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"Windows Installer" is Microsoft's new definition of the way third-party software should be installed on Windows operating systems. It is both a set of guidelines and a software that acts as part of the operating system.
Setup programs with their legacy scripts and run-time engines are replaced by a database describing the files and settings that should be installed on the target PC. It is interpreted by an operating-system service called the "Windows Installer." The goal is to reduce the TCO (total cost of ownership), which is achieved by a publicly defined database format that enables you to "look into" the package and even allows system administrators to modify it. Also, the application itself can benefit from features in Windows Installer, such as install on demand (optional components like import filters are installed on first use) and auto repair.
Mike Gunderloy provides an excellent introduction to the concepts of the Windows Installer, and describes all the tables, properties, and conditions that make up an MSI ("Microsoft Installer") database. Despite its title, you don't have to be a Visual Basic expert to benefit from VB/VBA Developer’s Guide to the Windows Installer. The only VB-specific parts are the (few) source code samples, which could easily be adapted for other programming languages. One chapter describes the Installer API, which applications must use in order to leverage functionality like install-on-demand.
The book also explains where to get and how to use Microsoft's (free) tools that show, modify, and validate an MSI database, and briefly introduces the more sophisticated Windows Installer authoring tools that are available from companies such as InstallShield and Wise.
Although most of the information in the book could also be found in Microsoft's documentation and help files, it is compiled and organized in a way that makes it much easier to get started with this new technology. The book gave me a basic understanding of MSI that I could build on when working on advanced problems. I would have liked some real life samples and "how to" guidelines though.
With its comprehensive index (24 pages) and many tables, it also serves as a reference manual. It is supplemented by a web page where you can download the source code and project files for the samples in the book.
Today, this is the only available book about the Windows Installer. Two other authors announced that they are working on the same topic, but there is no reliable release date yet.
— Electronic Review of Computer Books