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Fifteen years of WiX

Fifteen and a bit years ago, I was a release engineering technical lead, responsible for the build and setup for a number of products. We used a commercial installer development tool for creating our MSI packages – of course we did, because there was no other choice. Licenses were expensive so were paid for and used by only the release engineering team. But we had development teams that wanted to avoid involving their release engineer for simple changes to their installers. They demonstrated that everything would work fine, because they could generate merge modules using this fancy new Visual Studio .vdproj setup project. I wasn’t thrilled with adding a few dozen single-file merge modules and it took almost no time at all to start intensely disliking .vdproj, or at least its output. “Installing a service requires custom actions? Oh hell no.”

While this whole scheme was being debated and discussed, the author of one of the Microsoft blogs I was following for Windows Installer knowledge posted about how he’d developed a “toolset” for building MSI packages. It was a build tool, used text as the source format, and explicitly supported “distributed setup development.” It was exactly what I needed at the time and the author said he planned to release it publicly very soon.

Of course, Rob was that author and WiX was released a few months later, 15 years ago today. And, oh yeah, it also happened to be Microsoft’s first open-source project.

A few months after that I ended up interviewing at Microsoft and accepting an offer to move across the country to Seattle. A few months after that, I sat in on my first WiX meeting. A few months after that, I’m regularly attending WiX Working Group (aka “WiX Night”) meetings at Rob’s house to work on WiX itself. A few months after that, I submit my first “big” feature – the WixUI dialog library. A few months after that, well, time passes and I’ve been at FireGiant now for just over four years, supporting our customers with their use of WiX and Windows Installer, Appx and MSIX, drivers and protected services, and some very pretty bootstrapper applications, just to keep things interesting.

Naturally, Rob also wrote about WiX’s 15th anniversary. Read it on FireGiant’s blog.