September 22, 2005

InstallAnywhere Impressions

I helped write a java program a few months ago, a product designed to run on mail servers. Now, we had the program packaged up as a zip file (for windows) and a tarball (for unix). That wasn't my decision, but it makes sense to me--if you are deploying a program on a mail server, you should know how to unzip files and edit configuration files.

But, that's not what the client wanted. They came back recently with a few changes, and a desire to install via InstallAnywhere. I am no expert at InstallAnywhere, but the client didn't have the engineering cycles to repackage the program, so they paid me to do it. What follows is my overall impression of InstallAnywhere, and a few tips and tricks.

Overall, I like InstallAnywhere. This program makes it easy to build java program installers for a variety of different platforms (most of the unices, Macs and Windows), execute sundry actions pre and post install, and grab user input while installing. It supports both GUI and console installation procedures. In particular, the Windows installer was a snap, and I didn't have to learn the first thing about the registry--InstallAnywhere took care of that, even to the point of having the program show up on the 'Add/Remove Programs' Control Panel.

On the downside, there are a bevy of options and the help file wasn't exactly the best. They have a free trial version, but it complains every time you install from a file built with the trial version; such installers stop working around 10 days after you build with the trial version as well--but the trial version doesn't tell you about the future failure.

A few tips:

* It's possible to keep the install configuration file in CVS, except for the fact that it hardcodes paths to resources that it includes in the install file. I was able to work around that by using ant's replace task.

* When you start up the program (on unix), you can't kill it normally, via either cntrl-c or backgrounding it and running the kill command on the process. I believe this is because the default behavior of a launcher is to listen to the console for stdin. You can change this easily enough, but the default really should be correct.

* The installer builder doesn't default to generating a log, even though many of the default log messages point you to the install log file. You have to click a checkbox on the Project Info Pane in the Advance Installer.

* The console installer insisted that there were errors in the installation process even though the program, post install, worked fine and there were no errors written in the installer log. I think this is due to the fact that I'm using the trial version, but am not sure.

* There doesn't seem to be any way in the InstallAnywhere GUI to specify that if the DISPLAY variable is set (on unix systems), the GUI installer should run, otherwise the console installer should run. If you want, you can edit the generated install.bin installer script--search for 'FAILSAFE' and use a modern editor capable of long lines--but I couldn't figure out a way to automate this change. This is my biggest gripe, since this is a very typical demand. If you don't run install.bin -i console to specify a console installation, you get a lovely exception:

Stack Trace:
No X11 DISPLAY variable was set, but this program performed an operation which requires it.
        at java.awt.GraphicsEnvironment.checkHeadless(
        at java.awt.Window.(
        at java.awt.Frame.(
        at java.awt.Frame.(
        at javax.swing.JFrame.(
        at com.zerog.ia.installer.LifeCycleManager.f(DashoA8113)
        at com.zerog.ia.installer.LifeCycleManager.g(DashoA8113)
        at com.zerog.ia.installer.LifeCycleManager.a(DashoA8113)
        at com.zerog.ia.installer.Main.main(DashoA8113)
        at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke0(Native Method)
        at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
        at sun.reflect.DelegatingMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
        at java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke(
        at com.zerog.lax.LAX.launch(DashoA8113)
        at com.zerog.lax.LAX.main(DashoA8113)
This Application has Unexpectedly Quit: Invocation of this Java Application has caused an InvocationTargetException. This application will now exit. (LAX)

Overall, I'd say if you're delivering a java based product to typical users, InstallAnywhere is a good choice. I don't know how much it costs, but the experience for the users is as seamless as you want it to be, the width and breadth of installer customization is impressive, and it didn't take too long to get up to speed.

Posted by moore at September 22, 2005 11:59 AM
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