Wise for Visual Studio.NET

By Peter A. Bromberg, Ph.D.
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Peter Bromberg

Wise for Visual Studio .NET is a total and complete installation development system for creating and editing Windows® Installer (.MSI) installation packages that is 100% integrated into the Visual Studio.NET IDE. . It is a complete and user-friendly front end for generating Windows Installer database files, which are executed by the Windows Installer engine. With Wise for Visual Studio .NET, you can create installations that are compliant with Microsoft's Windows 2000 logo program. You can also use Wise for Visual Studio .NET to edit and refine installations that you've imported from WiseScripts or SMS installations, or that you've recreated with SetupCapture or ApplicationWatch. The Wise integrated help system is full and complete, and becomes another part of your existing Visual Studio.NET help collection.

Wise for Visual Studio .NET is the first complete, seamless integration of the entire installation authoring environment directly into the Visual Studio® .NET development environment. This tight integration allows for automatic synchronization of your development project with your installation, saving you time and significantly improving the quality of your installations. This unique level of integration with Visual Studio .NET make creating sophisticated installation packages for your VS.NET solution a real pleasure, and will prove to be a great productivity tool for any developer or organization that develops software that customers must install by themselves, quickly, efficiently, and with little or no expensive and time-consuming customer support calls or visits!

· All .EXEs, .DLLs, .OCXs, and assemblies are added to the installation automatically when added to your solution. Installation parameters such as Application Name, Version, and Default Directory are pre-populated using data from your solution. The Package handles installing shared assemblies into the GAC.

The overall layout of the Wise for Visual Studio.Net system is virtually identical to the award-winning "non-.NET" versions of Wise Installer. Your installation can be fully customized—for example, by editing dialogs or by adding custom logic using Wise’s exclusive MSI Script™ technology—without leaving the familiar Visual Studio .NET environment.

Installations synchronize automatically with the other projects in the solution. For example, adding a .DLL to the solution automatically adds it to the installation, and installations adjust automatically to the Build Configuration you select by pulling the source files from the appropriate build directory.

· Adding code to support install-on-demand is a simple process now that the application code and the installation share the same development environment. · Installations can now be created much earlier in the application development life cycle, and the learning curve for installation is significantly lower because of the common user interface.

Although I am a reasonably experienced Wise user, having preferred the Wise product line over competitors such as Installshield for several years because of its ease-of-use, wizard - based interface, and MSIScript scriptable IDE for customizing installations, I was very pleased by the fact that the interface that comes up in VS.NET when you select a new Wise project starts right out with the familiar look and feel of "just another project type:"

But that's only the beginning! When you've started your project, you'll be presented with the same productive, classic Wise layout you are familiar with, including the Installation Expert, MSI Script and Setup Editor tabs:

Notice in the reduced screenshot above that the WebDeploy panel is shown in the VS work area. This is one of the coolest Wise features. WebDeploy lets you create Web-based installations that minimize bandwidth requirements by downloading only the files needed for the installation. For example, if you set your installation to pre-install the Windows Installer runtime, and the destination computer already has that runtime installed, then the runtime file is not downloaded. Or perhaps your installation contains multiple features. With WebDeploy, only the features the user selects during installation are downloaded and installed.

Wise provide so many useful integrated tools with this package that I can't even begin to do them justice here in a short review. Features like WiseScript Express, MSI Script, use of Merge Modules, installing assemblies in the GAC (and many other .NET - specific features) are all included in this system.

Microsoft has always had a sort of "policy" of developing "the basics" when it comes to Installation projects, editors, migration wizards and other related tools, and giving the "green light" to selected software developer organizations to really "kick in the afterburners" and develop sophisticated, commercial versions of the technology with the blessing of the folks at Redmond. Even the VB.NET migration wizard was created this way. It's pretty obvious that the Wise Solutions people have been working very closely with Redmond over a long period of time to earn this level of trust - because Wise for Visual Studio .NET is one world - class installation - development product!

My first MSI installer project with this product was created using the Wizard - type project and included a shared assembly installed in the GAC. I did it in less than 10 minutes, and without even reading one line of the extensive documentation (your mileage may vary)!  I was able to personalize the dialog screens in just seconds, and the result was a first-class installation MSI that worked right out of the "double-click". You can go into Add/Remove in Control Panel and do a Repair or an Uninstall. Almost all the features are customizable, and very sophisticated scripting is possible. That's how easy it is to use!

My take on Wise for Visual Studio .NET? Highly recommended! Unless somebody comes out with a better product soon (not very likely), then if you need to save your company a bunch of time and money creating quality, maintainable software installations for the .NET platform, this is one investment that you should not delay.


Peter Bromberg is an independent consultant specializing in distributed .NET solutions Inc. in Orlando and a co-developer of the NullSkull.com developer website. He can be reached at info@eggheadcafe.com