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It’s been awhile since AppDeploy took a close look at AdminStudio, but not as long as it looks! Reviews of version 2, 3, 3.5… now 5.5? No, we didn’t skip version 4- there never was one. So, you may expect a bit extra from not just a major version release, but one that is so big it bypasses a version number altogether! Expect it and get it- this latest release from InstallShield is a significant step forward. As usual, we will take a brief look at each of the core components:

  • Repackager – Generate Windows Installer setups by collecting changes made by a legacy setup.exe

  • Tuner – Create transform files (MST) to customize or modify the installation of an MSI package

  • DevStudio – Author your own Windows Installer setups

  • ConflictSolver – Resolve conflicts between other packages and OS baselines configurations

  • QualityMonitor - MSI installation testing and tracking tool

  • Distribution Wizard - Prepare MSI packages for deployment by several top distribution systems

Finally, we will wrap things up with a quick discussion about the other editions of AdminStudio available and finally a quick summary. We start with the Repackager.

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Repackager

The first thing you will notice when digging into AdminStudio 5.5 is a simplified “web-like” interface which helps you to easily choose what tasks you wish to perform (figure A). These screensFigure A, which vary with the launch of each product, provide a nice starting point where you will be confident you are using the right tool for the job. When repackaging, you may choose to monitor a setup and track any changes it performs (InstallMonitor) or you may use the more familiar approach of comparing snapshots before and after an installation takes place.

Despite InstallShield’s recommendation that you make use of its InstallMonitor feature, the default method selected in AdminStudio is to perform a snapshot comparison. InstallMonitor does require administrative privileges and Windows NT, 2000 or XP, but these are reasonable requirements that most users will not have a problem with (at least when it comes to Windows Installer repackaging environments). During the final scan of the snapshot process, while performing the system comparison and assembling the results, the files needed for the project are also copied to the project folder. When done, the InstallShield Repackager launches.

The VMware Repackaging Wizard

InstallShield AdminStudio boasts integration with VMware for repackaging. As a frequent user of VMware I was anxious to learn the details of this integration. Disappointingly, the VMware Repackaging Wizard is merely a VMware launcher. You are provided with a list of locally installed VMware images and by selecting the one you wish, VMware launches that image. I was hoping to see AdminStudio make use of the VMware files that are generated when changes to a locked VMware image take place- perhaps in the next release?

Wait, wasn’t that the repackager? Not quite. This Wizard we just walked through is referred to as the “Setup Intent” scan- the first step in building your package. The InstallShield Repackager has now evolved into more than the repackaging wizard alone. You may now browse the files, folders, registry entries and shortcuts captured in your package and those items that have been excluded from your package in an easy-to-work-with interface. Most repackaging products offer you an opportunity to review what has been captured and excluded, where you may make changes based on what you see. However, this is traditionally presented using one or two dialog boxes in a listview format. This Figure Blimitation often urges users to simply accept anything included, take a quick look at what has been excluded, and then go to the MSI editor to do any real package cleaning. The InstallShield repackager provides this functionality in a more manageable tree view format and when you are done you may create the MSI package directly without the need to open and compile a project file within the MSI editor (DevStudio). Several build options are available such as “Display only the Welcome dialog during installation”, “Replace files with merge modules whenever possible” and “Build a compressed, single-file package that contains all of the files.” Unless you have some tweaking to do, this could very well be the final step in your package build process (you still have QA and testing tasks to perform!)

Note: One thing that always bothered me about earlier releases was the trouble I had reading any warnings or errors in the scrolling output panel at the bottom of the AdminStudio display. In this release, a hyperlink to a log file is presented at the end of the results so you can easily read any such messages in notepad.
 

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Tuner

InstallShield Tuner may be familiar to you even if you do not currently own AdminStudio. Available as Tuner OEM to other software vendors as a means of customizing the Windows Installer setups they provide, you may have already used this tool to customize deployments of Adobe Acrobat, Lotus Notes, and NetManage RUMBA. While these OEM implementations are limited to use with the MSI packages shipped by the vendor providing it, as a component of AdminStudio you may naturally use it with any MSI package you wish.

One long-standing feature I want to point out may be easy to overlook until you need it, and that is the ability to specify additional transforms to be applied prior to creating your own transform. One example of how you would require this capability is when attempting to create a response MST for a MSI that requires one- such as a language MST (e.g. 1033.mst).

Like the repackager, creating an MST does not mean being redirected to the DevStudio MSI editor, but instead provides a simple tree-view of the Windows Installer package which you may add, delete or modify the MSI package (thereby dictating the contents of your transform file).

Additionally, you may create a “Response Transform” that will launch the MSI setup and use the choices you make to determine the changes you desire. Each choice you make in the installation affects the value of a Windows Installer property. Instead of trying to determine what all those properties mean and which matter to you- this method allows you to customize installation choices without the need to do any “real editing” of the package.

