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InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0 

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Overview: InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0 Professional is an integrated set of tools for the creation, customization and conflict detection/resolution of application deployment packages.
Cost: $2,899 (Upgrade for previous AdminStudio owners $999, Upgrades for owners of Tuner, InstallShield Professional Windows Installer Edition, or InstallShield Developer $1,799) 

A Standard Edition is also available (without the ConflictSolver) for $1,399 (Upgrade for previous AdminStudio owners $599, Upgrades for owners of Tuner, InstallShield Professional Windows Installer Edition, or InstallShield Developer $999)

Operating System: Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT 4 (Intel) operating system with SP4 installed, Windows 2000, or Windows XP; administrator privileges on the system
System Requirements: Pentium III-class PC (300mhz or better recommended), 256mb RAM, SVGA display set to at least 800x600 with 256 color depth. For CD Installation 560mb is required before installation, 250mb after installation is complete. For Web download, 700mb is required before installation and 400mb after.

For administrators, AdminStudio 3.0 is another exciting step in the right direction when compared to its already promising 2.0 release just a few of months ago (See our review). The tools are better integrated (though you will see there is still some room for improvement) and it provides a cleaner interface to the tools that are included. This release features a new "Process Workflow Management" interface, which allows you to organize tasks, associate each task with a tool and even provide customized help, so that you may integrate your organization's package creation documentation. There are four core tools provided in the suite, and we will run through each to provide you with a helpful picture of what to expect from AdminStudio 3.0:

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Home > Reviews > AdminStudio 3.0
InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0

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User Forum: Package Creation
Packages: Application Specific Deployment Tips


Software Repackaging (InstallShield Repackager)

InstallShield recommends launching the Repackager remotely from a clean system to ensure that only relevant changes are included in the resulting Windows Installer Package. The wizard presented by the Repackager gathers pertinent information for your package (see below) and then automatically performs an analysis of your system, launches the specified setup program and performs the post installation analysis in order to create an MSI package that contains these differences...

Before performing the initial analysis of your system, you are given the opportunity to customize this process through a tabbed interface that gives you control over all aspects of the analysis. Default exclusion lists for the registry and file system are provided to cover elements that would often need to be manually cleaned out of the resulting package. You may reset any custom changes you make to the default settings or you may load predefined settings from an INI file. What seems to be lacking here is a way to intuitively generate an INI file with your own settings (there is no "export settings" option.) When asked how to reuse non-standard settings, without having to edit the defaults each time, InstallSheild recommended taking the isrepackager.ini (analysis settings for a particular instance) from the <Windows> folder, renaming it to defaults.ini, and using that file to replace the defaults.ini file in the same folder as isrepackager.exe. This may not be the most intuitive method for specifying your own defaults, but it is not likely something you will need to do often (if at all.)

As the initial scan of your computer takes place, any directories containing INI formatted files that are discovered result in a prompt which asks if you wish to include any of those files in the analysis. This is a nice touch as traditionally these are things you have to identify and address after you have created your package. While you can answer "Yes to all" here, there is no similar option to answer "No to all." If you are working on a "clean machine" as InstallShield suggests this will not pose much of an issue, but if you are performing repackaging operations on a baseline machine or one with several applications installed, you may tire of answering this dialog before your through!

You are then prompted to answer "OK" when you are ready to have the setup file (specified earlier) execute. The wizard recognizes when the launched setup has released control of the system and will prompt you to allow the second analysis of your computer to take place. It is the differences between these two scans of your system that make up the changes instituted by the setup program being repackaged. This information is collected into an INC (Repackager Project) file and the source files are then copied to the project folder for this particular package.

If an MSI authoring tool is detected locally, we are presented with the default option to create a MSI file with this information. By deselecting this option, the "create" button changes to a "next" button (as it would be if no MSI authoring program were locally detected). Pressing the "next" button informs you that you have created an INC file and that file's location. It would be helpful if an option to open this file with your MSI authoring tool were presented at this time, but the wizard ends here.

