AppDeploy: Reviews: Software: InstallShield AdminStudio v3.5

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InstallShield AdminStudio is easily one of the most used repackaging suites available. So when an update comes along AppDeploy.com will at least summarize the changes so can know what to expect! For our full review of AdminStudio 3.0, covering each of its core features, click here.

The first thing users of the previous release will notice when launching AdminStudio, is that its interface has been simplified for easier navigation. See Figure 1. Launching to the tool you wanted to use in the previous release meant first choosing it on the left pane and then clicking the corresponding graphic on the right pane. Now you can simply double-click on the tool you wish to launch. The information presented in the right pane when you single click on a tool brings up a customizable HTML page where you can add information that may be relevant to your repackaging team. To top it off, you can add other tools to this interface complete with its own HTML explanation file. Separate application shortcuts are also placed in its own program group under "Start > Programs > InstallShield" so that you may choose to skip this interface altogether.

Figure 1, AdminStudio Start Page.

InstallShield provides a good list of reasons for you to upgrade- lets go over a few of them here…

Faster Repackaging Through New InstallMonitor Technology
Repackager now presents you with the decision to select one of two methods to create your package: InstallMonitor or Snapshot. The snapshot method is something we are all familiar with; Scan a system before and after an installation and the delta provides the changes necessary for the application installation. InstallShield's InstallMonitor technology provides a means of watching an installation take place at the system level. This certainly is faster than creating and comparing scans before and after the installation. This method is only functional on Windows NT, 2000 and XP systems. For Windows 9x, continue to stick to the snapshot method. It will probably take some time to accept a new way of creating a package, but given time and a good track record, it may well become your favorite feature of AdminStudio.

Set Application Permissions
In Windows Installer, the LockPermissions table is used to secure individual portions of your application in a locked-down environment. It can be used with the installation of files, registry keys, and created folders. AdminStudio provides a new Lock Permissions option that allows system administrators to set permissions on files and shortcuts during install without requiring use of the table editor. With security considerations becoming increasingly common, this is a great benefit to many organizations where packages are deployed in a locked-down environment.

System Search Capability
Another native feature of MSI technology, InstallShield offers another friendly interface to yet another helpful capability you might otherwise not have bother with. With the System Search capability, you can use the existence of certain files, folders, or registry entries as a condition for running an installation or action.

Enhanced Import Wizard
AdminStudio 3.5's SMS, ZENworks, and WinINSTALL Package Conversion wizard improvements may be a feature that catches your eye. Although this is a good selling point for those organizations that have an investment in these legacy packaging technologies, enhanced or not, it may not be something you want to utilize at all. For most networks moving to MSI packages, new and updated software will make up a majority of the repackaging to be done. Even when old software installations are to be migrated to MSI, in most situations, the packages were developed for an older version of Windows. By Older, we are talking about Windows NT and earlier systems, which probably make up 100% of the packages you would migrate. When these packages were developed, there was no such thing as Windows File Protection (WFP.) On Windows 2000 and later, any protected files that may be in your older package will be immediately overwritten by WFP. If you do migrate older packages, extensive testing will be critical to your success. AppDeploy.com recommends that you make use of all you have learned since you created these older packages, as well as the new capabilities that tools like AdminStudio bring to the table, and develop new packages you can be confident in.

Enhanced Application Conflict Solving
Conflict detection is a major benefit that has become more common since the introduction of the Windows Installer setup format. Conflict Solving becomes a critical tool in the success of your package deployments. AdminStudio provides wizards to help you both detect and solve conflicts between packages. Enhancements in this release include and ability to run independent ACE rules, check-in of multiple MSI packages at a time, and checked-in MSI packages are now automatically refreshed to present any changes made.

Check Conflicts for Groups of Applications
AdminStudio 3.5 now provides the ability to define application groups. With this, you can organize applications and restrict conflict detection between one or more of these groups. Why bother fighting conflicts between two applications that will never sit on the same workstation?

Simplified Distribution Support
The Distribution Wizard provides a simple means of copying a package to a network share or FTP location. It also facilitates the creation of an installation point (via an Administrative Install.) Finally, packages may also be published directly to a Marimba Channel. InstallShield announced its partnership with Marimba just a few months ago and we are excited to see the first benefits of this relationship. See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2, The Distribution Wizard's Marimba Channel Support

Enhanced Authoring environment
AdminStudio 3.0 provided a limited edition of its full authoring product (InstallShield Professional at the time) that was referred to as Author. AdminStudio 3.5 now includes InstallShield's full Developer 7 authoring software. Updates to the Developer software are made available through the InstallShield Update Service along with standard Developer releases. Another benefit here is that if your organization has any in-house development taking place where they create their own setups, this may mean developers and administrators could be using the same software to edit and compile their setup packages.

Enhanced Application Isolation Wizard
Another tool in the fight against "DLL Hell," Application Isolation allows for such files to be stored in the application's program directory as opposed to the common System32 directory. InstallShield has enhanced their support of this functionality by adding in dependency scanning of DLL exports to identify default isolation candidates. This functionality is supported by Windows XP, 2000, 98SE, and Me.

More on AdminStudio 3.5
After repackaging an application into an InstallShield project file, the next thing you will want to do 99% of the time is open the project in Developer so that you can edit and build your MSI package. It was disappointing to find that there is still no link between these steps in the process. When Repackager is complete, it closes. You must then open Developer and navigate to open your project so that you may actually build the MSI setup you are working to create. It seems like a simple "open project in Author" checkbox in Repackager would save us a good bit of clicking around.

If you want to make a quick edit to an MSI, you'll have to be familiar enough with Windows Installer to work with the tables directly. The intuitive interface of InstallShield Developer is only available when working with it's own project file format (.ISM) and MSI packages must first be converted to this format as a result. If you open an MSI in Developer and choose not to create an InstallShield project file to work with, you are presented with a very stripped down view consisting primarily of the MSI tables themselves. See the Direct Editor, figure 3.

Figure 3, AdminStudio's Direct Editor

AdminStudio was already an excellent product, so as a regular user it may be the little things that catch your eye. For example, when you select a setup program to capture, the Repackager now tries to collect the product installation details from the file directly so it can prepopulate some of the product information fields. For the new user, extensive help and built warnings will be very much appreciated. For example, the Repackager warns you if the machine you run it on is not determined to be a "clean" one and also lets you know that it should be run from a network location. Built in help like this will assist even the least experienced users in producing a successful package the first time- after all who wants to read documentation?

Everything you need is here from a very fast new method of repackaging a setup to the full InstallShield Developer authoring package. You may not choose to use features such as its transform (MST) creator (Tuner) or the Application Isolation Wizard, but when you do (and you will) you'll be happy you invested in a suite that contains it all.

AdminStudio 3.5 Professional (including ConflictSolver) is available for $2,899. Upgrades for existing owners of AdminStudio Professional are available for $999.  AdminStudio 3.5 Standard is available for $1,399. Upgrades for existing owners of AdminStudio Standard are available for $599.  A subscription plan is available for $999 for the Professional Edition and $599 for the Standard Edition, providing customers with all product upgrades for a period of one year from date of purchase. If you have been holding out on upgrading, you have held out long enough!

What do you think of AdminStudio? Do you have another favorite? Share your thoughts with others and rate this and other related software in our Tools area.



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