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Same as it ever was

Microsoft’s BUILD conference is going on this week and it’s chock full of new information about Windows 8 (or whatever they end up calling it). The biggest news is the new Metro-style application, which includes the AppX package format for installing them.

There are three primary buckets applications fall into in the brave new Windows 8 world:

  1. Metro-style
  2. Windows 8 non-Metro-style
  3. “Retro-style” (aka legacy, anything created before 2011)

Metro-style apps get all the goodies Windows 8 offers, including AppX packaging I’ll blog about. As Rob describes, deployment is a first-class citizen in Windows 8. Apps in the other two buckets have the exact same options they have in Windows 7. And by exact, I mean “really, almost exactly 100 percent.”

No soup for you

As is its wont, rather than fixing the weaknesses of its existing platform, Microsoft replaced it with an all-new platform with a different set of weaknesses. Naturally, Windows 8 still includes Windows Installer. But if you were hoping for some of the same deployment love for your non-Metro-style apps that the Windows team showered on Metro-style apps, I’m sorry to disappoint: For better or worse, Windows 8’s MSI is functionally identical to Windows 7’s MSI v5.0.

A quick spelunking in the Windows 8 SDK available to MSDN subscribers reveals mostly structual changes to the MSI header files. For example, the _WIN32_MSI macro is defined as “500” for both Windows 7 and Windows 8:

#if (_WIN32_WINNT >= 0x0601 || (defined(NTDDI_VERSION) && NTDDI_VERSION >= NTDDI_WIN8))
 #define _WIN32_MSI   500
#elif (_WIN32_WINNT >= 0x0601 || (defined(NTDDI_VERSION) && NTDDI_VERSION >= NTDDI_WIN7))
 #define _WIN32_MSI   500

The only addition is a new MSIARCHITECTUREFLAGS value in Msi.h:

 MSIARCHITECTUREFLAGS_X86   = 0x00000001L, // set if creating the script for i386 platform
 MSIARCHITECTUREFLAGS_IA64  = 0x00000002L, // set if creating the script for IA64 platform
 MSIARCHITECTUREFLAGS_AMD64 = 0x00000004L, // set if creating the script for AMD64 platform
 MSIARCHITECTUREFLAGS_ARM   = 0x00000008L //set if creating the script for ARM platform

and a new property name in MsiDefs.h:

#define IPROPNAME_ARM              TEXT("Arm")

As we’ve known for a while that Windows 8 will support the ARM architecture, its presence isn’t too surprising.

There are no other new enumeration values. There are no new MSI API functions. While it’s possible there are, for example, new standard actions that wouldn’t have visible impact in the header files, I don’t find it too likely.

That yields two tiny bits of good news:

  1. Lack of visible interface changes probably means a lack of visible behavior changes. That likely means that your Retro-style installers will probably work without change, or at least as well as the classic Windows 8 desktop supports Retro-style apps.
  2. WiX and Burn won’t need to do anything to support Windows 8. OK, that’s something only a few of us need to worry about…

Coming up: More about Metro-style deployment.