Windows installers – what’s hot and what’s not

The normal case: been busy for my latest project, and after a few days of sweat to produce the finest .exe, I dont care about installation and give the exe to everybody “to try it out”. But nowadays, that’s hardly acceptable: nobody expect an application to be “just an exe” that you need to put in a /program files directory yourself. So what’s availbale?

I’ve been using InnoSetup. From a very simple version that I’ve got a few years ago it has grown to a full blown installation program. It support scripting, is multilangual, and there are aven a lot of design tools especially created for InnoSetup. So it is the obvious choice for me. But maybe there are alternatives.

There is microsoft, with their msi “technology” which is -as usual- very complex wihout much more features. I hate steep learning curves, so after a few tries, I decided not to use it. The concept is good: instead of writing procedural code, you just define what you need installed where, and it does the job for you. But getting rid of a procedural language should make the job EASIER, not HARDER. And there are no real benefits. So goodbye msi.

Then I investigated the “usual suspects”: Wise and Installshield, the 2 top commecial installers available. Everybody with experience with both told me to skip installshield and go straigt for wise, because it was superiour. Because I had a legal version of wise 9, I tried it. But even this newest version has a windows 3.1 feeling, that you might get rid of with all kinds of patches and images, but in the end you are still stuck without normal Windows XP controls (like the green progressbar) And the wise “language” made me sick. If this is the commercial state of the art, then forget it and go straight to open source, because innosetup is way way superior over wise.

After this experience, I forgot about installshield. If this is not better than wise, it is not worth to investigate further.

And then there is NSIS. This is also open source, and is derived from the winamp installer. It is a comic farting lama counterpart of inno. It looks reasonalby good, at least as good as the wise installer, but also here you get a windows 3.1 feeling which goes away after a lot of “cosmetic” stuff.

Conclusion: Innosetup lives up to its expectations and is still my number one choice.