Launching InstallShield Author to edit this new project takes us into our next section… 

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InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0

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User Forum: Package Creation
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Installation Authoring

From within InstallShield author you can browse for your project file (the default directory is %temp%). Selecting the INC file created in the previous section launches the import wizard. The details of your package are displayed and the default path and filename for the ISM (Author Project) file to be created are presented. Before importing, some advanced features may be enabled (they are by default) that are worth mentioning here:

  • Enable path variables in the converted project file. This will help to move the project file from one machine to another.
  • Minimal UI in the created MSI file. When run, only the InstallShield welcome dialog will be displayed.
  • Replicate HKCU settings. This will copy all entries in HKCU to HKU\.Default, so that the entries are available for all users.

A summary of your selections are presented on the next dialog along with an option to create an MSI file after creating the setup project.

The actions taking place scroll by quickly in a window at the bottom of the InstallShield Author display (see image below).

Once converted to an .ISM project you can make any customizations you wish in the InstallShield Author program. The editor provides a very intuitive interface to the many elements that make up your MSI package. Much time has obviously been spent on the look of these tools and it definitely shows. Throughout your use of these tools you will see graphical "Feedback" links that bring you to a form on the InstallShield web site. This certainly gives the impression that your opinion matters and that taking the time to share it with them may be well worth your time.

A view reminiscent of Microsoft Outlook provides an expandable tree on the left pane with varying degrees of options, fields and help on the right. With the vast amount of options possible with Windows Installer, the help and best practices information integrated into this interface makes all the difference. In the preferences window you can choose one of three displays for this program:

  • The "Classic" style closely resembles the structure of previous versions of InstallShield software.
  • The "New" style provides a task-oriented way for you to attack your setup project.
  • The "AdminStudio" style (the default style for Author) provides a task-oriented checklist designed specifically for administrators. The Help Library's table of contents is based on this style, although the content is applicable to all view styles.

There is even an option to enforce best practices that causes Author to monitor your setup design in order to ensure that you comply with Setup Best Practices.

Yet another nice wizard, the Release Wizard, walks you through compiling your MSI setup for distribution. Your are prompted for what media type you will be distributing your setup on and can choose to have the source files compressed within the MSI or to have them remain uncompressed (as you would normally see in a CD distribution). It also allows you the option of creating a setup.exe to launch the MSI setup, this executable can also be selected to detect and install the Win9x MSI engine, or the Windows NT MSI engine, as needed. If using MSI 2.0 you can choose to delay the MSI engine reboot until after your setup has completed. 

You can choose to have any missing MSI engines installed from source contained within the setup.exe or from the Internet. The setup.exe also may be digitally signed and/or password protected.

Take your MSI files and check them for conflicts against one another in ConflictSolver

 

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InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0

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ConflictSolver

The ConflictSolver program is used to identify, report and, in some cases, even solve conflicts between Windows Installer applications.

It is interesting to note that when importing Microsoft's famous DATA1.MSI from Office 2000 a good number of warnings and errors were detected during the validation process, "Validation has detected the following 211 infos, 1575 warnings, 24 errors."

This ability to detect and solve conflicts between your MSI packages is very helpful, but until this release was ConflictSolver was missing a key item to be considered when looking for conflicts- your operating system with any previously deployed applications. If you typically build a new system with an image that contains common applications, this is what we are talking about. Even if you do want to go 100% MSI and really reap the benefits of the ConflictSolver tool as well as Windows Installer's native abilities to handle conflicts and corruption, you need a starting point. Now you can read the contents of a baseline system into the ConflictSolver database and ensure these elements are taken into account when performing future conflict detection operations.

Once you add your baseline with the OS Snapshot utility and add any MSI files you wish to check against, you can check the package of your choosing against the others (or a subset of the others) in the database. The database may be SQL or Access- a benefit of this is you likely have a method for backing up databases already and this information can be preserved in the same way.

In our test we imported Office 2000, Adobe GoLive 5.0, Diskeeper Workstation and Easy CD creator 5.0 which all ship with MSI setups natively. When checking Office 2000 against the others for conflicts a few were detected...

Because the resolution for each of these conflicts was manual, the checkboxes associated with them were disabled. There is an Internet hyperlink that provides you more information on the problem and the recommended course of action. Within the Wizard, it is difficult to read details on the problem, as when you scroll to the right far enough you see that the entire text is not displayed. The links for the errors we encountered were Application Conflict Evaluator (ACE) numbers 8,10 and 17.

