Monthly Archives: June 2015

Review: Advanced Installer 12.2 from Caphyon Ltd.

Bottom Line

A powerful, well-supported installer  that checks all the boxes in terms of features and stands well above the rest of the pack in terms of support and ease of use.


Windows Installers: A Den of Scum and Villainy…with the Occasional Hero

The world of Windows Installers is a bleak one for the most part, full of bloated, breathtakingly expensive, and frankly lackadaisical offerings from the industry leaders, and half-baked, ill-supported packages from the less-expensive competitors.

Almost all come with fearsome learning curves, four-figure prices for initial purchase (with much more required for support and maintenance), and a general “hands off” approach to customer relations once the purchase has been made.

Unless the package you’re deploying is incredibly simple in nature, you’re likely to find yourself overmatched both by the prices and the complexity of the various installer packages, with little in the way of support except the odd technical forum or too-slow-to-be-useful email support system.

Having dealt with more of this sort of thing than we’re comfortable recounting, it was with some surprise that we dug into the workings of Caphyon Ltd.’s Advanced Installer 12.2 and found what appears to be a company that is actually throwing some effort into making an installer package that’s both usable and full-featured enough to handle complex installs.

Checking the Boxes

Advanced Installer comes in multiple versions, from the surprisingly full-featured $399 Professional version to the $2999 “Architect” version which is, frankly, of most use to sysadmins managing very complex enterprise software distributions. A freeware version for very simple installs is also available.

Most Windows application developers will find themselves drawn to the Professional version, which handles both installation and updating of 32 and 64 bit applications across any Windows platform. Those with need of patch creation or dialog editing will find themselves eying the $1499 Enterprise edition, as will those who need to take advantage of the all-too-common need to add the software they’re installing to the Windows Firewall. The need to shell out another $1,000 to get that last feature is a particular pain point to small developers.

A full breakdown of the features of the various versions can be found on the Caphyon web site.

Getting into the IDE

Caphyon makes a decent attempt to ease the burden of creating an installer by providing numerous project types to start you off. Unfortunately, the descriptions of each type could use a bit more fleshing out, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to quiz the user a bit on the sort of features they intend to use to help them pick the proper template.

Advanced Installer-Project Types

Once you’ve chosen a template and gotten started, most of the work is accomplished by stepping through the various product information screens to define how your product will be installed.

Advanced Installer-Product Details

These pleasantly work in a fairly standard manner, but with a number of nice interface touches along the way to help guide you along and prevent common errors. There’s a general attention to detail on display throughout the IDE which — although it doesn’t quite rise to the level found in consumer level software — goes far beyond what is typical in enterprise offerings such as this.

Help and Support

Advanced Installer does a good job of providing context-based help, and their web site contains copious documentation which is reasonably organized, if sometimes a little light on details. They also host a strong support community with a surprisingly high “signal to noise” ratio in terms of providing guidance.

Another area where Advanced Installer rises about the rest of the contenders for InstallShield’s crown is in the responsiveness of their technical support staff.¬† Support was friendly, and–more to the point–got straight down to business in solving the problem with a minimum of time-consuming back-and-forth.No matter how skilled you are as a developer, it’s comforting to know that the product you’ll be relying on to build your own product is well-supported–both by the company itself and its community of users. Here, Advanced Installer shows some real strength.

Building the Installer

We used the 30-day trial of Advanced Installer to really work the product over by devising a copycat installer of our horrifically complicated ComicBase Archive Edition install–a beast of a project that involves everything from installing .Net frameworks and configuring dozens of merge modules to installing everything from fonts to graphic files across numerous folders on the target hard drive.

Advanced Installer-Files

We won’t lie: we did hit a few hitches along the way, and turned to Caphyon’s tech support a couple of times to answer questions about how things work, and at one point to address a bug in the generated install file. All things considered, however, the experience wasn’t half bad, and we managed to get a working version of the installer generated with less than a day’s work.

Having used competing products from InstallShield, InstallAware, and Wise, the Advanced Installer IDE was similar enough to be navigable without a lot of instruction, and did a better job than most of the competition in guiding us through the more complicated bits of the process. It also excelled in the sheer speed of the IDE, never suffering the slow-downs that made others come to a crawl once large numbers of files were added.

