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.

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Answers (3)

Posted by: EdT 8 years ago
Red Belt
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.

  • I can understand your skepticism on InstallAware, them being the new kids on the block and all; but I have to say our investment in InstallAware has paid off remarkably well and we just renewed our maintenance for another three years!

    InstallAware have the ease of use of Wise and the power of InstallShield...if not more. They continue to be the first to bring many new features to installers. Since signing up, I've enjoyed these uniques with free major upgrades during my maintenance:

    1. Social networking integration.
    2. Twice better compression (and faster).
    3. Fully automated virtual machine testing (amazing!!!)
    4. Programmatic Windows 10 Taskbar/Start Menu pinning.
    5. Open Source Desktop Bridge (real glad we did NOT settle on WiX - these "open source" guys are *charging* a fortune for their Desktop Bridge).
    6. Sliding (and fading) wizard effects, makes your install look and feel like a cool mobile app.
    7. Always first to integrate with the latest versions of Visual Studio, Team Foundation Server, and first to support the latest .NET FX and C++ runtime versions.
    8. Wise's InstallTailor MST Creator is back! They started shipping InstallAware Transformer in their latest version, and its a one-click way to create an MST transform out of any existing MSI file by just pointing and clicking through the original setup.
    9. Super-fast setup capture, supporting 64-bit captures, and multiple "system noise filters" which eliminate capture noise. You can even combine several filters to nuke all capture noise.
    10. Best APPX Builder implementation - even Microsoft list InstallAware on their site now. You can build Nano Server, Windows Store, or Sideload!
    11. Advanced Service Configuration, Service Failure Actions.
    12. ***Excellent Support!*** These guys fix any issue you report in their product in the time it takes other companies to acknowledge a defect.

    That's just a short list off the top of my head. As I wrote earlier, I've just renewed my maintenance for another three years with InstallAware.

    The list above is just the *new stuff* they gave me *for free* as part of my original three year maintenance plan. These guys work real hard for you. We need more people like them in the Windows eco-system these days.

    I can't wait to see what new features they'll be dishing up during the next three years. - sanjaysingh 5 years ago
Posted by: Utnapishtim 8 years ago
Senior Yellow Belt
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. http://www.itninja.com/question/is-installaware-a-real-microsoftinstaller-conform-tool

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: http://www.installaware.com/blog/?p=200

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.

  • @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. - sanjaysingh 8 years ago
    • 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? - RM_Alex 8 years ago
      • I ended up settling on InstallAware and recently saw this post again. I now understand a lot better about how InstallAware works and can answer this directly.

        InstallAware *does* create an MSI file at build-time. You can check this easily by doing an uncompressed build (or by extracting any compressed build type). The *real* MSI file is there.

        What Apply Install actually does is inject the final values of your MSIcode variables into this *real* MSI file at runtime. These are *standard MSI properties*, so the actual MSI file is *not* created or modified at runtime at all.

        The "trojan horse" MSI wrapper is used only for Group Policy deployment and it is used in invoking InstallAware's external UI handler during Active Directory deployment. But even then, the actual installation is still going to be handled by the *inner* MSI file (that you can see for yourself by doing an uncompressed build or by extracting a compressed build).

        You can even extract a Group Policy MSI file! Like peeling the layers of an onion, you will first get the compressed EXE installer, and then inside it, the actual MSI doing your installation.

        Hope this helps others who have similar questions.

        Thank you all for all your help! - sanjaysingh 5 years ago
    • At the end, after reading your posts, I have a feeling that you are a guy from InstallAware that is doing a "thinly veiled bashing from competitors". I have never worked for Flexera or any other InstallShield owner. ;-)
      I am a 100% genuine InstallAware user. You can even few my posts in the IA forum, I have over 300 (user: Alibaba)! I used InstallAware for years and I truely was a fan, look at my posts in the forum! I still have to use IA now for some legacy projects.
      You asked a questiion and I answered it from my point of view as a user for years in both worlds.
      I am sorry if I cannot tell you what you wanted to hear, but it is my real and honest opinion.
      Now after quitting InstallAware 3 years ago I can tell you that my work as installation developere has never been that satisvyng since I switched from IA to IS.
      I am now an IS fan and sorry, but I hope I will never has to use InstallAware again! - Utnapishtim 5 years ago
      • You just proved to the entire world that you work for InstallShield by replying to this post in less than 24 hours of my own posting.

