Installaware or Installshield?
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 true...so I
figure I had to ask.