A file with the .exe extension is an executable program file recognised by Windows. Opening the file runs the program. Similarly, a file with a .msi extension is another type of executable. MSI files, known as Windows Installer Package files, combine software executables with product license information, file associations, the installation of needed supplemental software (such as drivers), and many other options. It is possible to convert EXE applications to MSI installer packages using the appropriate software.
- Skill level:
Use Exe to msi Converter (free, see Resources for link). This program is the simplest, option for converting .exe program installation files to .msi packages. Although much more simplistic than the options that follow, this program does give you the ability to enter any simple command line arguments (check out the list of Microsoft command line options in the Resources section). For example, enter "/quiet" to run the installation without displaying a user interface.
Try an alternative, such as Advanced Installer (see Resources for link). This program works by comparing a system image before and after the product installation. Using the Advanced Installer Repackager Wizard, any user can quickly create before and after snapshots to build an .msi package. Unlike the Exe to msi Converter, this software has many advanced options, such as the ability to change the graphic theme of the installer, add file associations, drivers, and digital signatures to the install, and to automatically upgrade older product versions. While perhaps not as powerful as WinINSTALL LE (see next step), it has a much more friendly and accessible user interface, allowing productive use by computer owners who are not network administrators.
Install a third software alternative, WinINSTALL LE (free, see Resources for link). In a similar fashion to the Advanced Installer software, this application also builds an .msi file by comparing system images before and after an installation. With the program's Discover Wizard, you can easily activate and capture system snapshots of the installed program. This software is aimed less towards the casual computer owner and more towards network or system administrators. It is a powerful tool with many advanced options for customising the installation package, but is less friendly to the average user than the options above.
Tips and warnings
- Advanced Installer and WinINSTALL LE each work by capturing system images before and after install. For best results in the capturing process, each recommends that you perform the capture remotely on a clean machine, to ensure an absence of interference from running programs.
- With WinINSTALL LE, you may be required to first bundle the .exe installation into a .nai file (project file type used by WinINSTALL LE), and then use the program to convert the .nai file to an .msi.
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