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WISE vs. InstallShield

Both have been around for a while, both are pretty expensive for an individual to afford for non-commercial purposes, both support Windows Installer Service (.msi), and of course, both claim on their websites that the other product is terrible...

Does anyone feel strongly that one is superior to the other for anything other than UI / nitpicky reasons?

Better yet, does anyone know of a cheaper (or free!) alternative that would be perfectly adequate for building user-friendly, "no-brainer" setup packages for Windows?

I don't really need anything all that fancy as I am mostly interested in automating the setup/upgrading of run-of-the-mill VB or Delphi based business apps that we use in a grocery store chain.

Also, it doesn't really matter to me whether the install builder integrates with any particular IDEs or not, if that opens up any choices.

Tim Lara
Thursday, August 29, 2002

Free. Excellent. Awesome.

InnoSetup - we use it!

Michael H. Pryor
Thursday, August 29, 2002

  Take a look at Setup Factory

  I don´t know if it´s cheap, but it´s a good one.

Ricardo Antunes da Costa
Thursday, August 29, 2002

Try SuperPiMP ( ) from Nullsoft ( ).

It is free and imho easier to use and more powerfull than Installshield.

Anonymous Coward
Thursday, August 29, 2002

I agree with Michael... InnoSetup... 100x easier to use than InstallShield

Thursday, August 29, 2002

I can not comment on Wise as I have not used it, but InstallShield is very cumbersome to use and I would rate myself as pretty experienced. I will be checking out the posted links to find an easier tool !!
I would also be thinking twice before doing any more work with installshield, especially if there is an alternative.


James Ladd
Thursday, August 29, 2002

I'll also chime in here on behalf of InnoSetup. It's extremely simple but does everything I need it to do. Not only that, but it's free and the complete source code is available.

Ryan Eibling
Thursday, August 29, 2002

Be aware that there are multiple products with similar names. WISE Installation System is a traditional script-based installer, whereas WISE for Windows Installer creates .MSI setups.

My recommendation is: if you don't specifically need Windows Installer support, stay away from it. It can be exceedingly complex, especially when it comes to upgrades. Windows Installer is a holistic system. It first determines what the final installation "should" look like and then it makes your disk match that. This is quite different from "copy files to the disk" of traditional installers. It stores GUIDs in the registry, including GUIDs for every component (often for individual files), and it needs to refer to these in order to apply upgrades later on. This makes it tricky to whip up quick scripts to install a few files -- you can, but unless you get everything right (GUIDs) you will have problems in the future. The MSI is cached on the local disk so if you replace a file with a newer version without proper GUID-ness, don't be surprised if it gets "repaired" to the old version.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

I the danger of being redundant: there's only one real installer and it's called Inno Setup. I know many people will skip free software because it's free or because it's created in Delphi, but if you do it in this case you will seriously hurt yourself:

Jan Derk
Thursday, August 29, 2002

Thanks everyone for all the great responses!

(Positive word of mouth is a HUGE time-saver when you're an OCD sufferer with access to Google...;-)

Tim Lara
Thursday, August 29, 2002

I've never used InnoSetup, but I have looked at it before. Have they added extensibility hooks yet?

I've never written an installer where I didn't have to do something unique and call out to a DLL or something. Inno didn't appear to have that capability.

NSIS does, so that's what I've been using.

Chris Tavares
Thursday, August 29, 2002

As Michael said we use InnoSetup for CityDesk and we used it for FogBUGZ 2.0.

For FogBUGZ 3.0, which is a server/web/database type product, we needed:
* the ability to enumerate IIS web servers and virtual directories, recursively
* the ability to create NT accounts
* the ability to create and configure SQL Server databases
* the ability to assign permissions throughout
* the ability to create and configure IIS web servers and virtual directories
* the ability to do an end-to-end test of sending and receiving email which runs under a different user account
* the ability to start and stop services
* the ability to install a new service

No setup program on the market could do any of this stuff. Faced with the fact that 90% of FogBUGZ setup (basically, everything except copying files) would have to be written as custom code anyway, we decided to do the whole thing by hand in VC++/MFC rather than learn some proprietary and unfamiliar scripting language, which might require me to jump through hoops to get to the Windows APIs for things like creating users or running processes as another user.

We'll still use things like Windows SETUP apis to copy files (from a diamond cabinet in a resource so setup.exe is self contained).

Joel Spolsky
Friday, August 30, 2002

Just wanted to add my opinion about Wise : I'm a rather long time user and quickly became addicted to it (by comparison to InstallShield which I found horribly complicated to use). To anyone who needs to make a choice between Wise and IS, my answer is a strong and loud WISE !
Of course, I don't mean that alternatives such as Inno Setup are not worth checking or cannot be better given a specific context.

Serge Wautier
Friday, August 30, 2002

Joel wrote :

> we decided to do the whole thing by hand in VC++/MFC
> rather than learn some proprietary and unfamiliar
> scripting language 's setup toolkit might be of interest to you. It is a MFC-based framework for creating installers.

Note that I have no clue whether it's good or not.

Serge Wautier
Friday, August 30, 2002

Does InstallShield still have 'Package for the web'?  What a pain.  In my opinion, I agree that it was cumbersome to use.

