Novell Cool Solutions

Why I love and hate MSIs, and some tips for application packaging success



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March 3, 2008 10:59 pm

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Oh how I wish things could just be simple. I have such a love/hate relationship with MSIs and stupid Windows installers in general. I believe that the same problems you can have are the same problems that software vendors are dealing with. Vendors have to make MSI based installers, but many of them do not do it well. Not many use MSPs the way they are meant to be used. Administrative installs rarely work the way they should. MSTs can be a pain to make and workarounds are often needed to make a piece of software install and be pre-setup the way you want.

That being said, there is unfortunately no great answer, MSIs are what they are, with many MANY advantages, but they take time to maintain. For those in charge of desktop management, this will likely be the hardest most challenging part of any Desktop Management deployment. ZEN, Altiris, SMS, etc. are all only wrappers when it comes to deploying software. ZEN definitely has some major advantages to software deployment over other solutions, and I think many customers can happily look towards ZENworks Configuration Management and the future. But making software install is still at the mercy of the software vendor and how well they document and create their MSI installers.

So what are your options for success.

  • Collaboration, document how you
    install an application, post information to appdeploy.com or even
    better yet the cool solutions wiki.

  • Weigh the pros and cons of
    creating MSIs for non MSI installers

    • Is it easier to use the firefox
      installer as is with the silent switches or create an MSI?

  • Use the tools that fit.

    • Admin Studio

      • Great for creating MSI from non
        msi installers (Firefox)

  • Great for creating simple MSTs
    from a vendors MSI

    • Advanced Installer/Purchased MSI
      builders

      • Great to create an MSI from a
        application that does not have an installer

        • Pidgin, Putty, etc.

      • This is more for home built
        software you may need to distribute

    • Vendors MST creators

      • Microsoft Office resource kit is
        a great example, Acrobat Reader has one too.

    • Orca

      • When you just need to look at
        the raw MSI data and make an MST or something that Admin Studio
        does not seem to be able to handle

  • Modifying Product/Upgrade Codes so that the MSI you just made
    with Admin Studio will properly upgrade your previously created MSIs
    and work with any prior MSTs that application may have had

Couple last notes, I’m hoping everyone knows this, but classic ZEN snapshots will not be supported in ZENworks Configuration Management. Also DO NOT make use Admin Studio to make an MSI from a vendors MSI Installer, I’m talking using the snapshot or installation monitoring of lets say Adobe Reader or Java. Installing an application based on that method will not be supported by the vendor and can possibly cause some major problems with the MSI database. You can work with InstallScript based MSI but they are more of a struggle, thanks Apple (iTune & Quicktime).

I wish vendors would make this easier on all of us, but it is what it is and Novell has done it’s best to provide a tool, Admin Studio, that gives you 95% of the functionality you need to work with these installers, but some software has been created in such a way it is almost impossible to deploy, FileMaker :) You need to take your time with each piece of software you need to deploy and consider your options, how much time each of those will take to maintain, and then make a decision on how to deploy it, then document how you created the application so your ready when you need to repackage a newer version of that application.

Good luck and if you really hate it, you can always switch to Linux :), you’ll have fun with deploying software with Linux too, but in some ways it’s easier.

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