Microsoft is accepting nominations for the beta program of Windows Installer 4.5. You can apply for it at Microsoft Connect. At the moment there only is a draft of a white paper from Robert Flaming, Windows Installer Program Manager, with the title "Agility Trends in Packaged Software".
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The title already lets you know that you won't find much concrete information about Windows Installer 4.5 in this text. It is somehow a mixture of a marketing text and an abstract historical analysis of installer technology. I must admit, I didn't understand much of it even though I have a general idea of how Windows Installer works. I guess, one has to be an installer expert and/or a product manager to understand this.
Stefan Krueger from the InstallSite blog understood a bit more, it seems. One central new feature of Windows Installer 4.5 is that it improves the splitting of software suites into multiple MSI packages supporting install and rollback transactions. There are also improvements in patch management when it comes to uninstalling patches of components which are shared across multiple products.
Most important from a system administrator's point of view is that Windows Installer 4.5 will not only support Vista, but will also be available for Windows XP SP2. If you have Vista and XP in your network, you have to live with two different installer versions, Windows Installer 3.1 in XP and Windows Installer 4.0 in Vista.
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Stefan Krueger also reports that Vista SP1 will come with Windows Installer 4.1. We probably won't see this service pack within this year. Therefore, it will certainly take quite some time until Windows Installer 4.5 will be released.