You spend weeks, months, maybe years developing your application. Your testing phase is going well and you're almost ready to begin thinking about your deployment phase. Just when you think it's safe to breathe again, you're faced with the daunting task of deploying your application on the desktops of thousands of users. If your application is for the commercial market, then you have no idea how many users you will need to deploy it to. You need an easy, fail-safe way to get your application installed. Have no fear, InstallShield Express is here!
What is InstallShield Express?
InstallShield Express 2 is the first completely visual installation development system. Built on the technology of InstallShield, the world's most reliable software for Windows installation, it provides automatic support for more visual development environments than any other program, so developers can quickly and easily deploy the components their applications require. With InstallShield Express 2, developers can create Windows 95/NT logo-compliant installations in less than 10 minutes. No more frustrating days of grappling with Install Builder.
Figure 1: Setup Checklist Screen
InstallShield Express' main screen is the setup checklist. It is from this screen that you will create every piece of your installation. Each step is logically organized in nine easy steps. I will briefly explain each step.
Set the Visual Design
This is where you define application information such as your application's name and version number. You can also define certain features of your installation routine such as your target platform (InstallShield Express supports both 16 and 32 bit platforms).
Specify Components and Files in Planning your Installation
Figure 2: Specify Components and Files
Before you actually begin using InstallShield Express, it's a good idea to organize all the files you will need on paper and organize them into groups, components and setup types. Groups, components and setup types provide the framework for copying your files. Groups are a collection of files such as readme, help and tutorial files. Groups can then be assigned to components in which the readme, help and tutorial files group would be assigned to the Help Docs component. Setup types are usually typical, compact and custom. If you are offering multiple setup types, you will specify which components are included with each setup type. If you are not offering multiple setup types, you don't even need to worry about components.
As you can see, creating your installation takes careful planning. Believe me, a well thought out plan will save you a lot of time when creating your installation. This portion took the most time for me. I did not prepare ahead of time and spent more time than necessary on this step. Note: You can open Windows Explorer from this section and drag and drop files from explorer to your groups.
Select User Interface Components
Figure 3: Select User Interface Components
This is the fun part. Here is where you design the GUI portion of your installation. You have 13 different dialog boxes to choose from. Some options are a welcome message, software license agreement and a progress indicator. Before there was InstallShield Express, I spent hours with InstallShield 3, which comes with its own scripting language and is the only way to create an installation. With InstallShield Express, all I have to do is point and click on the dialog boxes I want and I'm done. This feature alone is well worth the cost of the product.
Make System File Changes
If you're building an installation for a 16-bit application, you will need to use this section. Here is where you will define any .INI file settings that need to be modified or updated. You can also make changes or add to your autoexec.bat and config.sys files as well.
Make Registry Changes
If you're building an installation for a 32-bit application you will need to use this section. Here is where you will define any registry settings that need to be inserted or updated. InstallShield Express automatically makes the necessary registry entries to enable uninstallation.
Specify Folders and Icons
This dialog allows you to specify the icons you want to place in your application's folder and define the initial size of your application's window. You can also select an alternate working directory, choose an image from a separate resource, specify a shortcut key or place an icon in a specified folder.
Run Disk Builder
All the hard work has been done and you're ready to create the disk images. With one click of a button InstallShield Express will verify that all of your settings are correct, compress your files and create diskette images. You have many options for disk size such as: 1.44mb, CD-ROM (includes an option for autorun) and 120MB. I have to say the compression routine is excellent. InstallShield Express created one less diskette than my original Install Builder installation.
Test the Installation
It is a good idea to test your installation routine before giving it to your users or customers. By clicking on this option, InstallShield Express will take you through a dry run of your installation using all the settings you previously defined. Be careful here; it will actually make your .INI or registry modifications that you specified.
Create Distribution Media
Once you are satisfied with your installation, you can copy the diskette images to floppy. You have the choice of copying all diskettes or only the ones you choose.
I can't say enough about this amazingly easy and fun product. I am now able to sleep at night knowing my customers are not going to be calling me with problems installing my application. There was one bug in creating a 16-bit target platform installation: At the end of the installation it would GPF. This was fixed with InstallShield Express 2.01. I was able to download the upgrade over the Internet. You can download a full working demo of InstallShield Express at http://www.installshield.com/express
I was very pleased with their technical support as well. They were very responsive to my e-mail questions, and their news server on the Internet was also very helpful. I highly recommend this product to anyone who needs to create an installation routine for their application.
About the Author
Jason Cohen is Director of Technology at WEBSPEDiTE, Inc, a consulting and development company specializing in Object-Oriented Analysis and Design and developing N-Tier systems using PowerBuilder. Jason is currently assisting an insurance firm re-architect their current two-tier client/server systems into an object based, N-Tier environment. He also teaches PowerBuilder at the University of South Florida.