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Getting Your System Out
Page 2 - The Visual Studio Installer
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As quick and easy as PDW is, it's still not the latest product from Microsoft for creating system installs. The next step up the ladder is the more recent Visual Studio Installer.

Visual Studio Installer was the initial product in a whole new category of Microsoft install products based on a new Windows Installer technology. You're probably familiar with this since Microsoft customers have been using it for Microsoft products for several years. As Microsoft's Bill Gates has said, they always "eat their own dog food." Later in this article, we'll briefly introduce Windows Installer 2.0 - the latest in Microsoft Install technology.

One of the benefits of using VB.NET is the ability to have "side-by-side" installation of the same system. Version 1 and Version 2 of your system can be present on the same computer at the same time and both will still work. Visual Studio Installer 1.1 (but not 1.0) brings this same benefit - as well as many others - to your development. The cost to you is learning a whole new way to think about and do installs. The list of new capabilities rolls on and on using Windows Installer technology. Since this isn't a marketing article for Microsoft, they won't be covered here but you can read all about them at this link.

Although a fully supported component of Visual Studio (which also means that you have to have Visual Studio installed first), this system must be downloaded from Microsoft and installed. So the first step to using it is to download it from this link.

The first thing to learn is that Visual Studio Installer and Microsoft Windows Installer both use a new .msi file type called the Microsoft Windows Installer package. The old "Setup.exe" file is gone in the new technology. An .msi file is a storage file containing the instructions and data required to install an application. For this reason, Microsoft refers to all of their "Installer" based software as "data driven" rather than "script driven".

To author and launch an .msi file with Visual Studio Installer, first open Visual Studio Installer from the Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0 Enterprise Tools menu. Getting started is always the hardest part and some beginners become confused at this point since it appears that you have simply opened Visual Interdev. In fact, that's exactly what happened. Building a Visual Studio Installer is just another project now.

Check the Name and Location at the bottom of the dialog to make sure you have selected the right project and then click the Visual Basic Installer icon.

Start VS Installer

In the next dialog, select the .vbp (Visual Basic Project) file that you want to build an Installer for.

Select the .vbp

At this point, the 'official' Microsoft documentation suggests that you:

  • Add whatever files your Installer project requires
  • Configure project properties
  • Decide how to modifiy the target machine registry and configure the the target registry properties
  • Decide what changes need to be made for the target machine operating system handling of MIME, COM, and type libraries
  • Customize the installation dialogs that are presented when the user runs the Installer package
  • Add merge modules to the Installer project

... and of course ...

  • Test the installer package file

There's no question that all of these steps are necessary in the proper circumstances and add a lot to the power and flexibility of Microsoft's new Installer technology. To make all of these changes, click on the appropriate icon in the Project Explorer.

The Installer Project

Microsoft advertises that, "Developers will find that Visual Studio Installer simplifies installation design and development and makes it easy to specify complex configuration changes." Our reaction must be unique because we found that making these configuration changes was hard to figure out and Microsoft documentation just didn't help a lot. So, for this introduction, we decided to simply "cut to the chase" to and show you what VS Installer can do by ignoring all of them (except testing).

Build the .msi file

To actually create the Installer "TwoButton.msi" file (that's your new 'setup' file), click the Build menu item.

This creates the .msi file in a 'disk image' folder (DISK_1) that is created automatically by the Build option. You can use the .msi file to install the TwoButton program now.

Next page > The Windows Installer

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