Wise for Visual Studio .NET Enterprise Edition
By Michael Riley
Ease of deployment was supposed to be one of the big advantages of developing code in the .NET environment. It was supposed to be a simple as xcopying a collection of .aspx files and compiled .NET assemblies into a virtual IIS directory and that was it. In the real world, though, databases have to be installed and pre-populated with stored procedures, virtual Web directories need to be created, ODBC data sources need to be connected, and perhaps even a few registry keys need to be set.
Wise for Visual Studio .NET Enterprise Edition solves the conundrum facing application developers responsible for deploying their solutions and ensuring that all their application dependencies have been established and/or resolved. It works natively within the VS .NET IDE, with setup projects being initialized the same way any other Visual Studio project is created and debugged, with new project selections for Windows, Web, and Server-based installations.
Besides the obvious program dependency management and inherent application bundling and deployment features of Wise's .NET solution, their installation product for the Visual Studio .NET environment does a number of things really well. Probably the best feature is its collaboration facilities using the Wise Software Repository, a database that stores all software build information and resources including files and directories, registry keys, and merge modules. This helps enforce standardization, while ensuring that build dependencies are confirmed before deployment, a great stress reliever when working with multiple applications across an enterprise. Naturally, for this to work, all VS .NET developers building applications for deployment in your enterprise must also have licensed copies of the Wise for Visual Studio .NET Enterprise edition as well ... making it a pretty costly insurance policy toward minimizing dependency breakdowns.
Other clever product highlights include the ability to edit MSI installation details via MSI Script, a Validation Wizard for building custom validation steps during an installation procedure, a built-in dialog editor that allows for custom displays throughout the installation process, and a theme builder via the Installation Expert wizard. The Wise Software Repository can even reverse-engineer MSI-based setup.exe's for import - a real timesaver for companies opting into the Wise installation management methodology.
Printed documentation accompanying the package is virtually non-existent; everything is explained either in compiled, comprehensive, context-sensitive HTML help within the VS .NET IDE or a 64-page "Getting Started" introductory PDF. Luckily, Wise provides a free online tutorial available at http://www.wise.com/wfvsn/gsg/index.asp that also doubles as a useful sales demonstration for the product.
Overall, I was highly satisfied with Wise's interpretation of responding to the installation management issues brought on by the challenges of effective .NET application deployment. Although their .NET solution arrived later in the market than their competitors, they have quickly recaptured lost ground with the impressive release of this enterprise tool. The only detraction to some purchasers is the steep cost of entry. Perhaps this too will become more approachable with later releases and different license configurations. Wise has been an established player in the Windows installer business for a number of years, and with the release of this product, has ensured themselves a foothold in the .NET application deployment market for many years to come.