Most applications come with some kind of installation mechanism, like an .MSI package. Others come with a third-party installation tool, such as Nullsoft's Scriptable Install System, an open source tool for the development of Windows installers. These mechanisms ensure that the application is unpacked into the correct directory and that other necessary system-wide changes (such as Registry entries) are made. They also provide a deinstallation link in the Add or Remove Programs section of the Control Panel.
Many programs, however, only come packaged as a single executable file in a .zip archive, without an installation or deinstallation mechanism worth speaking of. To deal with this problem, NirSoft, a website that provides a collection of freeware utilities, all of them developed by Nir Sofer, created ZipInstaller.
to install and uninstall applications that lack a formal installer. The tool unpacks the files in question to a destination folder, creates menu shortcuts to the program and includes an uninstaller module in Add or Remove Programs.
When you first run the application on a given .zip archive, ZipInstaller analyzes the archive and tries to determine which of the files inside is the actual executable. For instance, if it finds multiple executables or even an executable that's actually an installer itself, it will poll you to determine what to do with each one.
In addition, you can elect to have the application installed only for a specific user or for all users on the target machine and choose to re-use settings for a given .zip installation for future actions. If you want to keep your Windows directory clean, you can elect to have the created uninstaller saved in the application directory rather than in the Windows directory. For hands-off installations, you can create a ZipInstaller configuration file, an .INI-format file with instructions for ZipInstaller on how to deal with a particular application.
ZipInstaller can also create a self-installing executable from the .zip file, which is a handy way for you to repackage an existing application. Admittedly, several other zip archive utilities can also do this, but they do not include all the other functions that come with ZipInstaller.
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!
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This was first published in January 2006