I recently made a MSI file for taking the Novell client off of my company’s workstations. Repackaging program installations is challenging and fun. It can also be down right dangerous. I discovered repackaging a long time ago. There use to be a program called PictureTaker made by Lanovation that was sold to the consumer market for $25. Eventually, it was taken off the market and limited to the grasps of the corporate world. What is repackaging? It is the art of taking a system snapshot, then installing the program you want and then taking another snapshot. The repackaging software takes the differences between the two snapshots and makes a package. You can edit resulting package by adding/removing several registry keys and or files.
Microsoft has long been providing these tools, starting with NT4 with their Resource Kit utility named sysdiff. With Windows 2000, Microsoft outsourced the effort by licensing WinInstall 2000 LE from Vertias (now OnDemand). You can find WinInstall 2000 LE on the Windows 2000 Server CD at \VALUEADD3RDPARTYMGMTWINSTLE. Microsoft also partnered with OnDemand software once again and offered up WinInstall 2003 LE for free. Microsoft did not put it on the CD this time, but instructed users go to to this page. This is a cached version of the original page. Unforunately, OnDemand took down the original free version and instead have a version that sells for $49.95. Forunately, through the powers of Google file search, I located the original version and put it up on my web site here.
There’s yet another way to get your hands on a pretty nice packager called the FLEXNet AdminiStudio SMS Edition. This is a free version for users of SMS Server 2003. The installer looks for the presence of a SMS server, however, so you will need a live SMS 2003 installation for this to work. I admit, this will involve a bit of work on your part, but you can make it possible if you have VMware or Virtual PC. First, grab a eval copy of Windows Server 2003 if you do not have a copy. Next, get a eval copy of SQL Server 2000. Finally, get a eval copy of SMS Server 2003. Install it all in one VM and boom, you have yourself a live SMS server. Now you install the copy of Administudio. Yes, you’ll need to request a serial number from MacroVision.
So, what are the benefits of repackaging? Simple: time and effort! Take the simple example of Winzip. Say you want to have all the computers in your company to have WinZip. You have 500 computers, so you go to Corel (yes, Corel now owns WinZip, what a strange world we live in!) and get a site license. Now you want to have it on each of your 500 machines. You can manually walk to each machine to load WinZip or you can repackage the install. With repackaging, you can make the installation unattended, even if the original installation program didn’t support unattended installs. How cool is that?
That’s not to say that repackaging is not without problems, as described in this Microsoft knowledgebase article. In testing the deployment of PowerArchiver through SMS 2003, every time I logged in as a new user, a new icon was created on the desktop in the All Users folder! So care must be taken to make sure that your deployment works before you start pushing it out to everyone. Repackaging for the home user can save tons of time. Take my example: I make a baseline image for my home PC. I then repackage all of my commonly used applications. That way, I can keep a clean baseline image and then just start popping programs back in after laying down the image if I so choose. If I get a new PC, I make a new baseline image and again just pop back the applications rapidly by clicking on each MSI file (I’m of course negating the fact that you must spend time creating the packages and that programs outdate themselves, but hopefully you can see the advantages).
– Soli Deo Gloria