Monday, June 20, 2011

Wix and InStyler

This isn't a SAS post even though SAS is on the periphery of this one. This post is designed to help other developers in a similar boat if they get a hit on the error message verbiage.

The standard MS Installer is going away (next year, I believe), and a lot of people are converting to WIX (Windows Installer XML). On my latest project, I needed a custom installer. Now anyone who has ever worked with custom installers should be able to tell you what an absolute pain it is, how hard it is to debug, hard to put in custom screens, etc.

This seemed like an opportune time to jump over to WIX, especially when I needed a lot more than what the custom dialogs could provide under the standard Windows installer technology inside of Visual Studios. InstallShield was NOT an option. They want way, way too much money for their product and I am not a fan from days of yore.

WIX is very flexible but it is also hard to work with. There are no GUIs, per se, for it which means a lot of manual coding. My current WIX file, code generated, is weighing in at 900+ lines of XML. That and looking up the GUIDs for products, etc. meant a lot of manual effort and lots of places for mistakes.

I found a product on the web called Instyler Setup. Not sure how well supported it is, and it has a number of bugs, but it mostly writes the WIX for you. Two of the most annoying bugs I wanted to describe so others can seee them on the web:

1. "Error 2834: The next pointers on the dialog ErrorPopup do not form a single loop"

...when running the installer is caused by the text label on the ErrorPopup dialog having a tabstop set to true. MSI is very, very picky about everything which is why it is a nightmare to debug.

2. "Error 1723. There is a problem with this Windows Installer package."

...make sure you reference the CA dll instead of teh normal dll on your custom action.

3. To make working with WIX a lot easier, download and install the DTF package:

4. Turn on MSI debugging in your local group policy. this makes like a lot easier to track things down.

I hope these get picked up in the search engines and helps some other dev out at some point.

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