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Educational Software Thread, Advice requested on creating deployment solution in Technical; Hi all, I'm developing educational software for use in schools and tertiary institutes, however I keep getting conflicting advice how ...
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    Question Advice requested on creating deployment solution

    Hi all,

    I'm developing educational software for use in schools and tertiary institutes, however I keep getting conflicting advice how to setup or word the installations for our software. Based on your own experiences and networks, what would you expect to be provided to help install in the following situation on a Windows network?

    Background:
    The database is stored on any SMB storage. It's just an empty folder with read/write/modify access.

    The software can be installed on the server and run over the network, or installed and run on the client. We recommend installing it on the server where possible, but if the network isn't fast enough then it adds too much loading time. The software can be all read-only and all contained within a single folder.

    The tricky bit:
    The software stores the path to the database inside a raw text file that sits next to the executable. This is created the first time the software is run (after the user inputs it, of course). The path typically looks something like //server/$steps_database/

    Deployment to a school with 150~ computers and a low bandwidth network:
    The network administrator has decided to install the software on the clients because it takes about a minute to load over the network. They want a quick hassle-free way to send it out. Since it requires some minor configuration, we can't just provide an MSI install for them to deploy.

    Questions:
    Is it realistic to expect a school that size to figure out its own way to deploy software, be it through making its own MSI installer or reimaging its clients?

    Are there any ways we can make something like an MSI installer that can have the customer set the database path in? We can store the database path in registry values instead if that helps. Any suggestions on how to distribute this variable over a network would be appreciated too.

    Thanks for your help!
    David

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    glennda's Avatar
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    create an MSI but with fields which need setting through maybe orca MSI editor?

    All they do is customize there own MSI file and then deploy?

    Either that or maybe have command line switches for deploying it setup.exe /path:\\server\database /silent

    that could then easily be set as a startup script?

  3. 2 Thanks to glennda:

    DavidL (15th January 2013), TheScarfedOne (14th January 2013)

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    Orca MSI editor is wonderful! With that we can give the network administrator straightforward instructions how to change the necessary fields in the MSI we send them.

    Thanks for your help!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidL View Post
    Orca MSI editor is wonderful!
    InstEd is even better and won't require your customers to download the massive Windows SDK or find it via third-party websites.

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    DavidL (16th January 2013)

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    Thanks Arthur! You're right; it does look better suited for this solution.

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    plexer's Avatar
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    If you want to provide a packaged msi that can then be deployed with industry standard systems I'd rather you provided an admin installation feature i.e setup.exe /admin which then runs a wizard that captures the path for the database folder and spits out a pre-configured msi.

    Ben

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    What software packages have the ability to set something like that up?

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    Advanced Installer is very good (as Plexer mentioned).

    I imagine it wouldn't be too difficult (since you're a programmer ) to create a small GUI application that programmatically creates an MST to go with the MSI? Promethean include one with ActivInspire called ASTransGen.exe that allows end-users to customize their installer.


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    plexer (16th January 2013)

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    It was the promethean tool that made me think of doing it that way.

    Ben

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    @plexer: Advanced Installer looks great! I haven't found a way to make an 'admin installer' yet, but I'm sure that'll come as I learn the program.
    @Arthur: It's a good idea, however I think that would take longer (and adds more steps) for the client to do than just opening up the MSI in InstEd and changing the property by hand.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidL View Post
    It's a good idea, however I think that would take longer (and adds more steps) for the client to do than just opening up the MSI in InstEd and changing the property by hand.
    I was thinking more in terms of doing both. i.e. customers who aren't familiar with editing MSIs could use the GUI, while those that are can do it by hand.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidL View Post
    Are there any ways we can make something like an MSI installer that can have the customer set the database path in? We can store the database path in registry values instead if that helps. Any suggestions on how to distribute this variable over a network would be appreciated too.
    I'd have said the most logical thing to do would be to create this as a registry value and provide a Group Policy Object template that allows people to set it via Active Directory. This would make both initial deployment and any future requirement to 're-home' your software as servers are retired/upgraded quite easy for any moderately experienced IT person.

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    Hmm I am put in mind of the SMART installation manager.
    Basically you point it at the msi, choose some options and it generates an mst file. Nice clean way of keeping your original msi intact but altering it during installation via mst.

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    Thanks for your suggestions!

    Quote Originally Posted by Roberto View Post
    I'd have said the most logical thing to do would be to create this as a registry value and provide a Group Policy Object template that allows people to set it via Active Directory. This would make both initial deployment and any future requirement to 're-home' your software as servers are retired/upgraded quite easy for any moderately experienced IT person.
    Shouldn't be too hard to add that as an option as well. I'll need to decide which path trumps the other just in case the administrator ends up accidently setting the path in the TXT file and a different one in the registry.

    Is there any harm in having several options for deployment? Does that make things too confusing?
    @sparkeh: The SMART Installation manager I found appears to need purchasing. I'd rather stick to free methods for now.

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