As of September 2010, Office Routing Plus (ORP) now has a new new installer! For a year and a half, we were using the built-in Visual Studio installer as our authoring package. This has generally served us well, but there have been some limitations and some black boxes from the start. The biggest challenge that became the primary impetus for the switch to Advanced Installer was the arrival of Office 2010. Many of our customers will recall that we used to offer two installers: one for “Mixed Environments” (which meant Office 2003 machines mixed in with Office 2007), and a separate installer for pure Office 2007 environments. The reason we had to do this was because for ORP to run on Office 2003, we needed to deploy a Microsoft KB pack (specifically KB908002 aka KB907417). This KB pack was required for the Add-In to load on Office 2003 machines for Shared Com Add Ins developed on the 2.0 .NET Framework. We did not want to deploy this to 2007 machines so we created to separate installers because there was not a simple way in the Visual Studio installer to tell it to make this KB pack (and the 2003 Office Primary Interop files) a prerequisite for only 2003 Office machines but not 2007 Office machines. Further, when the installer ran on 2007 machines, we wanted 2007 the 2007 Primary Interop files to be the prereq check. It is possible that we could have somehow changed the built in bootstrapper that resides in Visual Studio for the KB pack and for the Primary Interop files to dynamically determine the version of Office a machine is running and then deploy just what is needed accordingly to that machine. But these bootstrappers seemed to us to be a black box and rather proprietary and it was a daunting task to even consider changing something that wasn’t our own MSI package or bootstrapper to begin with. So for a year and a half we managed this situation by simply deploying two separate installers–the mixed and the pure 2007 version. This was cumbersome though because we were also managing separate installers for the bundled package, as well as the single Excel and single Word installers. With the advent of 2010, it became unthinkable to manage 3 installers for the 3 versions of Office, times 3 installers for single Excel/Word or bundled! So after a good amount of research and testing of the Visual Studio package, we decided to eliminate some of the black box and limitations of the old Visual Studio installers we were creating and go with a product called Advanced Installer. This is a widely used product. We had some initial difficulties in determining the version of Office safely and consistently and in deploying the KB pack mentioned above (the pack actually consists of 2 msi packages and one self extracting exe). After posting to the Advanced Installer forums and receiving very thorough answers from their support team on the forum, we were over the initial learning curve and we have been quite pleased with the product.
With Advanced Installer, not only have we been able to author a single package that can dynamically determine which of the 3 versions of Office any machine is running and deploy the required prereqs accordingly, but we have also found that many customers are much happier with the unattended/silent install capabilities of this package. Customers can now simply call the setup.exe with the /qn switch and the install is completely silent. The old package could also be called with a /q or /qn switch but the interface for the KB pack from Microsoft would still display no matter what; this was one of the black boxes alluded to above. We also see good potential for flexibility and customization of the installer and future installers that we will be authoring with this tool. We have been very pleased with this product and the enhancement it has provided to Office Routing Plus.