Wise Installer on the other hand has a single click 'compile' which gives you your single setup exe file the first time - very reliable and straightforward (the way it should be).  I would definitely recommend it over InstallShield.

Friday, August 30, 2002

I second Serge's opinion.  Several months ago I was faced with choosing InstallShield or Wise.  30 minutes with the InstallShield demo and I was utterly confused.  Ended up going with Wise Installer for Windows.

IMO both are overly complicated due to the underlying Windows Installer "platform".  Be ready for a sizeable learning curve.

But... based on what was posted previously, I'll DEFINITELY be checking out Inno Setup for future development.

Brandon Knowle
Friday, August 30, 2002

My vote:  WISE

Wise  (version circa 1998 or 99) is incredibly easy to use.  Don't know about the current versions.

The 1998 version was so easy to use and (reasonably) powerful that we've never needed to upgrade.  I almost feel guilty.

I looked briefly at the new version last year.  Seemed equally good.

Good tip on the Script version vs. Windows Installer.  I'll stick with the simpler version.

Clay D. Nichols
Friday, August 30, 2002

Wise?  Please.  How VB4 of you.  How can you make a case to PAY for wise?  Cost/benefit folks...Cost/benefit

Friday, August 30, 2002

Chris Tavares wrote:
"I've never written an installer where I didn't have to do something unique and call out to a DLL or something. Inno didn't appear to have that capability."

Sure it does. You can either run your own program that does all the weird stuff in the [run] section or use Inno Extensions:

Or you could modify Inno Setup and recompile, because it is open source ;)

Jan Derk

Jan Derk
Friday, August 30, 2002

I voted for Wise. I looked at what was needed to build a Wise setup using automated methods, and compared it to Install Wise, by examining default simple setups.

Wise appeared to be very simple: just a single text file, with an odd scripting language in it.

Install Wise created a huge directory structure that immediately put me off.

InstallWise also makes a huge botch up of single file setup.exe - this "package for the web" thing. Every time I use an install created by that method I get confused. First they unzip the setup (with a little dialog to ask you what to do) then they run the real setup wizard.

However, InstallWise, though more complex, has more support for such things as command line builds, which is handy for automation; whereas Wise *can* compile from command line, but only gives GUI errors and feedback, so it's pretty useless if there isn't someone sitting in front off it.

Aaron Lawrence
Saturday, August 31, 2002

We have used InstallShield to ship our software and our customers hated the huge overhead. About 10% of all installations failed (mostly on Win95/98 and NT SP4-SP6). This was a nightmare.

We switched to Linder SetupBuilder ( and more than 200,000 installations worked fine without any problem. The overhead is only 170KB and SetupBuilder supports binary patching. Thanks God there is no dependency on MSI!

There will be a brand new version 5.0 (with script support) in 4Q 2002 and as I understand it the upgrade will be free of charge. We are a Fortune 500 company and have purchased more than SetupBuilder 200 licenses.

Peter Hoffman
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Some month ago we switched from Wise to SetupBuilder.


Reason: we were not interested in paying $229.00 for a Wise upgrade and another $199.00 for (Email) support.

Frank Brown
Saturday, August 31, 2002

I had a VB6 application that I distributed with ISExpress 2. The whole install set was about 4 MB. I upgraded to ISExpress 3.53 and my install set is now 8 MB. Some of my customers only have a 1.44 MB disk drive (no CD-ROM). Know what? You cannot create such 1.44 MB disk images with ISExpress 3.53 (InstallShield tech support told me that this is a .MSI issue). This is a serious problem for me.

Both Wise 9 and SetupBuilder 4 can compile the very same VB6 installation into < 2.5 MB!

What's the problem InstallShield?

Peter Barry
Saturday, August 31, 2002

InstallShield? too fragile IMHO. The installer of its runtime depends... on the runtime, so if it doesn't like your system setup for some reason (the runtime depends on a ton of stuff that is just assumed to be there - not a wise choice for an installer, if you ask me), no InstallShield for you. Long live WISE. Better, long live plain MSI

PS: *always* provide an alternative, possibly unsupported, distribution in a zip file with manual installation instructions. Windows installers (except MSI, maybe) don't really get the point, and are doomed to fail, sooner or later. Kerio, VMWare, Connectix and countless others have lost a potential client because of their stubborn faith in InstallShield ("reinstall your system" my ass, save this lame answer for the clueless)

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Some clarifications. First: I strictly speak from an end user point of view, I think the most important, since I am the "audience" for your setup programs. Second: I don't think, like my previous message could suggest, that MSI is the "silver bullet" (still, it never failed for me). Third: the answer is "it depends"

