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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

AppX Just Might Fail

In my last post I talked about how AppX might work.   Today I'm going to be a contrarian and look at the other side of the coin:   AppX Just Might Fail

A long time ago, Rob Mensching had a blog post promoting a 100% declarative installation model and lamenting custom actions as an admission of failure.  He then went on to enumerate three general reasons or the need of custom actions.  One of them was:
The setup developer wrote a custom action to configure some platform because the platform technology didn't provide installation primitives for itself.  This one is just sad and, unfortunately, happens more often than not. 
100% declarative sounds great, but you back yourself into the "640K is enough for anyone" corner because one day a the "box" won't be big enough and the platform will be too slow to catch up.

Don't believe me?   Take a look at all the times Windows Installer as "failed" us by not providing us a declarative way of doing something?

Read/Write XML
Read INI other then the Windows Folder
Persisting properties across transactions ( "Remember Property" pattern )
Closing Windows and Killing Processes
Executing SQL Scripts
Configuring IIS
Configuring Reporting Services Reports
Recursively deleting directories
Configuring firewall rules
Configuring Visual Studio AddIns
Granting Users Logon as Service Right
Creating Users and Groups
Configuring COM Plus
Game Explorer
NativeImage Generation ( Ngen )
PowerShell Snapins

The list goes on and on.   Now I know,  "But Chris,  Metro Apps aren't intended to do those things."   OK,   but do you *REALLY* know what Metro apps need down the road for?  When the requirements change will AppX be updated fast enough to support the new  requirements?

I know Windows Installer has never been able to prove itself in this area.   So the purists can preach that custom actions are a failure and I'll admit in many cases ( reinventing the wheel and writing sloppy CA's ) they are but in many cases they are the only way to get the job done.

So will AppX work holding the line the way it is? I think Yoda answered it best:

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

AppX Just Might Work

Recently, Rob's been blogging about the new AppX installation technology.  My first initial reaction was to cringe and think "Oh yeah, Microsoft is promoting yet another alternative to MSI.  That's all we need!"

At first it seemed like AppX would be just another ClickOnce and suffer the same fate.

On the other hand it's not that I really love MSI or anything.  It's just that for all the complexity of the Windows platform it takes a really complex service to be able to deploy all the possible combinations.  I've always wished that the complexity could be reduced but every year new layers get built on top of old layers making this impossible.  I  guess that's why I disliked ClickOnce so much.   The world simply wasn't ready for ClickOnce.

Now let's talk about Windows 8,  Metro, the application store and AppX.  The world simply might be ready now.

I'll be honest, I love my iPhone and I'm not really a fan of the app store concept.  However Apple is making a boat load of money so obviously I'm in the minority hear.   Now to fit into the nice simple world of Metro apps and the app store  developers will have to develop within the lines of a box.  And AppX seems perfectly capable of deploying applications that fit that box.

Yes, we've heard the lectures in the past about setup development is a first class activity, design for the container and custom actions are an admission of failure.   That kind of talk always irritated me because I knew out in the real world people didn't listen and then dumped the problem on the install guy at the last second.   But now, the world might be ready to let that sink in.  It might be that Metro and AppX makes sense and if enough people want to get into the app store then critical mass can be achieved.

And if they don't, well there's still MSI and no pretending that AppX can replace it like was implied with ClickOnce and MSDeploy.

Also when I read about AppX the XML/XSD aspects had me thinking about writing an IsWiX designer that could author AppX manifests.  However, now that I've downloaded the developer preview I realize that Microsoft has already done this by making a visual designer built right into the project.   Not a seperate project like a WiX or InstallShield module but a manifest right inside the main project the developer is working on.   Now that's making deployment a first class activity in my book.

Appx huh? Hmmm.  They just might finally have something there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Deployment Engineering has moved

Welcome to the new home of the former Deployment Engineering blog. I've decided to rebrand myself for a number of reasons. First was that my consulting has really been growing and it was time to form an LLC. The use of the word engineering was suddenly a complication due to Texas state law. The second reason is "" is really a pain in the rear to type. I wish I had thought of that many years ago when I picked it for a domain name. :-) The third reason is I want to consider branching out into both products and services. I really like what the ISWIX name represents in terms of both a tool and a philosophy and since I don't have a marketing budget to come up with something fancier like "Qwikster" ( shrug ), ISWIX it will be!

So welcome to the old new blog. All of the historical content can still be found at this new URL.