The product as a whole still feels “young” — with a few rough edges to be found for sure, but also with an energy behind its design and its support community which is sorely needed in the enervated world of Windows installers. We’d love to see further refinement of the product in terms of additional wizards for complex areas (e.g. setting up firewall exceptions), as well as with better integrated support for providing repositories of downloadable merge modules and the like.

All in all, however, Advanced Installer was a very pleasant surprise: a much-needed shot of youthfulness and energy in a sedentary field of development, but one which carries with it the sort of chops that allow you to take it seriously for the creation of even very complicated installers.

Kudos for Great Tech Support: Caphyon and Advanced Installer 12.2

Even geeks need to call for help sometimes, and when we do, it’s rarely for something that can be solved by turning the machine off and on.

The sort of software problem which trips up professional programmers tends toward the complex, and often comes in configurations that require encyclopedic knowledge of everything from NTFS and IIS permission settings to DNS routing maps to understand. It’s not something that lends itself to adequate resolution by having some underpaid drone read off a script, or tell the user to check out the support forums for ideas.

Another feature of enterprise-level software? It ain’t cheap, often costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, often with license renewals every 12-18 months. Over a ten year development lifetime, it’s not uncommon to lay out four or even five figures with a software vendor for a single piece of development software.

So when you’ve just dropped a grand or more on an development package only to get told that doing anything beyond posting a question in the forums is beyond their ability to support, it’s a frustrating experience indeed. But sadly, too many makers of software geared toward developers think this is an acceptable way to go.

Luckily, there are still a few companies which seem to take support seriously, and I’ve had occasion to do business with all three of them in the same week.

Installers

The Windows installer-creating software field desperately needs shaking up, with behemoth InstallShield very comfortably occupying the mediocre throne, atop $699 “express” versions to create very simply products, up to $4,999 “Premiere” editions (with suggested $1300 annual “Gold maintenance” support plan!) for creating full-featured programs.

We’d tried using the Express version years ago before discovering that it was inadequate to the task of installing–much less patching and updating–ComicBase. We wound up switching to the ill-fated Wise Installer, which did a respectable enough job, but whose company was bought and sold like a paid woman at a biker rally, ultimately being discontinued.

Attempting to move to a something more modern (capable of installing .Net 4.5, for instance), we made an extremely ill-advised investment in a cross-grade to InstallAware, only to suffer through such anguish-inducing customer service that we were ultimately left with a dead loss on the $1000 we paid, and not even left with an installable version of the installer tool (!). There’s a future blog entry–if not a couple of chapters in a book on how to alienate customers–in covering the saga.

Having been previously burned, we were wary of the den of scum and villainy which seemed to comprise the Windows Installer tool market when we discovered Caphyon Ltd. who makes a product called Advanced Installer 12.2. Accordingly, we gave their product a full test during the 30 day demo period, using it to recreate the surprisingly complex ComicBase 2015 installer package (which must install all manner of system files, .Net Framework components, thousands of graphic files, and other bits and pieces).

Unlike some of their competitors, Advanced Installer didn’t claim to be able to read in the existing .msi file we use now (InstallAware claimed to be able to do this, but failed to make a usable installer from it). As such, we basically had step through the entire complicated installer process from scratch, while looking at a copy of the old Wise installer for reference.

Surprisingly, we were done within an hour, and without any of the interminable “compressing files” and “scanning files” lags which bedeviled the original creation of the installer using Wise.

Unfortunately, we ran into a fatal error when attempting to build the final installer, so we reached out to Caphyon’s tech support for assistance. We got an email back within a few hours asking to examine a copy of the installer file, which we promptly sent over. Within half a day, we received back a fixed version of the installer file, along with a request to help them investigate further to make sure no future customer ran into a similar problem.

It’s worth noting that at this point, we hadn’t even become a customer yet, yet they resolved our highly technical problem efficiently and with speed and professionalism. This is the way that support for professional-class products should go, but too often does not.

Kudos to the support team at Caphyon. (And may the others in this space learn from them as they hopefully steal away your underserved customers).