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Easing Windows Installer woes

Advanced Installer 0.1, a new program that eventually could make working with Windows Installer easier, is available to administrators and developers as a free download.

A new program that eventually could make working with Windows Installer a less harrowing task is available to administrators and developers as a free download. But experts say it's not ready for serious consideration.

Advanced Installer 0.1, released in March, is the first version of an authoring program that helps administrators build MSI files when creating software distribution packages with Windows Installer, said Catalin Rotaru, senior software engineer and founder of Caphyon Software, based in Craiova, Romania, which is developing Advanced Installer.

Use of MSI files is a Microsoft-approved method of installing software on Windows systems. The files store unwieldy standalone databases with extensive columns, rows and data cells. Administrators must massage MSI file data for smooth application installation.

Windows Installer, which first came bundled with Windows 2000, is used to distribute software packages, but it is notoriously difficult to work with, Rotaru said. Advanced Installer integrates with Windows Installer and has a Windows interface, he said.

Rotaru said that hundreds of users have downloaded the first version of Advanced Installer, but administrators might want to hold off on using it just yet.

Darwin Sanoy, an expert on Windows Installer who runs the Web site Desktop Engineer's Junk Drawer, said that Advanced Installer is worth watching, but he cautioned administrators that the tool is rudimentary.

"It is not ready for prime time yet," he wrote in a note on his site. "But it may be one to keep an eye on."

In order for Advanced Installer to become a useful Microsoft editing tool for administrators, Caphyon Software must make it into a tool that can configure registry settings, starting/stopping services and shortcuts, said Robert Sandri, a senior network consultant at Association Technologies Inc., a Rosemont, Ill., system integrator. The first version of Advanced Installer only lets admins add files and folders to an MSI package, he said.

Other MSI editing tools available for free are shareware Corner House Software and Izfree. Wise Solutions Inc. and InstallShield Software Corp. also sell tools that help administrators create MSI files for software packaging and distribution.

Advanced Installer could be a worthwhile alternative to Microsoft's Orca database editor, which comes with the Windows Installer Software Development Kit, Sandri said.

Orca requires administrators to manually edit the MSI file. Advanced Installer does all the things that Orca does, but the wizard interface on Advanced Installer makes it easier to use than Orca.

>> Tip: Repairing the Windows installer

This was last published in May 2003

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