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Good Software Installers

Doing some research and have to choose a software installer for an upcoming product.

Can anyone give me good reasons to go with either InstallShield or Wise Installer?  I'm seeking experienced views on the plusses or minuses of either installer, particularly with regard to size, or ease of use.

Sorry if this is OT, but we have a lot of very knowledgeable people here.


Bob Crosley
Friday, December 14, 2001

We use InnoSetup.  The price is right (free) and it supports scripting (albeit through pascal).
Its an amazingly good program.

Obviously InstallShield is king with regards to installing.  I've heard Wise has gotten much too expensive.

Anyway, check out

Michael Pryor
Friday, December 14, 2001

I don't know the merits of those products.  However, if you're doing Windows-only, Inno Setup is a good free one that people seem to like:

With Mac OS X, the Developer CD comes with PackageMaker (Developer:Applications:PackageMaker), which is a nice installer and what Apple presumably uses.

Also for OS X, OmniWeb does incredible things with just normal DiskCopy (Applications:Utilities:DiskCopy) and futzing around with "Show View Options" on the finder.  (OmniWeb is a web browser for Mac, which is worth downloading just to see the installer.  Incidentally, people at Apple seem to recommend this method also.)

This doesn't answer your question, but just in case you needed a quick, cheap, nice installer...

Friday, December 14, 2001

I can not recommend Inno Setup highly enough. It beats the crap out of Installshield. It is more intuitive, faster, smoother and generates smaller installation files. My latest installation file was 4+ MB with Installshield and went to 1.6MB only by switching to Inno Setup.

Most new users cannot believe that a free (as in beer and speach) product is so good. It looks a little weird having to edit a script file to setup your installation settings, but most users find it quick and easy to use after an hour tweaking. And there is also a GUI which generates the script file if you like Windows interfaces better.

I'd say Inno Setup's only weak point is that it has not got a marketing department.

Jan Derk
Friday, December 14, 2001

This is a windows only product that needs to be installed.  The Powers That Be tend to be hesitant about free (as in beer) software for concerns about longevity and support.  But InnoSetup is worth a look.

Any other info about Wise or InstallShield is very helpful.


Bob Crosley
Friday, December 14, 2001

<<The Powers That Be tend to be hesitant about free (as in beer) software for concerns about longevity and support. >>

From my personal experience the Inno Setup newsgroups provides the same level of support as Fogcreek does for CityDesk, which is better than the (payed) support of 99% of all commercial product.

And for longevity: Name me one commercial installer that comes with full source code.


Jan Derk
Friday, December 14, 2001

I'm using Wise for Windows Installer, with reasonable results. I haven't found a good way to automate the stuff I do for every build (increment version number, add an upgrade step from the previous installer, rename the resulting file to include the build number).

There are three interfaces to this product: one is a slick wizardy thing called Installation Expert, and the other two are lumped together as Setup Editor. One of the tabs in Setup Editor is named Tables, and allows you to directly manipulate the tables in your installer. Anything that can't be done through Installation Expert or Setup Editor can be done by directly manipulating the tables.

It's easy to make a simple standard installer. It's possible to make arbitrarily complex installers, although the learning curve gets very steep very fast.

I'll have to try some of the others suggested here; WfWI may work, but it is far from ideal.

Jeff Paulsen
Friday, December 14, 2001

Disclaimer: I worked with the NullSoft guys for 6 months, and think they are really cool, so this is a bit biased.

You should check out "NSIS" by Justin Frankel of NullSoft.
(author of WinAmp)

It rules. It is completely open source, and scriptable.

A comparison to the other installers is here:

Rolf Hanson
Friday, December 14, 2001

<< You should check out "NSIS" >>

Looks like another very interesting option. It makes you wonder why so many people still spend so much money on inferior products like Installshield. I guess brand recognition is a big factor. And they did own the market for a long time.

Anyway as long as the competition keeps on working with one hand tied behind their back by using inferior products, you won't hear me complaining. You probably do want to update that comparison table as it says Inno Setup does not support scripting. In fact, it does, but you have to download the Inno Setup Extensions. See:

Nice to see Nullsoft developers hang around here. When does Winamp start supporting skins with larger buttons? While being the best player out there, I allways have problems clicking the right button. But maybe I'm just getting old and need glasses...


Jan Derk
Friday, December 14, 2001

I've used both InstallShield and Wise. They both tend to have about equivalent feature sets, and it's a crapshoot as to which one has which feature first. Currently InstallShield is a bit ahead in .NET support, but that could change. You'll find happy and disgruntled users of each of these programs. I use InstallShield myself, largely because I'm used to its interface and way of doing things. It's worth looking at the latest feature sets from each and seeing if either has a must-have feature for your project that the other is missing. If not, flip a coin.

NSIS is interesting, but not an option if you want to use the Windows Installer Service (a necessity for logo compliance, if that matters to you).

It's also worth checking out FinalBuilder as a way to automate either Wise or InstallShield as part of an overall build process.

