InstallShield Professional--Multi-Platform Edition

by Carl Christopherson

Few, if any, developers and end-users have not heard of InstallShield. Their rep utation for excellence in developing packaging/deployment software is clearly es tablished. Dating back to the Shield (InstallShield and DemoShield) days with W indows applications, the company has persistently sought to enhance their insta llation development tools. Avoiding the often puzzling need of some software de velopers to venture out of their center of expertise, InstallShield's focused ev olution has brought them to rarefied heights. Their continued commitment to hon ing their craft makes them, arguably, the premier packaging and installation man agement software creators in the world.

InstallShield Professional - Multi-Platform Edition, boasts features that includ e: JVM capabilities, multiple platform support, vital product registry, XML-base d file archives, native platform and Java archive build options, grouped file co nditions, and a full application programming interface. Hence, those familiar w ith the need to allow platform-independence while developing applications will a ppreciate the one bundle, multiple systems capabilities intrinsic to ISMP.

Multi-Platform Edition provides support for several major Linux distributions: R ed Hat, Caldera OpenLinux, SuSE and TurboLinux. Furthermore, it provides instal lation support for SolarisTM, AIX(r), OS/2(r), OS/400(r), and, of course, Window s. Thus, InstallShield's Multi-Platform Edition would genuinely appear to live u p to its name.

This high-end package comes at a high-end price. At $2,199, we shall assume that this software falls outside of the open-source realm. For those who have a lready installed the Java Edition (the immediate precursor to Multi-Platform Edi tion), the limited time upgrade is available for $499.


Upon unwrapping the tidily-dressed package, one finds: the software (thankfully) , the usual assortment of credentials, a Simple Product Tutorial, and a Getti ng Started Guide. Throwing caution to the wind, one loads the CD into the disk drive and hopes for the best, right? Well, perhaps looking over the hardwar e/software requirements and installation instructions is a more inspired start. InstallShield Professional requires the following: a Java Virtual Machine (1.1 .8 required, 1.2.2 recommended), 50MB of hard drive space, 128MB of RAM, and a 2 00MHz processor. The test computer for this writing possessed the following attr ibutes: JVM 1.1.8, 3GB of free hard drive space, 128MB of RAM, and a 400MHz AMD K-6 processor.

ISMP (InstallShield Professional - Multi-Platform Edition) allows two primary installation types. CD executable and Applet installations are available, allow ing the user to initiate InstallShield's patented dialog interface or to run the installation from a browser. Additionally, ISMP allows a Java .class installat ion for the GUI challenged (or loathing). For this test, both the CD executable and browser-based installations were examined. Moreover, both Linux Red Hat 6. 2 and Windows NT 4.0 Server (no snickering, please) were selected as test system s. After all, we are examining the Multi-Platform Edition.

We allow 3 different types of distributions Native OS, JAR file and Web Apple t. The native OS type includes eight different executables-AIX(r) (32 or 64 bit) , Linux, Solaris(tm) (SPARC or x86), Windows(r) 32-bit, OS/400(r) load file, and OS/2(r). Any of these executables, in addition to the JAR file, can be run from the command line in either console or GUI mode.

Installation on the Red Hat system was childishly simple. But then, InstallS hield is pretty much banking on that. Mount the CD-ROM, execute the Linux versi on, wait a fair amount of time for the guy interface to "guide" you through the installation steps. What could be easier? The installation process provides sli ck, fairly intuitive interaction, prompting the user to select destination folde rs and create necessary directories. All in all, a very smooth process.

The Windows installation was equally graceful. In this instance, installatio n was via the browser. Upon opening the Setup.html document, InstallShield prov ided roughly the same smooth guy. Again, ISMP offered selection cues and needed folders. Another immaculate setup. Anything less than a seamless deployment w ith either system would have clearly been grounds to shred InstallShield for obv ious reasons.

Interface and Features

Both the Linux and Windows versions offer the same pleasing guy with point and c lick simplicity. Fully understandable tool and menu bars trim the window interf ace. The multi-frame environment gives the user views to commands, properties, and beans used for the project.

The natural, easy layout provides self-explanatory tabs that make deployment preparation fairly simple. The Product tab lists the product tree, the product and any features or components associated therewith. Right-clicking (in both Li nux and Windows) provides a context-menu that allows the user to insert additional commands or properties. The Installer/Uninstaller tabs set installation defa ults for the launchable application (e.g., application setup properties). The B uild tab lists features such as platform and language support. With each view, the user is treated to category and value lists that are clear, reasonably consistent and easy to use. Some features needed to build product co mponents are accessible via the Add File, Edit, or Preview buttons. This, while fairly simple to negotiate, may prompt the beginning user to actually read and f ollow the Simple Product Tutorial included with the distribution.


