InstallShield's NetInstall 4.2 is a client/server application that lets you create workstation software-installation packages and distribute them among Windows clients.
To build application-distribution packages, you use a reference workstation, which is a system with a minimal OS and service pack installation. NetInstall collects and temporarily saves a system snapshot that includes the current file information, system variables, and Registry settings. Next, you install on the reference system the software package that you want to distribute. The software takes a second system snapshot that collects information and settings similar to the first snapshot. NetInstall then compares the two snapshots and notes any changes. The software packages these changes, and you store this package in a shared file-server folder.
Installing NetInstall on the file server was simple. I created a file-server share to store NetInstall files and the software-installation packages that I would create later. After I created installation packages on the reference workstation, NetInstall added shortcuts on the reference workstation to the Manager, a utility that lets you manage the distribution process, and Service Distribution Manager (SDM), a utility that lets you view all the workstations on your LAN.
For Windows NT clients, you can install NetInstall as a service, so NT's service account handles security concerns. NetInstall also provides the SDM utility, which I used to group workstations that have specific needs. Then, I remotely installed and configured the client NT service on those workstations in a matter of minutes. The SDM let me stop, start, and monitor the status of the NetInstall service on individual workstations or groups of workstations. NetInstall's useful logging function let me monitor events during the client service installation. This well-designed function is a great time-saver for large enterprises.
To create software packages for my test workstations, I ran NetInstall Spy on my reference workstation. NetInstall Spy is an option in the Manager utility, which Screen 1 shows, that analyzes the reference workstation for file information, system variables, and Registry settings. Next, I installed the software package I wanted to distribute, then I reran Spy, which gathered the changes that the software made to the system. A wizard helped me complete the distribution package and add information such as package name and custom variables. I saved this package to the network share I created on the server. Next, I used the NetInstall Clean Windows Wizard to remove all traces of the package I created from the reference workstation. This wizard lets you completely remove an application from the reference workstation after you complete a distribution package, so the reference workstation is immediately ready to create another distribution package with different software.
To distribute the package to my test workstations, I configured the Manager utility by listing the workstations I wanted the packages installed on and which users had permission to install the packages. To distribute packages, you can let users initiate a logon script or set an automatic deployment to initiate a logon script. Alternatively, you can employ an automatic package distribution, in which the NT service on the client workstation handles the installation without any user intervention. I tested both methods, and they functioned without error.
NetInstall uses SMTP to deliver events to other network management packages, which demonstrates the product's flexibility. In addition, NetInstall comes with good printed documentation and many online Help files. NetInstall proved to be a robust and well-designed product. Organizations that face endless software upgrades will find this product useful, and the per-client price is reasonable compared with the cost of manually installing software.
Contact: InstallShield * 847-240-9111 or 888-838-1163
Price: $6500 for a 500-client license
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 4.0 or Novell NetWare 3.x or later