IsWiX is coming up on 5 years old. Wow! Where did the time go?
It has been such an interesting journey. The year was 1996 and I was fresh out of the Marine Corps traveling the world as a DoD contractor. Over the next year I experienced the pain caused by poor deployment planning and crappy installers. I married my wife Cheryl in 1997 and a decision was made to stop traveling 100K miles a year. I used my lessons learned in the field experience to get a transfer and suddenly found myself in a meeting where an architect was talking about how great InstallShield Install From The Web was and how we were going to create “Client Software Distribution” aka “CSD”. Everyone then looked at me. I nervously asked “So who’s the expert on this?” to which the reply was “you are”.
It’s been a whirl wind ever since. The story picks up again in 2005 when I moved to Austin, TX. I was a pretty good setup developer by then but it was here that I was introduced to the demanding challengers of Product Line Development. I did my best but in the end I was completely hampered by the choice someone had made to embrace agile setup development despite the fact that no suitable tools existed yet. They decided to use Visual Studio Deployment Project merge modules since all the developer had Visual Studio and no one wanted to do WiX XML by hand or pay for licenses of InstallShield for all the developers. In the end it was a complete disaster and I left the company.
But I learned a lot from that job and I kept finding myself coming back to merge modules and using InstallShield product configurations to be more efficient. I kept looking for ways to embrace agile setup development in ways that didn’t make my life hell and the installer crappy.
I always resisted creating my own tools. It’s probably because I came up through the ranks in a company that believed in integrating off the shelf software instead of reinventing the wheel. I wasn’t some fresh out working for a big name silicon valley company with something to prove. I just wanted to get the job done quick, cheap and bulletproof. However, as time passed, I came to realize that the installation tools market was mature and that I couldn’t count on the innovation I needed to come to be. It was at this time I remembered what my old boss (Col Truman Crawford) in the Marine Corps would say: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
So in June 2008 I posted Maybe I Should Roll My Own. It was just a casual exploration but I think it really did get me to start thinking about it. Later in Nov 2008 I returned to the company that I had previously tried and failed to succeed at. The barriers that had caused my failure had been removed and I now had complete authority to make all architectural decisions. The installers group had swung away from agile back to a centralized model and with it had come a whole bunch of problems.
To be honest, I don’t really remember any of these conversations but I imagine we had them. My friend Chris Tyler was really good about forcing us to write down our roadmap items and somewhere in there the vision was born: We would write our own internal “WiXShield” program that would enable us to embrace agile setup development *AND* achieve the highest quality standards we could set for the organization. From the very beginning we knew we would want to release it as open source.
So I was loaned 3 part time developers for 3 months and WiXShield was born. To be honest I don’t remember when that was exactly. We trained all the developers on how to use it and we went across every software baseline that we had solution by solution and redid everything in WiX. It was amazingly successful.
At some point we realized that the company simply wasn’t going to be able to publish WiXShield as open source due to the sensitive nature of our work. To this day I don’t know who pulled a miracle or what they threatened (probably that I would leave the company if it didn’t get published) but some how Textron Systems and I came to agreement that all intellectual property rights would be assigned to me with the stipulation that I would initially publish it as an open source project.
I remember coming home with CM issued CD-ROM of all the sources. This was truly amazing as you simply didn’t take software in or out of that building! I had a celebration dinner with my family and then stayed up late rebranding everything to IsWiX and checking it all into CodePlex.
My eyes were bleary from the all-nighter that I pulled when I posted our first release on CodePlex. Then Cheryl, in remission from cancer, and I took off for a week Jamaica to spend quality time together.
So why “IsWiX” with a red and blue logo? Well, officially it stands for Industrial Strength Windows Installer XML and IMO it is exactly that… Industrial Strength. The Windows Installer Team, back when they still blogged, actually made reference to a certain Industrial Strength Household Name MSI Editing Tool (ISHNMET). There are things I like about WiX (despite being unfairly accused of being a troll for pointing out the obvious) and there are things that I could see WiX simply was never going to do. I’m sorry, I don’t want to use Notepad++ or VIM to write my installers. There are things that InstallShield does very, very well. My ideal setup development tool uses an XML/XSD based language with extensions and compilers but also had an automation interface and graphical designers for developer productivity. Simply put, IMO, InstallShield and WiX should not be mutually exclusive. Hence IsWiX.
Version one was all about authoring merge modules to be consumed with InstallShield. This was because that’s what the business needed and what they paid to build. Version two added the concept of Visual Studio project templates to begin to provide scaffolding for installer projects using nothing but WiX. Today I release version three which adds support for shortcuts and services. Today IsWiX can be used to support three major stories: Windows Application, Windows Service and Web Application. It is possible to create basic installers for all three without writing a single line of XML.
So what does the future hold? Well, it’s hard to say for certain since I really don’t have a development team. Personally I’d love to create some great webinars to explain MSI, WiX and IsWiX. It’s still too hard to get up to speed in this space despite the technology being so mature.
Anyways, thanks for reading this far and I hope you like our latest release.