Creating a deployment project requires a bit of patience, a touch of perseveranc e, and a good deal of concentration. One begins by selecting the type of instal lation (Simple product, typical product, or Product suite), the components used for the product, and the properties for any features added. Along the way, the user must specify file and property defaults for the installer. Dialog boxes cue the user to provide file and directory names; each offering a browse feature.

Upon deciding which files to include, their properties, and their destination s, the developer must then determine how the application is to be launched. To this end, the I.D.E. allows the user to select a release type. Since .jar files are translatable to any platform's JVM, cross-platform installation is a no-bra iner. InstallShield also supports RPM and Solaris Packages. Therefore, the deve loper may genuinely write once, and run everywhere.

Creating an RPM package wrapped in a Linux executable was fairly simple on fi rst effort-even more so after actually reading the instructions. Bundling the n eeded files, ensuring proper installation modes, and finishing the build went re markably smoothly during the test. Installing on a different host went without a hitch.

Playing with ISMP yielded predictably bad results. While insisting on packag ing an RPM-only build, the I.D.E. aborted the operation because no JVM propertie s were set. However, another effort (with a bit of tweaking) yielded the RPM wi th only an error message during build time. While this may seem discouraging to the RPM enthusiast, it is of little consequence; merely following allowable par ameters gets the developer around this issue.

Avoiding the temptation to import a completed InstallShield Java archive into a different I.D.E. may prove impossible-well, at least it seemed so for this te st. Opening an ISMP .jar in IBM's Visual Age proved, shall we say, enlightening . A simple (genuinely, very simple) installation .jar from InstallShield exceed ed the 750 class file limitation of Visual Age's ltd. Edition. While this is no t shocking, it may be grounds for some concern for developers hoping to maintain a light, fast installation. Of course, not including all of the installation v ersion options may help keep the deployment from getting too top-heavy.

On the Linux machine, on several occasions, the ISMP guy became slightly unst able. When issuing option commands, the window text exhibited signs of memory lapse. While using the handybrowse feature to find directories, the program woul d hang interminably-on one occasion, freezing entirely. Considering the amount of data being built, however, this was not entirely unacceptable. Moreover, this application is objectively slow. In both the Linux and Windows e nvironments (mind you, with fairly substantial RAM and swap space), launching IS MP required a bit of patience. In the Linux version, just adding a component br ought a significant wait time. Build times for both versions were, for simple a pplications, around 160 seconds. The completion time for a product suite may re quire a subscription renewal to Linux Journal.

Summary InstallShield's Multi-Platform Edition is arguably the most dynamic deployment a pplication on the market. It is easily installed, fairly intuitive, and cross-p latform capable right out of the box. Successfully packaging applications in bo th Linux and Windows systems is relatively straightforward and not excessively d ifficult. Because ISMP provides support for Solaris, Linux, AIX, OS/2, OS/400, and Windows, it positively facilitates faster, more convenient installation mana gement.

ISMP offers a rather elaborate, multi-framed guy that allows extensive comman ds, lists properties, and offers explanatory hyperlinks to guide the developer t hrough terms and properties necessary to successfully package an application. A lthough the Linux version flinched a time or two, both Linux and Windows interfa ces seemed acceptably stable. Despite the occasionally sluggish performance fr om the guy, ISMP is, nonetheless, a very capable, precise application.

InstallShield offers technical support in a variety of forms. Initially, the y give the user 30 calendar days of free support. Thus, customers may reserve a ssistance time until it becomes essential to contact product support. Additiona lly, InstallShield's online library is maintained to give developers a ready ref erence for all aspects of the program. Their knowledge base offers the usual FA Qs and up-to-date information about product development. The main sticking point to InstallShield's latest offering is the price. At a p ortly $2,199, the Multi-Platform Edition is not likely a toy for the dilettante developer. It is a serious tool for those needing extensive, accurate, multiple -platform deployments. Again, for developers currently using InstallShield's J ava Edition, an upgrade is available for $499. Should developers not need the s ophistication delivered by the Professional version, InstallShield also offers a lighter version, InstallShield Express - Multi Platform Edition for $999.00. For those wishing to test drive the product prior to plunking down a substantial amount of change, the evaluation version is available at InstallShield's downlo ad page: install shield .

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