In light of the recent Microsoft update that completely breaks the product:

And past vulnerabilities which had similarly catastrophic consequences:

It is high time to ask on which product, as a long-term a user of both products for quite some time, one 

must standardize upon moving forward.

InstallAware has some really flexible licensing options. In addition to them being far more affordable 

than InstallShield in general, their license installation is very hassle-free. You don’t need to configure a 

license server, nor do you need access to the Internet, or some random activation server that may be 

offline at a future date, or failing right when you need to get a deployment done. So that’s a big plus for 

them – I’ve had some major nightmares deploying InstallShield on my network, and that’s a lot to say 

about an installer!

InstallShield have been around for about a decade longer though, it seems, and they are the more 

generally recognized industry standard. In general, I have never had something I couldn’t do with them, 

even if it required me to jump through hoops to get it done. They’re quite slow on runtime updates, 

but they get to it eventually; and they seem to support every major deployment standard out there. 

Something that you’d surely expect from a well-entrenched industry leader, for sure.

Both products seem to have their issues with bugs. Based on my experience with them for more than 

five years now, InstallAware is typically patchy when they first release a major version updates; however 

they seem to do a good job of clearing out all bugs by the time point version upgrades are released. I 

could not say the same for InstallShield – we’ve often had issues that haven’t been resolved release 

after release. Fortunately, none seem to have suffered from show-stoppers for quite some time now.

Support, based on my experience, could be hit or miss for both products. I’ve had some support 

nightmares with both brands. The former in general seems more prompt and technically accurate; 

whereas the latter are more courteous, if less helpful at the end of the day.

I do like the way InstallAware aggressively keep innovating with their product. In half the time, they 

seem to have put out as many versions, and most of these versions have introduced some really 

nice thing or the other – such as, being able to roll out installers without needing any client or server 

software across an entire network! The shield also copied some of their more useful features, such as 

smarter web deployment, which was a long time lacking.

It was something similar to a moment of enlightenment when I saw how easy it was to splice a setup 

into as many chunks as I wanted, and even to be able to share those chunks across different setups. I’m 

still not too happy with the shield’s implementation of how the aware people originally pulled this off. 

Combining this with the better compression that’s available, I do feel that the technology leadership is 

moving in the “aware” direction as of the last decade.

However, we all know the best technology doesn’t necessarily mean the best solution; and in this regard 

I do have some concerns regarding InstallAware. Some of their more novel technologies have not yet 

been adopted as industry standards; while I personally couldn’t care less about that, it does worry me 

about my clients, who may not be familiar with the command line parameters used on the aware side. It 

can be hard to teach an old dog new tricks, as the saying goes!

An additional concern I have is about longevity. Wise was the previous #2 in the installation space, but it 

has been dead for some years now. Wise simply could not survive the two acquisitions it went through 

in the 2000’s. The shield, in contrast, did survive two acquisitions. Who’s to say that InstallAware may 

not be gobbled up by some corporate conglomerate itself, and disappear down the road? For all I know, 

the shield people themselves might poach employees away, do things to make business difficult for 

them; or just in general, buy them out and kill off the product. That would leave me high and dry, with 

no way to move forward with my investment of thousands of hours spent developing installation scripts.

Then why am I even considering using InstallAware? I love their setup themes and how easy it is to 

edit dialogs, for one. I love how they’ve generally outpaced InstallShield in innovation – my software 

assurance with the shield got me some “new” features in their 2014 version, but these were mostly 

things I had been enjoying for years on the aware side of things. Suite installs, large-font aware setup 

themes, multiple instances – heck, InstallAware supported multiple instances even for Windows 95, 

back in the day, and that’s saying a lot for backwards compatibility from a single setup binary source!

Ditto on the web update side of things. When InstallAware added web updates support, I was blown 

away to see that they had implemented it as an open box, using their own customizable dialogs 

and scripts, that I could edit freely. Maybe some of you recall the security scandal that InstallShield 

caused with their own web update service, which had a major vulnerability. I had even customized 

InstallAware’s web update script to enforce a check for my latest setup version any time it was run; they 

added this to the product fairly quickly (they didn’t exactly use the script I sent them, but the idea was 

there). It took a few more years for the shield to get there, we didn’t get to enjoy that until their 2014 


So, in closing...does one go with a younger, more dynamic, technologically innovative upstart – that 

might disappear into an uncertain future? Or does one play it safe, go with the established industry 

leader – admittedly one that is more prone to stagnation and less open to innovation?

