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.
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).
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.
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.
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.