Last week I was presenting at the local chapter of the Help Desk Institute and I got a good question from somebody in the audience, “Does it Matter what kind of format the installers are in?”
The answer is two part: Yes and No. While I’ve yet to see an application that couldn’t be installed silently or be kicked off for an unattended install, MSI files by and large tend to be the easiest to run unattended installs. However this question really does have one “gotcha” and that’s the commandline syntax needed to install the application unattended. Which for MSIs is fairly straightforward. MSI files are very easy to install this way. Not that standalone .exe’s won’t run with some secret “app.exe /silent” or “setup.exe /quiet” command line magic, it may take some research and real luck, but it most likely will require some real trial and error.
The best thing about .msi files is that they can be edited with Orca so that they will already have the answers they’d ask predefined, and there is little to no guesswork with MSI files.
Now, with that being said, not all .exe’s are created equal. Firefox likes one “magic word” to install silently, Microsoft products prefer another way, and its hard to know offhand what some other vendor will prefer, but don’t fret, it turns out lots of vendors actually hide MSI files in their executables, so try checking the Googles to see if your app is really just an exe bootstrapper for an MSI file.
And on another note, if you’re lucky enough to have an installsheild .exe you should be able to generate and use an .iss file. Check unattended.sourceforge.net for more info on how that works.
Also double check my page Application Cheatsheet and ITNinja.com for notes on what command line syntax is needed.