Windows Vista : Deploying Applications - Automating Installation, Repackaging Legacy Applications

10/3/2012 2:32:23 AM

Automating Installation

To achieve a fully automated deployment process, the packages you install must support unattended installation. Many setup programs support /s or /q command-line options for silent or quiet installations; others don’t.

Often, you can find out whether the package supports unattended installation by typing setup /? at the command prompt, where setup is the filename of the setup program. If the setup program doesn’t provide clues, you need to know which vendor’s product was used to create the package. You can usually tell by running the setup program and looking for logos, for example, or checking the file properties. Armed with that information, read the following sections to learn how to automatically install packages created by different packaging software. Table 1 summarizes the necessary commands.

Table 1. Unattended Package Installation
Package typeCommand for unattended installation
Windows Installermsiexec.exe /i package.msi /qn ALLUSERS=2
InstallShield Windows Installersetup.exe /s /v“/qn” Optionally, you can extract the Windows Installer database from the compressed file, and use the command msiexec.exe /i setup.msi ISSETUPDRIVEN=1 /qn to install it.
Legacy InstallShieldsetup.exe /s /sms To create the Setup.iss file necessary to run setup silently, type setup.exe /r to create a Setup.iss from your responses to the setup program’s dialog boxes and then copy Setup.iss from %SYSTEMROOT% to the folder containing the package.
Legacy InstallShield PackagefortheWebsetup.exe /a /s /sms To create the Setup.iss file necessary to run setup silently, type setup.exe /a /r to create the Setup.iss based on your responses and then copy Setup.iss from %SYSTEMROOT% to the folder containing the package.
Legacy Wise Installation Systemsetup.exe /s

Useful Deployment Websites

The following websites are outstanding resources for automating the installation of applications, as well as other deployment topics:

  • at This website provides comprehensive information about deploying applications that are packaged using a variety of technologies.

  • SourceForge at This visually nondescript website contains a wealth of information, including information about automating the installation of many legacy installers.

  • Real Men Don’t Click at Don’t let the name or odd URL detract from this website’s usefulness. It describes how to automate a variety of processes, including software installation.

  • InstallShield at This webpage contains the e-book “The Administrator Shortcut Guide to Software Packaging for Desktop Migrations.” This guide is an excellent resource to learn about packaging applications for deployment.

Windows Installer

Windows Installer is an installation and configuration service that helps reduce ownership costs by providing a component-based application-installation architecture. Installation is consistent across all applications packaged for Windows Installer. Packages are easily customizable, installations are protected from errors, and a rollback mechanism provides for recovery in case of failure. Windows Installer supports application and feature advertising. Windows Installer provides many other benefits, and most ISVs are now using it to package their applications. Windows Vista includes Windows Installer 4.0. 

Windows Installer 4.0 is compatible with User Account Control (UAC) in Windows Vista. By using elevated installation, an administrator can authorize Windows Installer to install applications or patches on behalf of users who aren’t members of the Administrators group. 

Windows Installer packages provide the following to enable flexible application deployment:

  • Command-line options You use command-line options to specify options, filenames, and path names—as well as control the action of the installation at run time.

  • Properties (variables) on the command line Properties are variables that Windows Installer uses during an installation. You can set a subset of these, called public properties, on the command line.

  • Transforms A transform is a collection of changes you can apply to a base Windows Installer package (.msi) file. You can customize applications by using Windows Installer transform (.mst) files. You configure transforms to modify a Windows Installer package to dynamically affect installation behavior according to your requirements. You associate transforms with a Windows Installer package at deployment time. Transforms for Windows Installer package files are similar to answer files that you might have used to automate the installation of an operating system such as Windows Vista.

The number of applications packaged as Windows Installer databases is multiplying rapidly. Nearly all software vendors are packaging their applications using this technology. And what often looks like a self-contained, self-extracting setup program with a filename such as Setup.exe is often a file that decompresses to a Windows Installer database. You can usually extract the database by using a tool such as WinZip (from WinZip Computing at or by running the setup program and looking in the %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Temp for the package file. Windows Installer databases have the .msi file extension.

To install Windows Installer databases unattended using Msiexec.exe, use the /qb command-line option for a basic user interface or the /qn command-line option for no user interface. Also, to ensure that the package installs for all users, add the ALLUSERS=2 property. For example, the command msiexec.exe /i program.msi /qn ALLUSERS=2 installs the package file program.msi with no user interaction and for use by all users who share the computer.

FLEXnet InstallShield

Some Windows Installer databases that Macrovision FLEXnet InstallShield ( creates require that you install them by running Setup.exe. Trying to install the .msi file using Msiexec.exe results in a message that you must run Setup.exe to start the installation. When the developer uses InstallShield Script, this requirement is enforced to ensure that the needed version of the InstallShield Script Engine (ISScript.msi) is installed on the computer before proceeding. If it is not detected, the required version of InstallShield Script Engine is installed automatically before starting Windows Installer. You can automate this installation a couple of ways:

  • Use InstallShield’s command-line support that Setup.exe offers. Not only does Setup.exe provide command-line option support, but you may also pass options to the Windows Installer setup database by using the /v command-line option. Following /v, you may specify any options you want to pass to the Windows Installer setup database within double quotation marks. For example, the following command installs the application silently and passes the /qn option:

    setup.exe /s /v“/qn”

  • Deploy the InstallShield Script Engine separately as part of your core applications before any setup files that require it. You may then safely bypass running Setup.exe by installing the Windows Installer setup database with Msiexec and including the ISSETUPDRIVEN public property. You can extract the embedded Windows Installer setup database by looking in the %TEMP% folder after the welcome message for the installation wizard is displayed. Then, use the following command to install it:

    msiexec.exe /i setup.msi ISSETUPDRIVEN=1 /qn

Legacy InstallShield

Packages created using legacy InstallShield technologies usually have the filename Setup.exe. To create an unattended installation for a legacy InstallShield package, you need to create an InstallShield script, which has the .iss file extension. Many applications come with such a file, but they’re easy to create otherwise.