Mike Gunderloy
Friday, December 14, 2001

I have only used installshield a few times but have used wise for quite a few years now, with good results. I like the installation expert provided by wise. Its possible to hose up an install script pretty quickly and tweak it once wise has done all the grunt work.

Tony McConnell
Friday, December 14, 2001

FinalBuilder?  Do you have a URL?

Bob Crosley
Saturday, December 15, 2001

Mike Gunderloy
Saturday, December 15, 2001

Has anyone looked into Installer Vise for Windows from MindVision?

I've had great luck with their Macintosh products over the years, and the people at MindVision are extremely sharp.

  -- Chris
  -- posting from OmniWeb, incidentally

Chris Hanson
Sunday, December 16, 2001

We used InstallerVise for one product. It was... ok. Not as hellish as InstallShield, but still...

From what I could tell, for the basic "dump a bunch of files onto a machine & set some registry entries" kind of installer, it'd do just fine, and it's pretty easy to get your setup going. The gui makes installations that are mainly files fairly easy to follow. If you need a lot of logic (which most installers do as soon as you release V2) it becomes a real tangle to try and follow what's going on.

For what we were doing, we needed to do some rather sophisticated checking of the target machine (looking for software, make sure some things weren't running) which it wouldn't do. So, it was off into the realm of extension DLLs.

Vise relies on extension DLL's for everything outside it's fairly limited "actions". They're fairly easy to write, but it's still another piece of software to maintain. And you can't return strings back from them, so it's a real pain to pass information back from the extension DLL.

My biggest gripe is that the installer file is in an opaque binary format. This was a BIG problem because our product included many, many files, with various developers adding new files as we went on. Adding them without telling me to add them to the setup, so we get a bug report back from QA. Sometimes we DIDN'T get a bug report from QA, only to have it blow up later. Not good.

If the installer was some sort of text file, or if there'd been some sort of object model, I could have written a tool to update the setup to include the new files as they showed up in SourceSafe. But no such luck.

I recently had to do another installer (much, much smaller). I used NSIS, and I LOVED it! NSIS just does what you tell it to, and it's SO nice to be able to do everything in a single text file. The NSIS script language is amusingly primitive - more like assembly than anything else, but the individual instructions are high-level enough that you get the job done quickly. I still needed an extension DLL, but it was even easier to write, and simple to return strings from.

-Chris, who hates doing installers, but any paying job is a good one right now.

Chris Tavares
Sunday, December 16, 2001

I remember a bunch of Mac magazine-cover CD's where the "menu" interface was a *huge* number of icons, stacked on top of each other in a specific way, so that together they would constitute an image of some kind.

Does that still exist?

Guan Yang
Sunday, December 16, 2001

On Apple developer CDs for OS X, I would see a picture formed by numerous little icons when viewing the CD.  Casual inspection (by changing the view or selecting/moving these icons) would show they corresponded to little 0-length files with custom icons.

Weird.  Other install folders (like OmniWeb's) just use a background image as its picture.  I suppose this is a purely Artistic choice on the part of Apple, with the effect of many little butterflies all composing an image.

Or in the past, there might have been no support for backgrounds for folders, and this was a cute little hack worth Keeping for its Novelty value.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Who told Delphi's bad ? After all other language guys too are using Innosetup written in Delphi 3 for creating Installation Programs ?

Saturday, December 29, 2001

I distribute my software as executable winzip files.
The files are then installed on the buyer's machine.
I ask the buyer to set a single enviromental variable, showing my programs where they have been installed.

What does a good installer do that I need more than that?

Keith Paton
Thursday, January 3, 2002

> What does a good installer do that
> I need more than that?

E.g. registry and ini settings, nice interface, info text files before and after installation (licence), check to see if installed application is already running, creating icons in start menu/desktop, upgrade from previous versions with file-version checking and don't forget to mention uninstallation!

Need some more? :)

David Szilagyi

David Szilagyi
Saturday, March 9, 2002

Any feedback on InstallAnywhere from Zero G?

Blake Kelly
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Check out MaSaI Editor from
We have started to use it and think it is good compared to other products and its price.

Gordon Geeko
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I've used InstallShield for years, and as for Wise, well, probably not much in it, though Wise do tend to make more snide comments about the competition, which doesn't sit well with me.

We have a developer, who uses Inno Setup and its perfect for his needs when he wants to put an effective install together. Where it falls down is the lack of multi-lingual installers and msi (but if you don't need it, no probs.).

As for Multiplat-form installers - well, didn't like IS's Multi-platform (didn't support some of our UNIX platforms) so I'd suggest InstallAnywhere as they seem more clued up on that front, but comments as I only scratched the surface. We wrote our own UNIX installer.

So I've been using IS for a few years and have done some fairly wacky stuff with it (they're got a lot more protective of the source now...) and I've started to created automated msi installers now (on the fly stuff), which once you've got the foundations right, its okay.

Which is the point of most installations - keep it simple, as if it can get complicated, it will :O)

Duncan Lauder
Monday, January 26, 2004

Which one produces smallest output??

Raghu Avirneni
Thursday, March 25, 2004

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