July 8, 2004

InstallShield X and Linux

Author: Joe Barr

There's a new software delivery mechanism available for Linux developers these days. It's called InstallShield X. It's pronounced InstallShield Ten, by the way, like Mac OS X. Although InstallShield is known primarily as a Windows market player, it has provided tools for Unix and Linux for years with its Multiplatform version. InstallShield X integrates what once was a separate offering into its flagship product.

NewsForge had the opportunity recently to visit with Bob Corrigan, the product manager for InstallShield X, and Gerold Franke, InstallShield public relations, to discuss their new push into the Linux space, the obstacles they face in that market, and the consequences of their recent purchase by Macrovision on their future direction.

Barr: You've been in the Unix/Linux market for some time. Have you noticed an upturn, downturn, or both in the market?

What we've seen over time, with any maturing market, it goes through different phases. The Unix marketplace in general, started as an enterprise market and is evolving into a consumer market. Whereas the Windows software marketplace did exactly the opposite thing, starting as a consumer product and emerging into the enterprise.

So while we've always had what I would call good success, and we've seen year-to-year growth in the multiplatform space, what we're seeing now is the sort of inflection point now in the adoption curve that you would see when you start to hit the consumer space, and when the general acceptance of any given platform, and in this case, Linux, becomes more profound.

Barr: You have a tough set of obstacles in your way to widespread adoption in the Linux space with all the free tools that are available for software distribution:
RPM, Deb, as well as just tarred and gunzipped source, don't you?.


Absolutely. This is no different from the challenges we encountered early on in the Windows space. Arc, Zip, the batchfile distribution were certainly familiar enough in the Windows space.

What I've seen in talking to customers, whether they are a small company, a mom and pop shop, or somebody interested in reliably deploying content to a number of platforms, or even medium to large size companies, they are very concerned about being able to reliably deliver content.

And to the extent that rolling-your-own is not within the core competency of many of these companies, they look for a third party to whom that is a core competency, and as we found out talking to the MySQLs and the Red Hat's of the world, it's one thing for something to be free but nothing is truly ever free.

Where will the costs show up? The costs associated with our software and support are more than made up for in the sort of robustness and reliability and consistency you get by using commercial tools to deploy the thing you're trying to sell in the first place.

With that said, what's curious is that in our products today we provide for the ability to do Java installations and deploy out to Linux and Unix and Mac and OS/400 and Windows and so forth, but even the largest and smallest of companies are looking for us to be able to create native distributions, if they want to have one of those in the same way we might create an MSI or Windows installer distribution.

It just becomes another way of deploying software, and the secret isn't so much in the package it's how you get to create that package and the quality and consistency of the creation process. So we see RPM and other native delivery mechanisms as just the payload. The secret sauce is in creating that payload, and creating all the logic and dependencies and exception checking around it, to make sure that it does exactly what you want to do.

I guess to summarize a short answer to what was pretty pointed question, we've already been fighting a battle for a couple of years getting over our market perception as a Windows-only tool and we've been fighting that battle by consistently releasing good products over time, and I think we're starting to see the payoff from that investment with InstallShield X.

Did you merge the products into InstallShield X to provide a customer with the ability to distribute their product across whatever platform or platforms they desire, or did you do that so that developers on the individual platforms would be able to use InstallShield? In other words, if I distribute proprietary software for Linux, is InstallShield for me, or is it for the IBMs of the world?

I've actually had that question before. We've got a lot of folks asking "Why do you do the things you do?" Hopefully, you'll be happy to know we actually think about these things. We've got a good history at InstallShield of paying close attention to the market and providing products that speak to the needs of people at a variety of different levels.

What you saw a number of years ago -- if you were tracking InstallShield -- is that we had technologies for creating setups using InstallScript, which is a proprietary scripting technology that we wrote. Then as the Windows installer or MSI technology emerged, we had specific tools focused on that space. As those two markets and technologies matured, we brought them together because people frankly wanted to be able to pick and choose, and have one interface, one learning curve, one product to support.

That turned out to be very successful, so I characterize what we've done in InstallSheild X as an integration. Within the InstallShield X family you've got different editions. We provide the functionality people need at the price point they want to pay, and all of that in the same product family, the same interface.

Think of DrScholls footpad. If you want to buy the whole footpad, great, you buy the whole footpad. But if you want to buy just the heel, because if I've got a heel problem, I can go ahead and do that, or if I want to buy a toe pad. So we take our products, and of course, we have our edition for the enterprise, for people who are building products that require a lot of customizations and very broad language support for example, like integration with Ant Target processing, and we have an edition for them.

But at the other end of the spectrum, a product we are releasing next week, an express edition, is really targeted at people who don't have the time to want to think of themselves as setup authors. They want to put things together quickly, they want to do it in less than a day, and in this version we're releasing next week, we're offering the ability for people to build setups to target Linux. So really for the first time, InstallShield has products whether you're the enterprise or whether you're a gentleman in a garage, to build a bulletproof, reliable, high-quality, set of experiences for your users that protect the value of the assets you're deploying...

One of the things that we've heard over the last year, that really led to a lot of the development we've done recently and increased the justification for InstallShield X, was that people in the Linux market said one of the major barriers to entry for them, writing the software for the Linux community, was having a consistent and reliable and simple way to be able to say, "Hey, you're a Linux user? Great! Here's the software of mine you don't have to be an enthusiast to install. You don't need a Phd in Gnome, just take it. Here's the setup, install it, and it will get to where it needs to be, reliably..."

We're entering a phase in the maturity of the Linux platform where people who are not enthusiasts are using it, corporations are using it. They don't have time to play "connect the dots" with the kernel, and moving files around, and setting permissions. They just want to install it, and they want to move on. Seeing this opportunity, we entered the space a year or so ago, we've been aggressively investing in it, and we're seeing the fruits of that labor now.

Barr: One final question, maybe a tough one. How much of this direction will remain with the new ownership?

Franke: So you are referring to the acquisition by Macrovision? The answer to your question is, a 100 percent it are going to remain. Macrovision is actually a company that has a history in supporting a lot more than just Windows. I don't know how familiar you are with them, but they are by no means a company that plays in just a particular niche of the platform market. They support, if I'm not mistaken, some in excess of 25 different platforms.

Corrigan: They have a fabulous compatibility lab, let me put it that way.

Franke: There is no concern whatsoever in our direction. Our development investment that we have made will be sustained and will be continued. If anything, the new acquisition is going to provide us with more resources to get to where we want to get.

Barr: Thank you both for your time.


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