This weekend London will be full of celebration as the UK witnesses the coronation of King Charles III. The Mall and Whitehall will be packed with people looking to get a glimpse of the new King, and the day will feature golden carriages, a 700-year-old chair, orbs, sceptres, and, of course, a 360-year-old gold crown. Amid this pomp and ceremony, the King of Package Formats – MSI – will be quietly getting on with installing applications on countless desktops and servers around the world.
Okay, we’re taking some liberties crowning MSI as the King of Package Formats, but it has a strong claim to the throne, not least because it remains the most commonly used application packaging format for a wide range of installation requirements.
Maintaining Position in the Face of Revolution
There have been many instances over the centuries where English monarchs have faced coups, rebellions, and counterclaims to their throne. The same is true of the MSI installer, but despite the revolution of modern application file formats, it still remains on top.
One of the reasons is its longevity. First launched in August 1999, technical service teams and application developers alike are very comfortable with the MSI installer.
Many modern file formats are now available, including Microsoft’s own replacement for MSI, the MSIX installer. While trusted by many and highly suited in a range of scenarios, Microsoft’s young upstart installer still hasn’t surpassed its older brother in terms of popularity, so it must continue to wait in the line of succession.
Other contenders for the Package Format throne waiting in the line of succession include AppVolumes, FlexApp, CloudPaging, and ThinApp. Some have a more convincing case than others, but they all have strengths.
The Strengths of the Modern File Format Contenders
We’ll take one of the modern file formats as an example, MSIX, as it is the closest relative to MSI. MSIX is a unified packaging format that creates secure applications that run inside an isolated container. Released in 2018, MSIX is a much newer technology that is still being improved.
However, it is ideal if you prioritise stateless VDI to streamline your virtual desktop infrastructure. Its network optimisation capabilities are also better than MSI, enabling the streaming of application installs.
While it is still being developed and improved, it is designed for – and perfectly suited to – cloud services like Azure Virtual Desktop.
Where MSI Remains Strong
Even with the modern capabilities of newer package formats like MSIX, MSI is still very effective at packaging and distributing locally installed applications on desktops and servers. The introduction of new VDI technologies such as Windows 365 Cloud PC with its persistent VDI approach also brings MSI into the cloud. In a sense, the old King has learned a new trick.
Even the kingmakers have reconciled themselves to MSI’s lasting appeal. Windows Package Manager (or winget) and the Microsoft Store for Business previously didn’t support MSI as Microsoft expected application developers to migrate to MSIX or other modern file formats. This didn’t happen, at least not in large numbers, so Microsoft added MSI back into its app stores and winget application repositories.
The takeaway is that MSI is a robust installer that is suitable for a growing range of application packaging and deployment situations, despite its age and the introduction of new modern package formats.
Supporting MSI and Modern File Formats
What the future holds, only time will tell, as innovation in this area of end-user computing continues at pace. For our part at Access IT Automation, Access Capture has always supported the autonomous packaging of applications in the MSI format. Our automation tools also support many modern file formats too, including MSIX, so they can be adapted to your requirements.
We also continuously enhance our technologies, including adding new file formats as they are introduced onto the market. For now, though, King Charles III is the new British monarch and MSI is the King of Package Formats. Long live the King! Long live the MSI installer!