I have recently been doing a bit of consulting on the side creating software installations. What this has brought to my attention is that there are a whole slew of different ways to get your software onto a target computer.
Just to clarify, I am not talking about repackaging software for deployment into your network, which can be a monster of a job in and of itslef, I am talking about the creation of the initial installation.
So, I want to review some of the different options that you have for installing software:
Media based software installation - This is the most common type of installation. It will take all of the files that make up your software and place them onto a span of disks. This will also include some type of a file that explains where all of the components of your software belong and what system settings and edits need to take place. It will contain some form of an executable to call the process as well.
Web based software installation - This is a pretty cool way to deploy software that has been picking up popularity as the web and connections to it get faster. Basically, you would create a small stub executable which will place an http or FTP call to a server which contains all of the files needed to run your software. It will do an integrity check and only download the files that your system needs. This saves you time in download. The problems with this type of installation come up when you introduce firewalls and strict security.
Single exe installation - This is one that most of us are familiar with, the install is a self compressed exe file that you run which will extract itself and contains all of the files needed to run your installation as well as the explanation file which tells the software where to load and what changes to make. This is popular for repackaging applications as it is very portable.
Windows Installer installation - With the introduction of Windows 2000 into our lives came the introduction of the Windows Installer service, which resides on a client machine and runs your installations for you given that you provide the correct information. Although most of us huffed and puffed when this first came out, it's logic is quite appealing. This type of installation is based on the MSI and MST files. It is the new challenge in our field.