        As I mentioned earlier, I was renewing my maintenance and searching for InstallAware deals, which is how I landed back on this page three years after the fact. It looks like InstallShield have done some extensive SEO work on this page as well!

        Current fashions aside, facts do not have alternatives :-) When someone who alleges to be an InstallAware expert isn't even aware of the basics of how InstallAware generates MSI files, that begs to be corrected for the public record.

        Given the foregoing, I do find it extremely unlikely that you are an innocent InstallAware user. Thanks for outing yourself. - sanjaysingh 5 years ago
    • Thanks for a great laught. But sorry, I am not a Flexera employee, I am just an InstallShield fan. And I just subscribed to this post that ist why I answered. But I think this is not the way we should discuss this problem here.
      Just try to give your magical generated MSI-package to a huge company that is using something different than AD, they will be not amused - this is just my experience.
      And, if anyone from Acress is reading this: I want money because I am doing SEO work and forum spamming for you ;-D - Utnapishtim 5 years ago
      • Right - there's only one person watching this thread, and that's you. Especially if you don't actually work for InstallShield, this speaks more about your character than you realize.

        Sticking to facts and provables, everything you've written about InstallAware's MSI generation is false, and that's setting a very bad precedent for the credibility of your fresh hearsay attacks against this excellent product and company.

        Some mystical "huge company" out there is using an unknown distribution system "different than AD" which is having problems with InstallAware setups. Why am I not surprised you'd say that? - sanjaysingh 5 years ago
Posted by: alyosha38 5 years ago
White Belt
I have no experience with IS, but am a few months into IA. For me, the real dilemma is IA versus Advanced Installer ("AI"). I find IA to be:
- buggy
- engineered backwards, I want to be able to save scripts into source control, not binaries; text files should be primary, not secondary
- dumb proprietary scripting language, where everything is global, and no means provided within the IDE to search globally (I wrote a tool to do so)
- every script file is displayed with Kemal Attaturk's signature (he was the president of Turkey in the 1920s)?

The general idea behind IA - a shell over MSI - is good, but its execution is poor, and that's why I'm interested in AI, which I don't know much about beyond the stuff on their website.

IS strikes me as a fading product (like Wise), and I've had bad experiences with Flexera (we wrote our own subscription licensing system - one that actually works - after trying to use their buggy product).

  • Interesting perspective. For the record, I've been using IA happily for years now. Haven't had any bugs left unfixed after being reported. Fixes do arrive quickly and the support team actually provide multiple workarounds while they're being tested. Showed me how versatile their product truly is, it can work around itself when you need it do, really amazing.

    To be honest, the signature thing did bug me too. Looks very amateurish if you ask me, but you can turn it off in newer versions. They probably had too many complaints to make it an option. I do find myself turning it off and on if I am bored. There's almost always funny display artifacts while scrolling the signature, which passes the time while QAing builds with their automated VM unit tests.

    The script though is exactly what tools like AI just don't have. It is just smart enough to get the job done without a complicated syntax or learning curve. if you need to write real code, they support add-ins. Actually AI feels like it was engineered by artificial intelligence because the product, i don't know if they intended the pun, just feels so procedurally generated, if you know what I mean. Did you ever get to try it?

    Also, have you seen IA's recent source control integration? Not sure which version you most recently looked at (seems like its been a few years to say the least) but they've had Azure DevOps for a while and it rocks! What really killed it for me though is that they've even added BitTorrent hosting and Ethereum payments in their latest versions. Creative! I feel like i made the right choice. - sanjaysingh 1 year ago
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