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by Brett Sheppard and Ross Mack - GUI Computing
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Christmas time is rolling up and we canít think of a better present to get off the big fat bearded guy than the newest version of Wise. Wise Solutions have gone right off their tree and dismissed the traditional Wise Standard and Wise Enterprise going with a new line up of products. We must admit, when we heard this we thought, "Dammit, donít go mucking around with one of our favourite products". But, after playing around with the new kids on the block, we have to admit that the new split up makes a lot of sense.

However, it is a bit of a change, so this article is going to briefly explain the new product range in regard to what is available now and go into a bit deeper the new features and enhancements to look out for and take advantage of once you get your new software.

Wise Solutions have released 4 different flavors in their new line up. These are Install Maker, Install Builder, Install Master and Install Manager. (Install Manager should be available sometime in November so we will save that for a future AVDF issue.)

Install Maker is the most basic of the four but still has an impressive feature list. Its main features include Wise 7, Smart-Patch (for creating installation patches), the new user interface (into which we will delve a bit later) and a host of runtime support files including VB6. The only problem we have with Install Maker is that you canít upgrade from a previous version of Wise that means you can only get the full copy. We have heard a few people grunt in dissatisfaction about that, but "thatís the way love goes".

Install Builder is the next step up and has a few more features that looks a little more like the old Wise standard version. Look for an advanced script editor with colour syntax, a custom dialog and custom graphic editor and an integrated debugger as well as all the Install Maker features.

The Install Master looks a little more like the Enterprise Edition of Wise with its Web Deploy and Setup Capture rolled into it. It also has support for SMS installations and an online registration feature so your clients can register their products over the Internet.

So, that is an all too brief tour of the new line of the Wise Solutions range and hopefully you now have your head around what they have done and what is on offer. Now for the nitty gritty.

The Installation Expert

The most obvious new feature that is available in all the products is the Installation Expert that offers a new interface to simplify the building of setup programs. This looks a bit daunting at first but once you get into it, it doesnít take long until you become a super user.

This feature really is the grown up version of the old script Wizard. The emphasis in this new version is to have a Wizard/Expert than can build 95% of installations without having to modify the script it generates at all. This means you may never have to learn the script interface and you can always use the quasi-Wizard interface.

Step 1 is for adding files and components to your installation such as program files, windows components and ODBC drivers. All this is done easily by clicking and pointing both source and target directories. The big bonus here is that standard runtimes for many components now ship with WISE so that you know what you are shipping. There has always been trouble in the past with people just installing whatever happened to be in their system directory when the install was compiled. With the new range of standard runtime sets this can be avoided. In fact, here at GUI we have also been producing standard runtime support installs for other components as well. Itís even more convenient if you put any such set of files under the WISE runtimes directory and create a stock include script for it. Then WISE always knows where to find it and you know what you are shipping.

Step 2 is for system additions. Tasks such as editing the registry, editing the autoexec.bat and config.sys files, adding NT services and adding devices can all be done through this step.

Step 3 checks to see if the destination computer has the right system requirements of your app and can also check for a previous install of your program. This is very neat. In previous versions this checking had to be done manually by reading system parameters, INI files and file version information and applying your own logic. In this new version of WISE you simply indicate what to check for and whether it is recommended or required. For example your app might require Win95 but Win98 might be recommended. You can simply select these rules and WISE will generate all the logic and appropriate user prompts to enforce the rules. The sort of system information you can check here includes service pack numbers, version numbers, multimedia support, display resolution, available memory and so on. Pretty comprehensive.

Step 4 mainly concerns itself with the look and feel on the install such as progress bars and dialog boxes you want to display. By default your install will probably look fine, but you can tweak it here to get the effect you want. Improved options for display of billboards (timed graphics) makes bringing information to your users about new features or how to register or just plain advertising very easy. It should also be noted that the new progress bar default used by WISE includes an overall progress bar as well as a progress bar for each file being installed. The standard progress bar also includes estimated time remaining which is dynamically updated based on script performance, so that it corrects itself if your hard disk starts thrashing or your floppy drive is really slow. As with the last few versions you can actually replace this with your own progress bar DLL if you prefer to have dancing wombats instead of blue squares marking time.

