Software

Five apps for creating installation packages

Deliver a solid first impression and a clean installation with five installer products for Windows.

So you are a software developer and you just wrapped up a massive project. With executable code in hand, now you need a way to properly deploy and install your software on end user machines. For some, a simple zip file or self-extracting archive is more than sufficient to get the job done. Presentation is key, however, and a solid software installation experience is one of the first things a client or customer will notice before using your product. To help deliver on that promise of a solid first impression and a clean installation, here are five installer products I can recommend for Windows applications.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Five apps

1. InstallShield Express 2013

InstallShield is the definitive install engine used by many large corporations and big development houses. Power users can greatly appreciate the level of control InstallShield gives developers for generating professional looking and efficient EXE and MSI installation packages. For smaller developers however, InstallShield can be a bit intimidating, both in its super attention to detail and its high price tag of $650 (for the Express edition).

2. Nullsoft NSIS Installer

Brought to you by the same team behind the once wildly-popular Winamp media player, NSIS is a scriptable installation app builder that is tight on system resource usage and generates fast executables. The lack of a wizard-style GUI could be intimidating to those who are averse to text files, but the price of free makes NSIS a worthwhile product which can be used for both home and commercial purposes. You can even take compressed ZIP files and convert them to EXE setups with a basic converter app called Zip2Exe.

3. InstallAware 16

The "Oooh! Shiny!" brigade is out in full force with InstallAware leading the charge on delivering an excellent looking installer that can also support hybrid deployments (to both EXE and MSI), easy to understand scripting and multi-core compression technology to help push package file-sizes down to less disk space intensive levels. A free version that integrates directly into Visual Studio exists along with paid Pro versions.

4. Advanced Installer

If your needs are simple enough, Advanced Installer is offered in a freeware edition which gives a competent interface for building setup programs while using an easy to understand wizard. If you are willing to pony up to at least the Enterprise edition for a cool $399, you can even build installation packages that handle Java applets with great aplomb, incorporating any of the necessary Java side configurations as well.

5. Inno Setup

And finally, Inno Setup is relatively basic, lacks any sort of wizards, and is mostly catered towards power users, much like Nullsoft's NSIS installer. You crack open a window and you can hammer out scripts from scratch or utilize the supplied example scripts as a solid framework to be sure you have everything you need in advance. If you do yearn for support of non-Roman languages, a Unicode build exists which can deliver additional language support to installers at the cost of a larger executable. This bare-bones tool is free for the asking.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

16 comments
PeterZ
PeterZ

WiX is an open source collection of tools for generating Windows Installer packages. It integrates well with Visual Studio. It works off a set of XML setup declaration files. There is a definite learning curve but there is a book on it and documentation and examples on the Internet. http://wixtoolset.org/

tylerwhite
tylerwhite

I'm surprised you didn't mention SetupBuilder by Lindersoft (www.lindersoft.com). My company uses this for our software package (5000+ installations worldwide) and it works great.

thelip
thelip

This column would be a lot more useful if it covered linux and os x tools.

ccs9623
ccs9623

I think you need to look a little deeper. There is a great "wizard" for Inno that's been around for almost as long as Inno itself. Makes creating an installer very easy. I appreciate knowing about the others, but Inno has been my choice for over a decade now. Works great with a huge on-line community to support it.

Wizop
Wizop

I am a happy user of QSetup from Pantaray. The price was reasonable. The support has been great. Pantaray is a small company so support messages are answered by one person which I really like being a small company too . I enjoy being able to develop a personal relationship rather than being a number. If Tech Republic does a follow-up, I hope they'd take a look at QSetup.

AiR_GuNNeR
AiR_GuNNeR

+1 for Installmate. I've been using it for about three years. It's compact and very powerful. Easily handles SxS runtimes as well. Any questions I've had have been answered within a day by the developers.

scott
scott

I switched over to InstallMate. Interface is a little different from others, but it's a solid installer with a lot of very advanced features, at a very affordable price. I have no affiliation with the company other than a satisfied user.

333239
333239

After struggling with the bloatware that is Installshield (and InstallAware is similar) for a few years I switched to Inno Setup and never looked back. It is a simple script with excellent help and has all the features 99% will need. Our package now has 24 DLLs, installs drivers and is code signed with its own graphics, and Inno handles it all - excellent product and BTW its free!

chiransj
chiransj

Are all these installers can be used to develop installers for the solutions that developed using both Java and Microsoft Languages i.e C#, VB.Net, MS C++ ?

alienlab
alienlab

That sounds weird that you didn't mention almost official Microsoft WiX and installer that is provided by Visual Studio.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Can't really test every product out there. That's why there is a comment section.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

However, I wanted to focus on alternatives to Microsoft's WiX tool for this article. Besides, not everyone works exclusively in Visual Studio and all of the apps I listed can work independently.