Repackager

The repackaging tool is the primary utility that most administrators responsible for deployment have worked with in one form or another, InstallShield Repackager is the tool provided in AdminStudio. Repackager works like other such tools by comparing a system before and after desired changes have been performed in order to gather the relevant elements for the installation package.



 

Repackager can be configured to scan for changes to the computer only in specified locations or even the entire registry and file system. The recommendation from InstallShield is to perform repackaging operations on a system with only the operating systems and service packs in place. Repackager can then be run over the network to further minimize contamination of the system during the repackaging process. The end result is an MSI package that can be further edited or customized with other tools in AdminStudio, Author and Tuner respectively.

Author

Previously known as InstallShield Professional - Windows Installer Edition, Author allows for the creation of setup interfaces by allowing you to create full setup routines. This may be accomplished by importing a repackaged setup, using the provided wizards or by editing a blank project from scratch. As part of the repackaging process this is the tool used to clean, customize and otherwise manipulate the raw MSI created by Repackager. The design is very straightforward and easy to understand. Descriptive text and links to help on everything is very well integrated and provides you with exactly the level of detail you need while creating your setup.


Definitely worth mentioning are a few key options available in Author...

  • Enforce Setup Best Practices - With a checkbox (not activated by default) Author will have the Setup Best Practices wizard provide guidance and enforce best practices.
  • View List Style - The detail and organization of your setup can be displayed using the default "Admin" style that provides an administrator-focused task list, which closely resembles the structure of InstallShield Tuner. Also available is a "Developer" style, which provides a task-oriented way for creating a setup project and the "Classic" style that closely resembles the structure of previous versions of InstallShield software.
  • Always Recommend Path Variables - This option causes Author to automatically assign existing path variables to your files. For example, if you are adding a file to your setup that is stored in your Program Files folder, the <PROGRAMFILES> variable will be used instead of a hard-coded path.

ConflictSolver

ConflictSolver is AdminStudio's answer to what has become a "must have" utility for package creation and deployment shops; a tool for the detection and resolution of file and registry conflicts between packages. With this detail regarding conflicts between packages, appropriate modifications can then be made to resolve them. ConflictSolver is able to report additional information between Merge Modules and MSI packages if the Merge Modules already exist in the Conflict Database.


When conflicts are detected a resolution wizard is displayed to help you through rectifying it. You may then choose to correct the problem in the MSI itself, or create a transform (MST) file to effect the desired modifications. Conflicts that ConflictSolver can automatically resolve are in boldface. Conflicts that require manual resolution, or ones that have been resolved automatically during a previous execution of the Resolution wizard are listed in plain text . If a conflict was previously resolved, status information appears in the bottom pane of the panel.

The ConflictSolver in AdminStudio 2.0 does not yet have a the capability to import a baseline snapshot. We have been advised that this a planned feature of an upcoming release, version 2.5.

At the bottom of the panel, a URL links to a page on the InstallShield Web site, providing any additional information about the conflict that may not yet be in the help system. Unfortunately none of these were functional at the time of this review.

Tuner

Tuner allows for the creation of MST (Windows Installer Transform) files. Transform files provide a quick and easy way to customize Windows Installer packages, including limiting the features to be installed, supplying registration keys, adding custom files to installations, moving/removing installed shortcuts and setting property values. A Response File Wizard is included to help you easily create a transform based on information gather during a simulated installation.


 

Summary

AdminStudio provides an excellent way to get a handle on the repackaging of legacy installations into Windows Installer packages. InstallShield provided a good team of products in InstallShield Professional - Windows Installer Edition and InstallShield Tuner. You could make packages with all the detail and low-level manipulation you may need. This suite adds a quality repackaging tool and conflict checking to this already great combination. The ability to detect and resolve package conflicts before they hit your client workstations is an immeasurable benefit that may save you countless hours of troubleshooting and user downtime. AdminStudio's ability to create, edit, customize and detect conflicts between packages provides you with the tools you need to attack any deployment package. 

 
Bob Kelly 
AppDeploy.com