It depends from the program you have to install:
- device driver? don't bother using an installer at all. An INF script will do. And remember not to confuse "control panels", "monitors", etc. with the device driver itself, like most printer driver vendors seem to do (thank God Windows 2000 comes with its own lean and mean, no-nonsense printer drivers. Too bad they take a "lowest common denominator" approach)
- command line utilities? zip file. The user will know better than clog up the system directory with EXEs and DLLs (I have created, respectively, D:\wbin and D:\wlib for the purpose). Else, you're targetting the wrong users
- desktop software? i.e. something that gets installed and used on a single, non-networked machine at a time, like CityDesk? InnoSetup is the way to go, WISE if you feel like paying. Avoid NSIS like plague, it feels like a dive in the middle '90s. Don't bother using MSI, unless you want to allow per-user setups, that work perfectly in Windows 2000  and beyond (even if you use OLE classes, something that - AFAIK - was not possible at all before), and MSI handles very well
- workstation software? e.g. Office? MSI. Windows was made for LAN environments, and MSI fits in the role perfectly. Just look at the features (publishing, replication, on-demand install, etc.). If MSI isn't enough, you may want to review your design, and try to get rid of that kind of backward-compatibility crap that InstallShield was specifically designed to handle
- server software? not much experience on this, but after a very positive experience with Apache I'd suggest MSI. Avoid cheap-looking InstallShield 5 (and this means you, MySQL)

Never, ever use InstallShield 4 (16 bit core) or InstallShield 6 ("InstallShield kernel"? how much longer before it sends e-mails?)

Saturday, August 31, 2002

This one is compact and kewl,


Saturday, August 31, 2002

My vote: anything BUT WISE (for Windows Installer) or InstallShield

I started out on a long and flaming post, but decided enough was already said here. Nevertheless, I feel a must to share my experience working with two big-time-big-bucks installer creation packages, namely InstallShield 5.0-6.0 and WISE for Windows Installer 3.52.

I've used these products to create setups for about 10 product releases we've done at my company. In my point of view choosing between these programs is not a question of "WISE vs. InstallShield" - it's a question of whether you should shoot yourself in the head or jump before a train.

Frankly, I cannot say enough bad things about either of these applications, nor the companies that make them - and the so-called upgrade policies they employ. Yes, I do hate these applications and I have my reasons. We're talking buggy software that is hard to use and will produce buggy, ugly looking installers that fail randomly on your end-user's systems.

Anyone who considers to distribute their application with an automatic installer (instead of a simple .zip archive or whatever), be warned. DO NOT BUY THESE PRODUCTS. You'll be wasting time, money and a lot of the precious few ounces of sanity that's still left in you.

Please note that my experience with WISE is based on their product for creating MSIs; WISE for Windows Installer. Not the "traditional" script-based product they have. To be fair I must add that WISE's tech support is quick responding and has helped me solve a few problems I've had, but that surely doesn't compensate for the menace they put me through in the first place.

Fredrik Solenberg
Friday, September 6, 2002

Maybe I post a little bit late, and it seems like that Free Sofwtare product mentioned before is the best choice, but here's my opinion anyway:
Around 4 years ago, I had to use both, WISE and Install Shield. Since then, I didn't have much to do with packaging on Windoze, except that I get to hear some comments from colleagues who have to do packaging using Install Shield.
My experience back then was that WISE was feinately easier to use than Install Shield. You could start up with a few simple mouseclicks, and your product is packaged. Well, at least as long as you do the standard things like moving some file, registering DLLs, etc. As soon as you want to do some more complicated things, you were either stuck or .... I don't remember. However, when I used Install Shield, I had to read through a lot of manuals before I knew what was really going on. While WISE had only a few simple script commands to extend your setups (the approach is more like: provide 10 percent functionality to cover90 percent fo scenarios), Install Shield came with a real scripting language that tried to cover all 100 percent. Hence it was rather complicated to get started with, but as soon as you got it, it was quite good to use. Question here is what kind of application you have. Install Shield may be like using an oil tanker to deliver a parcel.
But one think that really speaks against Install Shield appears to be portability: This is only hear'n say, but from what I hear from colleagues, making the transition between the different Install Shield versions seems to be horrific.
And you want your shiny new application to be delivered with an equally shiny installation process, don't you? Hence you will have to upgrade your Install Shield installation from time to time. I'd check that, though.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I am currently sourcing alternatives to the default MSI installer. I have used installshield but not as a packaging software, only for installing existing packages. Could anyone recommend a SI that would be of note for pre-packaged software?

Fender Bender
Thursday, March 18, 2004

Just to point people a little further in the direction we all seem to going anyway... I've also struggled & muddled through with InstallShield and Wise in the past, circumventing bugs and 'known issues'. Their customer support is decent - but it needs to be. Both products are terrible: by far & away the worst pieces of professional software I've ever had the misfortune to use. Bugs so obvious you wonder if anyone ever tested them (one version of InstallShield would crash if you tried to create a shortcut for your installed application).
Finally a week or two ago, the final straw broke - we discovered a new bug which meant we couldn't really use InstallShield for our installation (it can't handle DirectX as a redistributable). So we switched to Inno Setup.
Which I was both appalled and delighted to discover, is a far better & stable program than either Shield or Wise. And costs a few hundred dollars/pounds less. I really wish I'd known about it all those years ago.

Alex Thomson
Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Can anyone suggest me which tool is the best to use for creating driver install packages? A simple INF won't do because there are several devices/drivers for them, and the ability to choose the one to install and detect devices that are present is needed.

Dmitry Petroff
Thursday, July 8, 2004

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