One thing is for certain – you do not necessarily get what you pay for in the application deployment 

space – I have not found a better bargain than InstallAware, across the board, in all my years in the 

industry. However, a bargain of this magnitude does make me wonder if it’s too good to be I 

figure I had to ask.
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Wise was an excellent product and the only reason it did not survive the two acquisitions is that there was no real investment in developing the product. It was just operated as a cash cow for as long as Symantec could get away with it.
Installshield were indeed around in the pre-MSI days of installers, and were thereby shackled by an enormous user base that had learned their scripting language and who needed an easier transition path to the new fangled MSI technology that minimised the conversion overhead. Fortunately the product has moved away from many of those old restrictions but the mindset has not been revved up to meet the needs of modern customers.  InstallAware are the new kids on the block but I have some personal doubts about whether their innovation is in some ways taking them down the same path as Installshield albeit in the opposite direction. Developing MSI installs that don't quite fit the Microsoft "mould" make simplify packaging initially but may have later consequences when the time for maintenance arrives.  There are also many more users with skills in Installshield compared to InstallAware.
There are other tools out there with lower price tags that do the job as well - even some freebies.  In my personal opinion, if you are a software developer then choose a product that integrates well with your development environment and if you are a software repackager, find a tool with a good 64 bit capture engine that allows the creation of custom exclusion lists. I seldom need to use any packaging tools these days other than ORCA (or a vendor's configuration tool), as most apps come in MSI format already. A capture tool can help answer some questions about how the install works in case the first pass at a transform is missing something, but most of the time ORCA does the job, and is free.
Answered 07/14/2014 by: EdT
Red Belt

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I am working for 7 years with InstallShield and InstallAware now and I can tell you the product that makes me nightmares is definitely InstallAware. So I decided to migrate all my projects that were built in InstallAware to InstallShield. But from the beginning:

In our company we started using InstalShield. After a while we would like to save money and were looking for a cheaper solution. We found InstallAware and one argument was also the built in updater, that can update your product without any additional costs.

So we started using InstallAware as our major installation authoring tool. I created installations for lots of products and versions of these products. One of our products has a huge range (more than 1 million) so we have also much of install scenarios. In this time I have to struggle with many bugs in the InstallAware setups. I always has to contact the support forum and wait for an answer since we did not buy the gold support. Normally I got an answer the next day but mostly I was the first one who found the bug and I had to explain in detail why it is an bug in InstallAware what could be very frustrating. Okay they mostly fixed the bugs but these bugs normally occurs only at customer side so my boss was not amused. I can send you a list of bugs I reported per PM if you want.

The script language in IA is very very weak compared to IS sript language so you have to use .dll calls (another developing tool) ore some of the IA plugins. But if you have a problem or a bug with such a plugin you won't get help from IA since they are third party, and that happens to me, I used such a Plugin and now I have a bug out there which will never be fixed since nobody knows who is the creator...

The next are the new features that InstallAware is introducing. Since the last years all the new features were useless for me. For instance they completely get rid of Microsoft Installer by re inventing the wheel and built their own implementation of an install framework, the so called "Native Code". I did not use it very often because I would like to meet the MSI standard. On the other side, my requested features like a useful multi-language-integration never was implemented and so the whole localization process is just a catastrophe. (I have to built installers in 15 languages and had to buy an extra tool to be able to localize at all.)

The next point are the command line paramters that you have to pass to an IA installer. They are completely different to the MSI or IS parameters. And you cannot use semi-silent or suppress the language dialog for instrance. Also the built in language dialog is buggy since the beginning and was never fixed although a lot users reported this issue.

Now to the MSI standard that IA is allegedly using: You have absolutely no idea and no influence of the raw .msi file from the IA IDE, since the .msi file is generated at run time on customer side. So you are just building a black box, this is much fun if you are trying to debug anything on customer side. And if you need to deploy raw .msi-files then InstallAware is generating a trojan horse which in terms calls the setup.exe which has nothing to do with MSI standard in my opinion.

So after fighting with bugs, horrible localization, a useless script language and missing features I discovered the IA marketing blog, but read it yourself, you will have a great laugh. The final coffin nail was the announcement that we as European Union users should now pay more money for InstallAware because the visa costs are too high for the InstallAware boss:

So now after we had huge costs with InstallAware (see above issues) we decided to go back to InstallShield with a maintenance contract and are now happy to have the better fitting installation authoring tool for our company.

Fazit: InstallAware may work for smaller companies with small installations but for complex installs and deployment scenarios you will soon reach the limitations of InstallAware in my opinion. InstallShield is expensive, of course but it will later save you much money and effort that at the end of the day this product ist the most cost-effective of all.

BTW: my InstallShield still runs fine since I just uninstalled the Update that was causing the crash.

PS: InstallShield is of course not perfect and at the beginning I really liked the idea of InstallAware but in practise I more and more lost my sympathy for InstallAware and at the end of the day what counts is only the workflow, the benefit and the support of such a tool.
Answered 07/16/2014 by: Utnapishtim
Senior Yellow Belt

  • @utnapishtim, it sounds like you haven't used InstallAware at all. InstallAware does not create the MSI payload on end-user systems, I have no idea how you came up with that. Please, no thinly veiled bashing from competitors here. I am looking for honest, decent feedback from *real users* of both products.
    • Hi, I am also a IS and IA user as well.
      I think Uta is right because if you build a setup with InstallShield you will (depending on the releas type) get an .msi file that you can deploy. In IA this is only possible with an (trojan horse) .msi wrapper. Ask yourself why! ;)
      In an IA setup script the resulting .msi file is polymorph, depending on variuos script switches. You will discover this in InstallAware MSICODEScript or how it is called. There is a function called Apply Install, that is when the msi file is finally "created" and applied. This is definatly on install time and not on build time. Or how would you say?
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