Shorthand for Microsoft Installer, MSI is a format and technology that was introduced alongside Office 2000 to help create more efficiency with application deployment. MSI packaging, therefore, is to convert installers to use Windows Installer and also to customize the installation for those that already do use it.
MSI packages are somewhat the default choice for deploying applications. It’s certainly not the only option, and there are some applications that aren’t supported by MSI packages.
What are the benefits of MSI packaging?
MSI is perhaps the most popular packaging format. It has fairly consistent standards in how developers deploy packages silently with custom settings. Given that most are familiar with MSI, it’s easy to find support, and the packaging itself supports multiple versions of Windows – not to mention it’s widely accepted across different sectors and industries by major deployment systems. Management is easy, making replacements and upgrades easy.
Ultimately, MSI is cost and time-effective for developers because of its customization, support, and convenience.
However, in 2018, Microsoft announced a new universal package format: MSIX. So, what is MSIX, and is it better than MSI?
What is MSIX?
MSIX was introduced as a Windows 10 apps package format by Microsoft in 2018, but with later support for desktop, mobile, and other Windows 10 devices. It’s yet to be quite as broadly applicable as MSI, but many believe it will soon overtake it.
Because it’s still in its infancy, it has some wildly impressive aspects, but also some odd imperfections, too.
Benefits of MSIX
Some of the benefits of MSIX include it having simplified and clean uninstalls for users that ditch complex scripts. There’s a strong disk space optimization scheme for organizations, preventing duplication of files between apps. Despite perhaps a platform managing shared files between apps, there are clean uninstalls.
On the network size, streaming installs and app updates are a big bonus, with MSIX files decreasing the impact on network bandwidth. MSIX apps also don’t run natively in OS but in a container. Having MSIX apps that exist in a virtual application container helps create better isolation between the OS and the app. But, this also has its downsides, as you will see below.
Limitations of MSIX
However, MSIX is perhaps too young to fully take over and replace MSI – or perhaps never will because its limitations are likely permanent. There are currently serious limitations regarding changes to the low level of the system. For example, it cannot install drivers, which is a big limitation for many applications.
The second big limitation is that it cannot run apps that demand admin access. Again, a deal-breaker for many developers.
Despite many of its limitations, many of which will not be “fixed” because they’re core to the OS-App division, companies are still adopting this new way of packaging and releasing applications. More commonly, though, is that companies are turning to package suites that have all-around support and automate much of the packaging processes. When the suites work with both MSI and MSIX, the differences and decisions between them get marginally less daunting.