If you run a network and want to deploy programs using group policy you normally need an MSI package. Sometimes program developers do not provide an MSI or programs are too old to provide them.
You can create your own MSI package using several free programs.
Here I detail how you do this using Smart Packager CE (previously called WinINSTALL LE), a powerful and free (with paid upgrade) MSI builder. It requires registration via their website and to be e-mailed a free key and download link. Scalable provide their own video showing this procedure too.
Here are some very important steps to take when building an MSI:
-Use a freshly and cleanly deployed machine to build the MSI on.
-Make sure that Windows Updates are not running at the time.
-Close every program that could possibly make unrelated changes during your capture.
-Test the MSI that you create before deploying it to your organisation!
In the past I’ve heard a story that someone in a large college built an MSI wrong, somehow it included an unrelated change to Flash player and the flash player folder permissions during the capture.. the MSI was rolled out to the entire network breaking flash and preventing it from being installed again due to the permissions change! Moral is.. check the MSI content before compiling it and test the MSI before sending it out to your entire network.
Select “Create a compressed MSI package”. MSI schema 3.0 will work on XP and newer. It is advised to create the HTML results file, it will document all the captured changes that will be included in the MSI. Normally you want software to deployed per machine rather than per user, change this option from Automatic. Click Next.
Run through and finish your install. Be sure to ONLY install this and not use the system for anything else while capturing. See my warning at the top of this article about mistaken unrelated changes that can be captured.
You will now be shown a list of captured changes. As we are deploying this application to the machine and I see that a mistaken user entry has been captured I will click on the Owner (my username) folder and click the X to remove this change from the MSI we are about to create.
We can once again see that a User specific registry key has been captured, this isn’t required. For this install I want to highlight it and click the X to remove it. Other programs may require user specific keys. Once the unrelated or incorrect keys have been removed click on Next.
Done! It is a good idea to check the results file and make sure no unrelated changes have been captured (ie, windows update made some changes that got included in the MSI etc.)
Your MSI is ready. Test it before deploying it to your domain or organisation!
Update: Note that you can’t just enable the trial mode to create a large MSI or re-package another MSI. The MSI that SmartPackager creates will _also_ expire along with the program – causing delays at startup (if using group policy) or interactive service warnings when installing.