Step 5 allows you to password protect your install as well as provide online registration over the Internet for your application. (Depending on what version of Install you have.) This stuff can be really handy if you need to make your install available to one user only and you need to post it on a public FTP site or some such to get it to them

The online registration feature is really rather spiffy. You simply nominate a web server and URL to receive the registration information and then you write an ASP page (or CGI or whatever you fancy) to accept the registration information as submitted by WISE, have it update your user database and voila. It also looks pretty professional. The user also has the option to save the registration info to a text file so that it can be submitted later (presumably via email). An additional feature is that the information is stored in an INI file so that the next time they are using your installation software, they donít have to go through the whole process again. This will impress clients with the ease of use with which they can register your software, and it looks cool too.

Step 6 finally gets to the media requirements for your app as well as setting global variables and compiler variables. Mostly this is taken care of, but it does allow you to build one big install file for upload to an FTP site (anyone remember BBSs ? Didnít think so.) or little ones for copy to floppy disks (anyone remember 5.25 in disks ? Nor us.) You can also reserve space on the first disk for control files or anything else you might want to put there (for example, AutoRun information on a CD).

Compiler variables let you conditionally compile your script or control the directories it compiles from. This feature has been in WISE for a while but people donít seem to use it as much as they might. we will say that it is very handy if you are maintaining a few different versions of your software (Learning, Pro and Enterprise for example) that are largely the same but need a few minor differences. If you are not using compiler variables with WISE, we recommend taking a look into them.

Of course, there is a lot more to the Installation Expert than this, but the main purpose here is to give you an overall view as to what you can expect and how the package has changed in this revamp.

The VB Import Wizard

What really impressed us, and is available in all the Install Flavours, is the Visual Basic Import Wizard. This wizard will check your .vbp file and detect the necessary files that will be required for your application to run. While our testing was done over a fairly simple little application, it really did deliver the goods. It also checks for dependency files and informs you if it can not find a particular file as well as giving you the option to add or delete files to its selection. Even if it doesnít pick up all your necessary files, this will be a great time saver for your really big programs when you can run this wizard over it and then fine tune it with either the Installation Expert or the Script Editor.

We are particularly in favour of WISE now making use of the dependency files. This means that components from vendors who include correct DEP files are pretty much guaranteed to install correctly on a target system. Of course those component vendors who do not include correct DEP files still deserve our scorn and incessant emails to their tech support department regarding what needs to be shipped with their OCX/DLL/Thingy.

In addition to making use of vendor-supplied DEP files, this version also includes a raft of pre-packaged runtime support modules. WISE used to ship with essentially just runtimes for ODBC and ODBC drivers. Support has been added for VB 5.0 and 6.0, ODBC, DAO 3.0 and 3.5, DirectX 5.0 and 6.0, BDE 5.0, ADO 1.0 and 2.0, and Visual FoxPro - which has got to be good for football. Also, a version resource has been added so you can keep better tabs on what rendition of your application your users have and is just plain handy to have in situations where updates are needed to be made to your program. This means that your install EXE can display appropriate information in the Version tab of the file properties dialog under Win9x and NT. It also means you donít end up with a bunch of files all called SETUP.EXE that you have to double click on and wait for them to start up before you know what they are.

If we can get bigoted about installs for a moment we believe there are two big things to keep in mind when building an install.

  1. Your applicationís setup is the first impression the user gets of your software. If your setup is unprofessional or asks questions the user doesn't understand (or just looks terrible) then the user has every right to hit cancel (if he or she can find it) and download your competitorís product. In our experience, not only do they have that right, they tend to exercise it quite often! Even if they do go through with the install you donít want them to be in a disgruntled mood by the time your applicationís splash screen appears.
  2. The health of most systems is no greater than the quality of the worst install script that has been run on that system. If your install breaks the rules of version checking, shared file locations, shared DLL counting or overwriting of registry entries then it is detracting from the Ďhealthí and useability of the system on which it is being installed. By default WISE does all this quite correctly and helps you avoid breaking these rules. Most all version problems or spontaneously failing software can be attributed to ill-behaving installs. Donít be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

The new interface is the big winner for us. Making installation software should not be a challenge in itself and we think this is the right step in making the whole process easier.

Upgrade (and new product) pricing is too complex to go into here, but starts from $269. Details are available from GUI Computing.

Not everyone will be willing to pay the extra money to upgrade, but our suggestion is to get onto the web site (http://www.wisesolutions.com), download the evaluation version and decide for yourself if this is going to make life a lot more pleasant for you. We think it will.

Since we have started using WISE 7 we drink less, eat better, read more books, watch less TV, are able to complete crossword puzzles, and believe in the essential goodness of mankind.

OK, maybe not Ė but WISE 7 is pretty good.



Written by: Ross Mack and Brett Sheppard
October '98

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