Review: Wise for Windows Installer

Wise for Windows Installer 6.0 Enterprise Edition
Wise Solutions, Inc.
Plymouth, Michigan
(734) 456-2100

As software has gotten more complex and interconnected, installation builders have had to keep up. The latest version of Wise's premier offering for Windows developers once again advances the state of the art. I spent some time experimenting with the new features and came away favorably impressed.

Of course, you can take as a given that the top of any setup vendor's line will do all the standard things: build installers for Windows applications or mobile applications, let you customize the user interface, choose which files to include, create registry keys, and so forth. Indeed, if you've got a simple C# project that you just want to dump on to the user's computer you probably don't need to go this far up the food chain (though you certainly can use this product for that purpose; Wise provides import tools for VB, C#, and J# projects that make it easy to get from your code to the installer).

So, what else do you get at the high end? To begin with, the provisions for deploying Web applications and other server-side applications are very well thought out. Click over to the System Requirements tab and you'll see that you can specify the IIS version, SQL Server version, and .NET version for the target server (as well as more usual things like Windows and IE versions). Then take a look at the tab that lets you specify which files to install on the server. Here you can specify a virtual directory or Web site as the target, instead of a physical directory. You also get a set of property pages very similar to those used by IIS; these configure the target virtual directory. If you need particular authentication options, custom HTTP headers, a custom default document, or whatever, just specify them here.

Want to install a SQL Server database? Use the SQL Server Scripts tab. You can import a script that you've already designed, or tell Wise that it should build a script to recreate a database from your development machine. You can also search and replace in the script at install time - handy when you've prompted the user for authentication information or the name of a database to use. By the way, there's also a Dynamic Content Editor that lets you do install-time edits for any XML file that's a part of your installation; this is ideal for customizing Web.config files, for example.

Speaking of XML, you can configure Wise to save its own files in XML format now, which makes putting them under source code control a sensible thing to do. If you're doing this, you're likely also making use of the repository features of the Enterprise Edition, which lets you set up a share point for all of your developers to use; this ensures a consistent set of files, resources, and so on across various setups built in your organization.

Other highlights in this release include preliminary support for Windows Installer 3.0 (which isn't itself released yet, so I'd expect a patch when it goes live), support for installing multiple instances of a product on the same computer (similar to the way you can install more than one copy of SQL Server, and another useful trick for Web applications), and better device driver support. All in all, this is a superior tool for the developer who has serious setup work to do. There's a 30-day evaluation download available at the Wise Web site.


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