To create an InstallShield response file
Run the setup program using the /r command-line option. This creates a Setup.iss file based on how you configure the installation as you step through the setup program. The result is the file Setup.iss in %SYSTEMROOT%.

Copy Setup.iss from %SYSTEMROOT% to the folder containing the package.

Run the setup program using the /s command-line option. The setup program runs silently using the responses provided by the Setup.iss file.


Packages created by InstallShield will spawn a separate process and then return immediately to the calling program. This means that the setup program runs asynchronously, even if you start the setup program using start /wait. You can add the /sms command-line option to force the setup program to pause until installation is finished, however, making the process synchronous.

Legacy InstallShield PackageForTheWeb

PackageForTheWeb is an InstallShield-packaged application contained in a self-contained, self-extracting file. You create a Setup.iss file and use it in almost the same way as in the previous section. The difference is that you must use the /a command-line option to pass the command-line options to the setup program after the file extracts its contents. For example, a file that you downloaded called Prog.exe will expand its contents into the temporary folder and then run Setup.exe when finished. To pass command-line options to Setup.exe, you must use the /a command-line option. The following procedure demonstrates how this extra option changes the steps.

To create an InstallShield PackageForTheWeb response file
Run the setup program using the /a /r command-line options: setup.exe /a /r. This creates a Setup.iss file based on the way you configure the installation as you step through the setup program. The Setup.iss file is in %SYSTEMROOT%.

Copy Setup.iss from %SYSTEMROOT% to the folder containing the package.

Run the setup program using the /a /s command-line options: setup.exe /a /s. The setup program runs silently using the responses in the Setup.iss file.

Legacy Wise Installation System

Packages created using Wise Installation System ( recognize the /s command-line option for unattended installation. No tool is available to script the installation, however.

Windows Script Host

Some applications cannot be automated with command-line options. These applications might provide a wizard-based setup routine but require the user to click buttons or press keys on the keyboard to install the application. If a user can complete the installation by using only the keyboard, you can automate the installation by creating a script (a series of text commands) that simulates keystrokes. This technique is called screen scraping.

You can screen scrape by using Windows Script Host. Specifically, you use the SendKeys() method to send keystrokes to an application. For more information about the SendKeys() method and an example that you can use to quickly create your own screen-scraping scripts, see

Repackaging Legacy Applications

Some legacy installers don’t support silent installations, and some that do support silent installations don’t provide a way to script settings. No legacy installers provide the management capabilities that Windows Installer provides.

If you have an application that is not designed for Windows Installer and does not support another automated installation technique, you can repackage it into the Windows Installer setup database so that you can use the features of Windows Installer to distribute and manage the application. A repackaged application combines the entire feature set of the application into a single feature. After repackaging an application, you use Windows Installer to install it. However, repackaged applications lack the flexibility to efficiently customize the application installation.


Do not repackage Microsoft Office. The Office package files include logic that customizes the installation for the destination computer and user. Repackaging the package file loses this logic, potentially preventing the package from installing correctly in some configurations.

The Repackaging Process

Windows Installer provides no functionality for repackaging applications. However, numerous vendors sell repackaging products for Windows Installer. See the next section, “Repackaging Tools,” for a list of vendors.

Repackaging is not new. Organizations have historically repackaged applications to customize their installation and configuration. However, Windows Installer transforms eliminate the need to repackage Windows Installer–based applications just to customize them. In fact, repackaging applications that already install from a Windows Installer setup database is bad practice and not supported.

Repackaging an application is a process that compares snapshots to determine the contents of the new package. The following steps provide an overview of the repackaging process:

Take a snapshot of the computer’s current configuration.

Install the application.

Take a second snapshot of the computer’s new configuration.

Create a package that contains the differences between the two snapshots. The repackaging tool detects all differences between the two snapshots, including all changes to the registry and file system. Since numerous processes are running in Windows Vista at any time, the package file will likely contain settings and files related to processes outside of the application.

Clean the package to remove noise (unnecessary files and settings).


Don’t let the simplicity of these fives steps trick you into believing that repackaging is easy. Application repackaging is very often the most expensive part of any deployment project. Once you undertake the repackaging of an organization’s applications, you can count on a labor- and resource-intensive effort, particularly in organizations with thousands of applications, many of which the organization must repackage. Budget, plan, and schedule accordingly.

Repackaging Tools

You must use tools not included with Windows Installer to create Windows Installer packages. A variety of tools are available, including:

  • FLEXnet AdminStudio Available in multiple versions, including a free download, FLEXnet AdminStudio is a powerful and flexible repackaging tool. The following versions are available:

    • FLEXnet AdminStudio SMS Edition This free download from Microsoft integrates with SMS to simplify repackaging. FLEXnet AdminStudio SMS Edition prepares legacy Setup.exe packages for deployment by converting them to Windows Installer .msi packages. To download FLEXnet AdminStudio SMS Edition, see

    • AdminStudio Professional Edition This full version of AdminStudio is a complete solution for packaging, customizing, testing, and distributing applications. The full version includes all of the features included with AdminStudio SMS Edition, plus additional features. To download a trial of AdminStudio Professional Edition, see the AdminStudio software overview page at

  • Wise Package Studio Wise offers products for repackaging, testing, and configuring the deployment of applications. 

  • SMS Installer A free, snapshot-based repackaging tool for users of SMS. 

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