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Author Topic: WiX Installer - not really a review  (Read 6892 times)

wraith808

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WiX Installer - not really a review
« on: September 22, 2012, 11:50:16 PM »
So, in a former life, my title at a company was 'Configuration Engineer'.  What that meant at that particular company was that I did the work that developers didn't want to do, i.e burning CDs/DVDs, Maintaining version control systems, and writing installers.  Since writing installers at the time was painful, once I paid my dues in that position, I didn't want to write installers anymore.  All of my software has been zip it up, and let the user unzip it.  If I needed something done, I did it on first run.

I decided that for my latest effort, I wanted to get back into writing installers.  I still have my old unzip it mentality and have a distribution just in a zip file, but I also wrote an installer.  I looked at a few of the ones I remembered: NSIS (development stalled), Wise (discontinued), InstallAware (way too expensive), InstallShield (ditto)... I was about to go with Inno Setup, but then I saw WiX - Windows Installer XML.  I was somewhat skeptical of an XML based installer system, but decided to try it.

After downloading and installing, I used a tutorial.  I didn't walk through using their sample, but instead tried my own software.  It was a pain putting in entries for all of the files that I used manually.  But, I have to admit, it was pretty straightforward.  Within an hour, I had an installer- but no UI.  Then I found out that adding the UI was pretty painless.  The came the realization that it had installed into Visual studio- and I could create a project for it from the IDE.  I was glad to have learned everything behind the compiler and linker- but that made it a lot easier.

I'd give WiX a thumbs up to anyone looking to make an installer- and a thumbs way up for anyone using Visual studio and needing to make an installer.  It was straightforward, and just works!

Renegade

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2012, 12:15:53 AM »
Hmmm... Looks about the same as the last I checked it.

Is there any compelling reason to use it over Inno Setup or the VS setup project?

What I would REALLY like is a cross platform installer that is somewhat sane. And free. I don't have $2,500 or whatever just waiting to burn on an install-builder. :( Sigh...

Got any recommendations? Seems like you've been around the block a few times with installers. :D
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wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2012, 12:37:49 AM »
What I look for in an installer is (a) control, and (b) ease of use.

I don't like the VS Setup projects because of a lack of control.  It makes a lot of assumptions for you, and wants you to install the windows way.  Inno setup is pretty easy to use- but I don't like it because of the use of yet another tool.  That's why I liked WiX- it was easy to use, and I had control.  Basically, all I wanted to do was show a license, get a path, and do an xcopy.  The only thing that would have hit it out the park for me is if you could point it to a directory structure and it grab all of the files.  But copying and pasting one line for each file was trivial, if mind-numbing.  And it's in the same solution as the rest of my solution, and I can just build it from VS after I build my solution.  If I had more requirements for an installer, it might be a different story.  But not having advanced requirements, it was just enough for me.

Inno Setup is good.  NSIS was also.  And I'd recommend either (as NSIS is still useful as of now... but I'd go with Inno because of the fact that it's in development).  There are a few that have free options for commercial installers- but I haven't actually used any of them.  With them being at heart commercial, I figured I'd stay away, not wanting to be in the midst of using it when they decided to no longer support the free version.

Ath

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2012, 09:47:01 AM »
Is there any compelling reason to use it over Inno Setup or the VS setup project?
That's easy, don't ever use VS setup project! It's so stupid, that an update requires you to un-install before you can update. And the lack of control that wraith808 mentions.

Inno Setup is a good choice for anything that's either created with VS or not with VS, if you work in VS exclusively, then WiX is a good alternative to Inno Setup (but I'm a bit biased about Inno Setup as I've been using that for 13 years now...)

There is a VS plugin for Inno Setup (or used to be, not sure and not really interested), as I use one of the 3rd party IDE's for all my Inno Setup projects.

wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2012, 10:02:29 AM »
I formerly used Inno Setup years ago, and it was quite good.  I was just incredibly impressed by the integration of WiX into VS, and how transparent and straightforward it was.  Again, the need to put the files in manually is incredibly mind numbing and I'm surprised there's not a VS extension to take that pain away.  Then again... I didn't look.  Hmm...

Ath

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2012, 10:08:42 AM »
Again, the need to put the files in manually is incredibly mind numbing and I'm surprised there's not a VS extension to take that pain away.
+1

The documentation mentions this as one of the strong features of WiX, 'full developer control', but it also kind of means that the developer has to be the one developing the installer, while he's adding modules & files to the project, and that is one thing I surely won't leave as a responsibility for the development team I have to work with atm,... :huh:

wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2012, 10:58:45 AM »
Thankfully, our installers at work are not that type of thing since internally we just use shadow copy and two bootstrappers - one keeps files from being locked, and the other runs the installer for internal dependencies before the app is ever run.  But I know what a nightmare that can be.

f0dder

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2012, 12:08:04 PM »
Shouldn't be too hard writing a WiX-config-generating tool that takes out the mind-numbingness? :-) - I think one of the developers at the company where I did my internship did something along those lines.

