The growth of cloud computing and delivering Software as a Service (SaaS) has revolutionised the way we use and access software. There are countless examples of software packages that we might once have purchased off the shelf or downloaded and purchased a licence key, that have moved to SaaS models where users sign up for a subscription and start using the software in a few clicks.
This movement towards SaaS and subscription based pricing has created both opportunities and challenges for software providers. Consumers now demand easy access to software and are quickly put off by long winded and sometimes complicated installations that involve numerous steps. Consumers want quick and simple installations that take minutes. SaaS providers already know this and they have developed their solutions to deliver just this. The real question is where does this leave the software that hasn’t been developed for SaaS and still requires that installation process?
Some people will tell you that you need to re-write your software so that it runs in the cloud and can be delivered over the web via a SaaS model. If you have invested thousands in developing your software to run on desktops then the idea of rewriting the software from the ground up will be enough to make some fall off their chair. Thankfully in the quest to find a solution to this problem, we are delighted to introduce you to Advanced Installer.
Advanced Installer is a piece of software developed by Caphyon that can be used to create installation packages such as .MSI files, which reduces the steps and simplifies installation processes. The goal of this Advanced Installer is to make it easier to deploy your software and make it easier for your customers to download and install it.
There are 5 different licencing options for Advanced Installer, ranging from their Freeware version all the way up to their Architect edition. They provide a handy Feature List to show the difference between each edition.
The Enterprise edition is at the top end, boasting more features and therefore commanding a higher price tag. We were really interested in whether or not most users really need those additional features. For our money, there are several features that make the Enterprise Edition particularly valuable.
Many desktop apps require other system software in order to function, such as .NET or SQL Server Express for database applications. Rather than bloat out your installer, making it more complicated to deploy and longer for your customers to download, you can select and save a record of the prerequisites. Customers trying to install your software who don’t meet these prerequisites, such as .NET or SQL Server, will be prompted automatically to download them as part of the installation process.
Database Set Up
If your software is database driven, there’s no need to provide instructions and SQL scripts for your customers to run to set up the database. Advanced Installer can do this for you so that once the installation is complete, your customers open your application and start using it straight away.
The licencing module allows you to create trial versions of your software so that your customers can download and try out your application to decide whether it’s right for them before buying a licence. Advanced Installer handles the generation of licence keys and ensures that your application ceases to function after the trial period until a licence is purchased and the software is registered; the trial can be limited either on number of number of time the application has been run.
This is a great feature and we’d really like to see it developed so that developers can set the limit to the number of users (e.g. 1 user for free and then a licence is required for more users).
Patches and Updates
One of the big benefits of SaaS is that all customers share the same instances of the software, so updates are automatically applied to everyone. Users of desktop applications often rely on checking websites for latest versions or newsletters to let them know that a new version is available. Advanced Installer can automatically check the version a customer is running against your server to see if a new version is available and notify them of an update. The Enterprise edition goes further by allowing patches to be distributed.
While it’s possible to use Google Analytics to see who has downloaded your software, Installer Analytics, also developed by Caphyon, allows you to track who has Installed or Uninstalled your software, giving you more accurate data about the number of users and their demographics. This is perhaps undersold on the Advanced Installer feature pages but without doubt a killer feature for software providers.
After a day’s testing, Advanced Installer does exactly what it’s supposed to do and very well. The interface is simple and intuitive so it’s quick to get to grips with. We did a test to create an installation package that would install an application, create a SQL database and create an ODBC to that the application could talk to the database. We were really impressed with the extent to which Advanced Installer automates the process for the end user. So many of the variables can be fetched directly that the user input is minimal.
In our test the installation process was 3 clicks, one to start, one to confirm the installation directory and one to finish. If you are looking to deploy your desktop software applications but still make it as user friendly as SaaS to get started, then we recommend you download the trial of Advanced Installer and see what it can do for yourself; we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.