As an experienced package engineer you always want to lay your hands on new tools that can help you with your work. When it comes to software repackaging the number of tools available on the market is limited. Whenever a new tool is introduced it attracts the interest of the community. Earlier this year RayNet, known for their packaging workflow tool RayFlow, introduced RayPack, a new software repackaging tool to fill in the gap that was left behind when Wise Packaging Studio reached ‘End of life’ status in 2011. For a lot of customers Flexera’s AdminStudio, which is considered as more powerful but less user-friendly than Wise, was the only alternative. In this blog I will share some of my experiences while evaluating RayPack. Focus lies on usability, innovation, stability and any other experience that is worth mentioning. Because of the lack of time I was not able to do a full thoroughly evaluation of RayPack so some features will not be handled. The version used for this evaluation is RayPack Professional 1.1.2999.6 (although I started the evaluation with version 1.0.2506.29).
Design of the product
The design of RayPack is very refreshing compared to Wise Package Studio and AdminStudio. Especially the ‘Windows 8’-style tiles, the use of basic colors for various topics and the way the tool is structured make it very pleasant to work with.
Making a snapshot
To create a snapshot it is required to install RayPack on your clean packaging machine. I would prefer a snapshot-tool that is more portable to keep the snapshot machine as clean as possible. Snapshots are used to create a delta file to determine what the (legacy) setup installed on the system. As with most repackaging tools snapshots can be saved for reuse. RayPack also supports the use of multiple exclusion lists at the same time. Once the capture process of the installation is completed the capture project (.RCP) can be saved as a RayPack project file (.RPP) or directly build into an MSI or App-V package. My suggestion is to always create a project file as this enables the packager to build the package into the desired format but also saves all the resource files next to the project file.
Project files can be opened in the project editor (PackDesigner). There are 2 views available in the editor: visual designer and advanced view. Visual designer is the GUI part of the tool and it looks a bit like Wise Package Studio. People who are familiar with Wise Packaging Studio will find it easy to navigate through the visual designer.
Advanced view is the part of the project editor where the tables, features, components, custom actions, sequencing (execute sequence) and user interface (dialogs) are found.
When opening a project the ‘project overview’ screen is shown. This screen contains a summary of the package showing the number of files, folders, registry keys, etc. It also calculates the difficulty of the package (heuristic algorithm that uses content like number of services, custom actions, files, etc.). Although the calculation is based on specific numbers it might still be useful as an indication. This ‘project overview’ can also be exported as a document.
A lot of sections within visual designer offer the opportunity to jump to the specific table entry with the ‘Go to row’ option. This is very useful as it shows the direct results in the table of changes made via the visual designer. It also allows quick modifications in the row, which cannot be accomplished via the visual designer. The project editor is divided into a number of sections that hold different actions or subjects:
- Setup organization;
- System configuration;
- System integration;
- Database & Server;
- Setup options.
The sections contain all the various details regarding files, registry keys, services, etc. One thing I noticed is that the Merge Modules are part of the ‘Setup organization’. In my opinion it would seem more logical to place them under ‘System configuration’. For a number of sections it is not possible to use drag and drop which I found a bit disappointing. This makes some basic tasks like moving files from one folder to another very annoying. I really hope RayNet will add full support for drag and drop in future releases. Another thing is that it is not possible to change an advertised shortcut into a non-advertised shortcut and vice versa. This can only be achieved by using the tables and is not easy for less experienced package engineers.
A feature I really like is that all changes made in the visual designer are highlighted in the tables. In my opinion this will help package engineers to get a better understanding of how the tables work. What also attracted my attention was the way the default features are organized. RayPack defines 2 standard features: ‘Complete’ and ‘UserData’. The interesting part is that the ‘Complete’-feature is a child of the ‘UserData’-feature. This speeds up ‘first use’-repair, especially when the package has a lot of ‘machine’ components.
Building the project
When you are finished editing the project file it is possible to build it into an MSI, MST and/or App-V. On some occasions RayPack crashed while building the package. It was not a reproducible error but it happened when creating an MSI and an App-V package at the same time. The end result of the building process is a working MSI and a working App-V package (I have to say I did not build any complex packages with it).
RayPack offers a very complete repackaging tool that should be able to compete with AdminStudio in the near future. The new and fresh look, the different approach of certain details and the commitment of RayNet make it a tool to take into account. All basic packaging functions are available but with the product still being developed it is currently not stable enough to use for day to day work. The product crashed several times during evaluation which resulted in loss of work. I really hope RayNet puts effort in fixing these bugs, and I would like to reevaluate the product when version 1.2 is released. So is RayPack the alternative for AdminStudio? At this moment it seems that AdminStudio is still the number one packaging tool. It offers more features, is more stable and has proven to be a partner in packaging for many years. RayPack, on the other hand, offers a more intuitive design and some nice new features but is also less stable and misses some basic functionality like full support for drag and drop.
PS1: All reproducible bugs I found were reported to RayNet.
PS2: Pricing was not part of this technical evaluation.