I've always found that .msi installers are slow and sucky... are the installers generated by WiX any better?
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wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2012, 01:37:52 PM »
Shouldn't be too hard writing a WiX-config-generating tool that takes out the mind-numbingness? :-) - I think one of the developers at the company where I did my internship did something along those lines.
Yeah... I could do something along those lines.  But you know how these annoyances are- they're annoyances only at the time you're using the tool, and the tool isn't used that often, so you'd rather use your time elsewhere.  :-[

I've always found that .msi installers are slow and sucky... are the installers generated by WiX any better?

Depends on what you mean by slow and sucky.  My needs are pretty light.  The fact that it integrates into VS and gave me control was enough to make my day.  Basically, everything I did with the installer could have been done with a simple xcopy, and it was only 10MB of stuff, so not really representative (also why I called this 'not really a review').

f0dder

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2012, 02:13:59 PM »
Well, all .msi installers I've used take a lot of time to "boot", and generally seem slow and sluggish - even if only dealing with a few megabytes worth of files. Nullsoft based installers, on the other hand, are crazy fast.

I do realize that .msi offers a lot of rollback and whatnot, but... meh.
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wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2012, 02:16:55 PM »
Well, all .msi installers I've used take a lot of time to "boot", and generally seem slow and sluggish - even if only dealing with a few megabytes worth of files. Nullsoft based installers, on the other hand, are crazy fast.

I do realize that .msi offers a lot of rollback and whatnot, but... meh.

Mine comes up pretty much instantly, and doesn't take that much longer than it would take to decompress the files and copy them to their locations.

f0dder

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2012, 02:26:01 PM »
Mine comes up pretty much instantly, and doesn't take that much longer than it would take to decompress the files and copy them to their locations.
I generally have 3+ seconds before the installer launches (even for the simple stuff), and installation taking a while (if a lot of small files (or registry entries) are involved). Contrast a .msi game installer with a bunch of small files to a nullsoft based installer with ".pak" files and... well :)
- carpe noctem

Tuxman

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2012, 02:29:42 PM »
"Wix" resp. "wichs". A German slang word for "jack off".

The one thing I like on WiX is its integration into the system. However, as my current major project uses NSIS, is there a GUI for it? Using a text editor to keep two installers up-to-date (update installer and full installer) is quite disturbing sometimes.

wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2012, 02:35:47 PM »
I generally have 3+ seconds before the installer launches (even for the simple stuff),

Oh... that preparing to install dialog.  Yup.  Still there.  I started to use NSIS.  That's the last thing I used when I was doing installers, and I really liked them.  But the lack of activity on the boards is what made me start looking for something else.

And I'm not sure if there's a GUI... I don't think so.  And I can see your point on having to maintain multiple installers with a text editor.  My needs are small, so having the source and the builder in the same place as my other source and builds outweighs those considerations.  If I was doing a large project, then I'm not so sure that I would use WiX.

f0dder

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2012, 03:41:38 PM »
Oh... that preparing to install dialog.  Yup.  Still there.
I know I'm ´┐Żber-sensitive to these kinds, but it annoys me a lot. One things is the up-front delay, though, another is the speed of installing itself. I assume that .msi based install of "a few large files" would be a lot better that when dealing with a zillion small files... but I guess authors going for .msi are more likely to go with those zillions of small files.

It's also very evident when doing uninstalls. Those zillions-of-files uninstalls can take a couple of minutes, where the .pak based ones take a couple of seconds. I almost get suspicious with fast installers these days, because I'm so used to the .msi madness :(

I started to use NSIS.  That's the last thing I used when I was doing installers, and I really liked them.  But the lack of activity on the boards is what made me start looking for something else.
I know the feeling. Inactivity? Bad! - but is it, really, that bad? It is for proprietary systems, but iirc NSIS is opensource?
- carpe noctem

wraith808

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Re: WiX Installer - not really a review
« Reply #15 on: September 23, 2012, 06:15:56 PM »
I know the feeling. Inactivity? Bad! - but is it, really, that bad? It is for proprietary systems, but iirc NSIS is opensource?

It is... but 2009 is last activity?  And I'm not really going to fix any problems I find, so the fact that it's open source isn't really a help in that case.