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Google Earth setup experience

Google announced the release of Google Earth 4.3 today. Given the recent release of their WiX-based setup for the Google App Engine SDK, I had to give it a shot. (It helps that my day job also deals with 3-D terrain imagery.)

When you click the link to “Download Google Earth 4.3” (and accept the EULA), you download not Google Earth but “Google Updater.exe.” Run it and it starts downloading the Google Earth installer.

Personally, I much prefer to download the actual installers for the software I use. Some of it’s purely practical: I can stick it on a network and put it on multiple computers (EULA permitting, of course) without waiting for multiple downloads. Perhaps more importantly, for the paranoid among us, is the ability to virus-scan the installers. (Google Updater requests elevation, so it has admin rights to install multiple packages.)

Google Updater also runs as a startup app, optionally showing an icon in the increasingly-unusable system tray. (Yes, I know it’s technically the “notification area,” but come on, who calls it that?) I don’t think I need 247 instant access to software that doesn’t get updated that often. In fact, I’m sure I don’t.

Naturally, installing a packaging system with update capabilities is a boon to many users (and Google itself, of course, which has a nicely visible entry point to suggest additional apps for download). Apple does it with iTunes and Microsoft does it with Windows Live. Luckily, Google Updater has its own entry in Add/Remove Programs so you can remove it without impact to Google Earth.

Google Earth installer

The Google Earth installer is built with InstallShield, using its support for “dynamic file linking.” (If you haven’t used it, think of running Heat or Tallow with every build.) Interestingly, it uses the CAQuietExec custom action from WiX and has wixca.dll in the Binary table.

The .msi package fails ICE validation, with errors in ICE03, ICE15, ICE34, ICE38, ICE43, ICE44, ICE57, ICE64, and ICE99, and warnings in ICE45, ICE60, ICE82, ICE86, and ICE91.

There are 36 custom actions, some of which are mildly disturbing:

  • registerFlashSOL is a deferred, no-impersonate custom action that runs an included .exe with a “-install” command-line switch. Oh joy: self-reg.
  • InstallToolBarCA is an immediate custom action that runs an installed .exe. It’s not scheduled and is only available from the UI sequence – the one that’s suppressed because Google Updater runs the installation silently.
  • SetGEUserStats is another custom action run only from the suppressed – but still included – UI sequence.
  • SET_RES_READ_ONLY sets QtExecCmdLine to run the WiX CAQuietExec custom action. What is it hiding? It’s running attrib.exe to turn off the read-only attribute on a recursive set of files/directories. Doesn’t the File table let you control the read-only attribute? Yes, it does, but apparently not when you use InstallShield’s dynamic file linking to harvest a directory tree at build time. In a previous life, I used that functionality and turned off the read-only attributes in the build script before harvesting. Doing it as part of installation is bad karma on Google’s part.

Overall, it’s not a bad installer, but I hope Google cleans it up a bit before it loses the “beta” label.