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Chat Summary: The Future of MSI

This is a transcript of a "bonus chat"  held by the Windows Installer team on February 4, 2003 after the normal Q&A chat where they provided some preliminary information on the next version of MSI and got some great feedback from other chat attendees. Below is a brief summary transcript of this portion of the chat for those of you that were unable to attend.
The transcript for the regular portion of the chat (General MSI Discussion) is available here.
Feedback provided to the MSI team which is not part of the Q&A discussion mentioned below was saved by the MSI team for consideration but transcripts of that feedback data will not be available on the chat transcript site.

Chat Summary

Copied from a message in newsgroup microsoft.public.platformsdk.msi by Chris Gouge [MSFT]

Chris: At this point, we would like to switch gears a little bit and begin discussing the future of the Windows Installer. The MSI team will provide a brief summary of our plans for the next MSI version, and we would like to listen to your comments about problems you have encountered. Please keep in mind that by posting your suggestions, you are granting Microsoft full permission to use your suggestions, and that we cannot provide compensation for your suggestion or guarantees that it will be used in any particular version. Also, any statements made by the MSI team indicate our current thinking for the future of MSI, but since plans may change, they should not be taken as a guarantee that any specific version of MSI will include any particular functionality.

Chris: Our current plans are that the next version of MSI will focus on the creation, management, and application of updates to software - specifically through improvements to MSI patches and upgrades. Carolyn will provide a brief summary of our planned support for the uninstall of patches, and I will follow with a discussion of the sequencing of patches. If there is time, we will discuss some other proposed features and some updates to our SDK tools (specifically Orca).

Carolyn: One of the new features under consideration for the next version of the Windows Installer is the ability to uninstall a patch. Currently you must uninstall the whole product or use a hacky anti-patch style mechanism. The new patch uninstall feature would will allow any patch to be removed from the product (unless marked non-removable) and would downrev the patched files to their prior version. Existing patches (i.e. generated with MSI 2.0) and new style patches would both be uninstallable and there are no new authoring requirements for supporting patch uninstall.

Chris: Currently patches are applied by MSI in the order they are received at the client, not the order they were created by the author. This can get really nasty in some scenarios, because applying patches in the wrong order can actually result in files being down-reved. The next release of MSI will allow for both implicit and explicit sequencing of patches. Conceptually related patches are grouped into "families" and sequenced within a family. MSI automatically collects the patches that apply to a product and sequences them such that all patches are sequenced correctly by both family, target version, and timestamp. The SDK tools will automatically generate patches that are sequenced correctly with no additional work required by the patch author. If more explicit control is desired, authors may override the automatically generated sequencing data and determine an explicit sequence for patches. MSI 2.0 patches will be supported, but will not be sequenced quite as well as patches created with the next version of MSI (but still better than what you get today).

Chris: An additional tentatively planned feature is what we call "Multiple Patching" - the next version of MSI will allow more than one patch to be applied (or removed) in a single installation transaction. The resulting product state will be as if the patches were applied (or removed) one after the other in the correct sequence, but the single transaction provides integrated progress, rollback, and reboot behavior. Patches applied together in a single transaction can still be uninstalled individually. If one patch in the set obsoletes, supersedes, or touches the same files as other patches in the set, MSI will take this into account. MSI 2.0 patches are fully supported, and there are no additional authoring requirements to enable this functionality.

Carolyn: Also under consideration are improvements to patch performance and robustness. We're looking to reduce the time required to apply a patch. As far as robustness goes we want to further reduce source requirements with patching. MSI 2.0 made some strides in this area, but we're going to go further in the next release, especially when dealing with byte-level patches and unversioned files.

Chris: The next version of MSI may also provide enhanced support for distribution technoligies and inventory tools, such as patching for per-user elevated applications, cross-user inventory APIs, and enhanced support for patch management.

Chat Q&A:

Q: How would you uninstall a patch? With a new command line option?

Carolyn: Most likely the ability to uninstall a patch would be visible in Add/Remove Programs. Additionally, there would be full MSI API support to accomplish this and a command line and/or property setting.

Q: Will the new MSI version be available as redistributable for older operating systems? Will 9X platforms support multiple instance installs?

Chris: The next version of MSI will not support Win9X. Since all Win9X platforms are approaching the end of their useful life, no redistributable will be provided for those platforms.

Q: Timeframe for 3.0?

Chris: All dates are extremely tentative and subject to change, but a Beta is planned for the summer, with a final version avaliable sometime around the end of 2003 or early 2004. More information will be provided as the dates are finalized.

Q: What will we see with new Orca?

Chris: Details are still being finalized, but our current thinking is that the new Orca will provide: Direct code-page manipulation, Directly edit table schemas and create custom tables, Optional PackageCode generation each time the file is saved, Automatic GUID generation for any GUID data field, Cancel-able ICE validation with progress indicators, Persistent merge module conflict errors similar to validation errors, The ability to copy embedded streams and storages on "Save..As", Support for MSI new-style patches and patch sequencing.

Q: (platform support) What about Win2000?

Chris: Win2000 will be supported, but the exact minimum service-pack required has not been finalized. Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 will be supported.

Q: What about easy UI construction Orca? at least dialog editor.

Chris: It is unlikely that a full dialog-editor will be provided in Orca. Orca is intended as a simple low-level editor and will not provide high-level authoring functionality such as a tree-view of features\components, UI authoring, and so forth.

Q: Are you expecting more resolve sources with patch uninstalls? How will that be handled?

Carolyn: We can't provide full details on the design at this point, but I will say that the patch robustness feature is designed to reduce source requirements during patch uninstalls as well. There will be times when resolving the source is necessary (due to package authoring of the ResolveSource action, missing configuration files, etc.) but we're going to minimize that as much as possible. This will apply to both patch install and patch uninstall.

Q: How about a direct MSP / MST editing capability in Orca?

Chris: Transforms can be edited in recent releases of Orca. I can't comment on patch editing, it is still to early to say.




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