The resolution for each was a manual action, but because no more detail could be obtained from here, we had to go back into the ConflictSolver output window to obtain the detail on these errors. The text can be lengthy requiring quite a bit of scrolling to view all the text, an entry was cut and pasted below from one of the encountered ACE08 errors:

The File version '6.0.8267.0' of file 'MFC42.DLL' in Component 'Global_VC_MFC42ANSICore.51D569E2_8A28_11D2_B962_006097C4DE24' in Package 'Microsoft Office 2000 Premium' conflicts with the same file in Component 'Global_VC_MFC42ANSICore.51D569E2_8A28_11D2_B962_006097C4DE24' in Package 'Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum'. The correct version is '6.0.8447.0'.

With this we can see that MFC42.DLL exists in both packages. By reading the web link associated with ACE08 we learn that the resolution is to manually Change the file versions to match those of the GUID in the Conflict Database, or change the source GUID.

It cannot be denied that this is a very helpful tool that can save you hours of work if discovered after you have deployed a conflict. However, assistance in dealing with problems that cannot be automatically resolved would be even more helpful. Below is a table of the Application Conflict Evaluators from InstallShield's website.

Conflict Type Associated Rules
Component: ACE02, ACE04, ACE05, ACE06, ACE09
Files  ACE03, ACE07, ACE08, ACE12
Registry  ACE10
Shortcuts  ACE13
INI File ACE14
ODBC Resources ACE15
NT Services ACE16
File Extensions ACE17
Product Codes ACE19, ACE20

For details on each of these rules, click here.

ConflictSolver may automatically correct entries listed in green (5), those in red must be corrected manually (12). In many cases you would not wish to have ConflictSolver handle a problem where a decision on your part is needed. For example, when asked why the ACE08 error above was not automatically corrected, InstallShield pointed out that it cannot be automatically determined if the new file is backwards compatible in your particular production environment. If it were not compatible you would need to alter the new install or skip rolling out the package all together. It would be nice however if ConflictSolver were able to facilitate this manual process.

But what about the growing number of applications shipping natively as Windows Installer (MSI) setups? To customize these, you need a transform (MST) file and InstallShield Tuner does a great job of handling this task. 

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InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0

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Tuner

Repackaging a Windows Installer setup is not recommended. To customize the installation of a Windows Installer setup, a transform file (MST) should be used. For administrators, a transform is typically used to introduce any customizations to automate the unattended installation with the parameters you wish to specify. This typically includes information such as what components to install, where to install the software, and even product licensing information. 

InstallShield Tuner facilitates the generation of an MST file by letting you create one from scratch or by responding to the installation options presented by a Windows Installer setup. 

Once complete, Tuner displays the following view of the transform file for editing and review

Tuner can be used to add files to an MSI without modifying it. It can also be used to view or change any of the various underlying tables in a Windows Installer package. Other uses include the ability to add/delete/modify ODBC resources and to identify one or more network destinations for the final product source files.

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InstallShield AdminStudio 3.0

AdminStudio at AppDeploy.com
User Forum: Package Creation
Packages: Application Specific Deployment Tips


A couple of more features that you will be happy to see...

Import from SMS (.IPF) and ZENworks (.AXT) files.
A very helpful feature for those who have invested time in SMS or ZENworks packages, AdminStudio's ability to directly convert these packages into Windows Installer packages will surely save those administrators countless hours.

Application Isolation
AdminStudio's Application Isolation Wizard allows you to isolate individual components within a Windows Installer package using Win32 assemblies. This effectively allows you to eliminate shared DLL and COM component conflicts just by following this wizard.

Command Line SetupCapture Execution
With its new command line support, SetupCapture can now be used to perform automated or unattended repackaging functions.

Process Workflow Management Interface
A feature you will quickly grow to love, the new "Process Workflow Management" feature is a configurable checklist you can create and follow to help ensure consistency in your packaging operations. For each item, a description, an associated command line to launch a tool and HTML help provide an excellent interface for packaging tasks. 

 

InstallShield's AdminStudio makes up a set of indispensable tools that no administrator should be without. Repackaging and authoring, customization and conflict detection, InstallShield has it all covered. Version 3.0 is technically only the second release of AdminStudio, but InstallShield has been developing most of these these tools individually for years. Looking ahead to the next release, one should expect to see more integration between the tools and improved assistance in the resolution of detected conflicts. Despite this, InstallShield has done a great job meeting the needs of administrators and we look forward to seeing what they will do next!

 
Bob Kelly 
AppDeploy.com