Development using Free Tools

Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article titled Installation Collaboration Workflows using Free Tools. I’d like to add a few comments based on recent events.

Over the past couple of years Microsoft has been doing some really cool things to help out the community. The first was making Visual Studio Online ( Cloud hosted Team Foundation Server ) free to teams of 5 or less. This is a really big deal because now you have “process in a box” infrastructure provisioned in minutes that features high availability, monitoring and disaster recovery all for the low, low price of…. FREE!

In the past Microsoft had Visual Studio Express for free but it lacked the ability to extend the IDE. At the same time they had the Visual Studio Shell which did. This created a way of developing .NET applications and packaging installers for them but in a very disjointed manner. Now Microsoft has released Visual Studio Community Edition which is on par with Visual Studio Professional. Now you can do both your application coding, installer coding and connect to that shiny TFS cloud instance for the low, low price of…. FREE!

Additionally Microsoft has open source the .NET core libraries. Awesome!

Windows Installer XML has been free and open source for 10 years. IsWiX has been free and open source for nearly 5 years. Combine all of above and a independent consultant like myself now has everything needed to be productive without spending a whole lot of money. A laptop, internet connection and a guest bedroom corner office is all you need to either start a business or give back to your favorite open source project.

Looking back over the past year, I’ve written 95% of my installers using WiX and 5% using InstallShield. I still like InstallShield but the ROI just isn’t there for most of my customers. I’ve been approached by many customers who were about to purchase InstallShield and after a needs analysis I explained to them that I could author their MSI using WiX for a fraction of the cost of the InstallShield license alone. To do setup development collaboration with InstallShield you have to invest thousands of dollars in multiple licenses of DRM laden proprietary software. To do it using WiX and IsWiX is free and integrates into a development ecosystem (Visual Studio) already understood by your customer.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want more information on this topic.