IBM and Novell create a spec to boost cross-platform installation

IBM and Novell have developed a specification for a standard mechanism to install computer software.

IBM and Novell have developed a specification for a standard mechanism to install computer software.

Based on XML, the aim of the specification is to define how an installation program automatically installs, configures and manages applications from different suppliers across different software platforms.

The XML schema, which has been submitted to standards body the World Wide Web Consortium, is designed to simplify software management and reduce application crashes.

Dubbed Solution Installation for Autonomic Computing, the schema is designed to allow software developers to make their applications self-configuring and enable them to work better with other suppliers' applications.

IBM said, "The XML schema describes the aggregation of installable units at all levels of the software stack, including middleware products aggregated together into a platform; and user solutions [such as Java applications]."

Carlos Montero-Luque, vice-president of engineering at Novell, said many software installations reveal compatibility issues. "There is a lot of trial and error, with different video cards and amounts of memory. There is a lot of tweaking that has to be done. There is no standard. This is something that helps with this," he said.

InstallShield and ZeroG, the developer of Installanywhere, have backed the proposed standard and will incorporate it into their products. The companies produce multi-platform installation tools used by Sun, Novell, Hewlett-Packard, Borland, Microsoft, Apple and others. Wise for Windows Installer also competes in this area, which is often referred to as "application packaging".

Montero-Luque said IBM and Novell hope to get Microsoft on board, because without it there would be two installer mechanisms for Windows. "There is no intention to override Microsoft Installer, but [with two installers] complexity will remain at a basic level," he said.

Kevin Denyer, IBM specialist in autonomic computing, said applications from InstallShield, ZeroG and Wise Solutions would be used alongside Microsoft Installer. Denyer added that IBM's Solution Installation specification could also describe the required CPU and memory requirements for an application.

Windows Installer, which is at version 3.0, is used to install, uninstall and configure Microsoft applications and components, with the aim of reducing their total cost of ownership. The IBM technology goes beyond this and is more akin to Microsoft's Systems Definition Model, said Mike Gilpin, research director at Forrester Research.

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