DevStudio

As the name implies, DevStudio is InstallShield’s developer-focused MSI authoring tool. Although the optional userFigure C interface setting for view list styles is defaulted to “AdminStudio”, this is indeed the full version of InstallShield DevStudio. While editing looks very much like it did in the Repackager and Tuner components, DevStudio provides even more granular control and abilities to tweak your MSI package. One nice new feature since our last review is the Project Assistant.

The Project Assistant provides a far more user-friendly look at your package and saves you from having to remember where each of the items you want to work with are in the tree-view provided by the traditional interface (known as the Installation Designer view). Built-in help links and relevant links to related areas in the Installation Designer will make this your interface of choice for authoring packages. For repackaging, use of DevStudio may seldom be necessary but if (and when) you do need it, it is nice to have the power of DevStudio.

Note: DevStudio is the latest authoring solution from InstallShield which combines the features of InstallShield Developer and InstallShield Professional. If you have in-house developers using these tools, you now also have someone to go to with any questions!

 

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ConflictSolver

Conflict Checker has also seen some updates since our last review. It now provides 25 predefined rules to detect conflicts involving: components, files, registry entries, shortcuts, INI files, ODBC resources, services, file extensions, and product codes. Conflicts are detected based on Application Consistency Evaluator (ACE) rules. In addition to these ACEs included with ConflictSolver, you can also create three types of user-defined ACEs to use when detecting conflicts: Source Only, Source and Target, and DLL-Based. Where the resolution type is automatic, AdminStudio may resolve the conflicts without any work on your part. Conflicts may be resolved by either applying the necessary changes to the MSI directly or by creating a transform file that contains these changes. The former is ideal for repackaged MSI, while the latter is recommended when dealing with vendor-provided MSI packages.

Another feature of ConflictSolver worth mentioning here is its Extended Attributes feature. This allows you to display the optional extended attributes associated with the package. For example: Application name, description, business criticality, installation instructions, repackaging requirements, hardware requirements and so on. While this information is purely information, it helps you to keep all related information about the package accessible from the place you would want it most. These extended attributes are actually populated dynamically based on an external XML formatted file which you may specify the name and location for within ConflictSolver.

QualityMonitor

QualityMonitor helps you ensure you have tested each element of a package by creating a list of test items based on your selection of any installed Windows Installer package. A test summary is presented as an overview of the testing you have completed on the package, all of which may be saved as its own project file for later reference. Deployment tests include Class ID, Prog ID and shortcut tests. Class IDs Figure Cand Prog IDs are tested automatically by QualityMonitor, whereas shortcuts are launched one at a time as you choose them (you input whether the shortcut launched the desired application properly or not.)

A new Lockdown and Runtime Test area provides the ability to run shortcuts or associated executables with the Windows “Run As” feature. This allows you to execute the application using a regular user account from within QualityMonitor. Additionally, QualityMonitor watches the process and records any failures to modify the registry or file system. Any failures detected are reported by QualityMonitor when the launched application is closed.

Distribution Wizard

The Distribution Wizard helps bridge the gap in your process between packaging and distribution by helping you to prepare your package for deployment with any of several distribution systems. The wizard allows you to choose the type of distribution, including Network Location, Administrative Installation, Marimba, Tivoli, SMS, LANDesk or Altiris. The options presented by the distribution wizard obviously depend upon the selected type of distribution. We will not go into each here, but it is clear that InstallShield took the effort to work with these Marimba, Tivoli, Microsoft, LANDesk and Altiris to provide more than a mere file copy.
 

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Other Editions


One thing not provided by AdminStudio (or any other repackaging product for that matter) is some help deciding what does and does not belong in your deployment package. The exclusion list has been updated for some time and does a great job of helping you to eliminate items that should never be in your package. However, it traditionally takes experience to learn why some items may cause you problems- and what problems. A new tool to complement AdminStudio and provide this valuable information is now available, called PackageCleaner. It scans and reports on AdminStudio MSI files and tells you which items you may not want, what they are, what may happen if you leave them in, and even situations where it may be necessary to include them. Have a look for yourself at PackageCleaner.com.
This review has focused on the features of AdminStudio Professional edition; Standard and Enterprise versions are also available. The standard edition removes ConflictSolver and QualityMonitor as features. The enterprise edition adds lifecycle management by providing a package management portal, editable process templates, role-based security, task assignment and real-time packaging status reporting.


Summary

I’ve often heard it said that InstallShield focus its tools toward developers (MSI authoring) and is less focused when it comes to producing tools for administrators (repackaging). With the release of AdminStudio v5.5, InstallShield shows it is very serious about addressing the needs of administrators- and that they know how to go about it. The quality tools provided in the AdminStudio suite are an impressive set of top-notch utilities that provide excellent integration. There seems little room for improvement, so I for one cannot wait to see what InstallShield comes up with next!

1/7/2004
Bob Kelly
AppDeploy.com