My introduction to WiXAware, an editor for the WiX toolset.

A little over two months ago, Tyler Robinson (the Windows Installer Lead PM) told me that InstallAware was going to be visiting Microsoft.  I never cared much for InstallAware.  Their MSI authoring tool just looked like an InstallShield clone (InstallAware was created by ex-InstallShield employees) with a slightly less expensive price tag ($899, eek!).  However, when Tyler told me that InstallAware had specifically asked that I be invited to the meeting with the Windows Installer team, I knew exactly what was up.  "They've built a WiX editor," I told him.

In the actual meeting, I met Sinan Karaca and someone else (who's name escapes me at the moment) from InstallAware.  Tyler did a few introductions and there was a little discussion about MSI 4.0, Vista, and some other things.  But it was clear the InstallAware guys really wanted to show us what they had built.  Sinan really wanted to click on the shortcut labeled "WiXAware".  I got a kick out of the fact that WiX was capitalized correctly.

There is only so much ground you can cover in an hour long meeting but here are the highlights, lowlights and uncertainty that I remember.

Good

WiXAware appears to keep the XML source file and the UI editor in sync.  Sinan showed how you could edit constructs in the UI then switch to the XML view to see the changes.  Then he did the opposite by editing the XML source file to show that the UI was updated.  This is exactly the right behavior for the editor.

It wasn't clear how well the WiXAware UI handles poorly authored XML source files but it did seem leave stuff it didn't recognize alone pretty well.  Not destroying unknown elements (especially those in other namespaces) is important to handle CustomActions correctly.  The demo I saw did not support WiX Extensions natively but at least the editor didn't seem to hoark them completely.

Finally, I'm no UI expert but the UI was the usual VS/InstallShield clone.  Folder view of all the things you can do is on the left and various forms open up on the right to actually enter data.  Finally, there was a WiX UI editor but it was pretty buggy in the demo.  The WiX UI editor reminded me a lot of WixEdit.

Bad

The demo version I saw had no support for Fragments.  Everything was authored into one huge XML source file.  When I brought up Fragments and how they can be used to organize even the simplest setup project, the InstallAware guys had no idea what I was talking about.  That was disappointing for two reasons.  First, it means that I need to do something in the WiX documentation to highlight Fragments.  Second, it meant that the WiXAware editor was going to produce truly unwieldy .wxs files.

Also, during the discussion the other InstallAware representative said something that reinforced my negative impression of InstallAware.  It came up that there was some rather notorious compatibility issue in Vista that was believed to be caused by InstallAware.  It turned out to be a non-issue but before we knew that the InstallAware representative was happy to have a notorious bug associated with his product.  He said something to the effect of, "All publicity is good publicity because after a few months people forget what you did wrong and only remember your name."  That comment felt really sleazy and unprofessional.

Unknown

At the end of the meeting, both InstallAware guys were very keen on my opinions and even more keen on having me blog about their products.  I told them that I was very excited to see a commercial product being built on top of the WiX toolset (it was a personal goals for the Open Source movement within Microsoft).  However, I was even more curious how they planned to interact with the WiX community going forward.

It didn't appear that question had never occurred to them but Sinan said he appreciated the feedback and would go back and think about it.  Sadly, as far as I know, no one from InstallAware has yet participated in the WiX community.  Sinan has been responsive to issues that I raised (for example the WiXAware web site originally launched without a link to the official WiX toolset homepage) but I do hope that InstallAware employees begin participating in the WiX discussions in the future.

[Update: there is were some questions about how accurate my memories were here so I've striken out the text that was called into question. I apologize for any confusion I might have caused.]

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