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Visual Studio 2008 Setup Project Frustrations

March 4, 2008

I have not needed to create a Setup project since installing VS2008, but this afternoon I needed to share a utility program with a coworker friend of mine (who is not technical), so I opened the solution and added a Setup and Deployment project. Everything seemed to be fine. I added the primary output of my application’s project and adjusted the company name and product name properties, as well as some other settings, just like I used to do in VS2005.

The problem occurred when I wanted to create Start Menu and Desktop shortcuts for the application. In VS2005, double clicking the Application Folder would show you the list of DLLs, EXEs, and other files that would be installed. You could right-click the main project output file and create a shortcut to the program, which could then be copied to the User’s Desktop and User’s Program Menu directories. And you could also add icons and assign them to the shortcuts.

This was what I wanted to do in VS2008, but double clicking on the folders in File System does nothing. As a result, you cannot select the output file as instructed in the MSDN documentation. This is very frustrating: the Setup and Deployment project has always worked well for me (these are internal distribution installers), but now with VS2008 it no longer appears to function properly. The resulting MSI did work and did install the software, but without an icon and without shortcuts in the desired locations.

If you know the solution for this, please leave a comment. If I find a solution to this, I’ll be sure to share it. For now, all I can do is share the pain.

  1. March 5, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Hi. I’m used to setup project frustrations myself 🙂 When you have a complex setup configuration you find a lot of problems in these setup projects which sometimes seem to be the bastard child of Visual Studio.

    Anyway, so far I’ve seen in VS2008 exactly the same functionality I did in VS2005 setup projects.
    My setup projects have a few shortcuts and icons without a single problem. I did however migrate those projects from VS2005 instead of creating them from scratch.

    I’ld advice you to go to the “User’s Programs Menu”, use the context menu to create a shortcut, select the created shortcut and press F4 to see the shortcut properties, where you can change stuff like the icon and the shortcut target.

    Best regards,

    Bruno Marques

  2. March 5, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    “Bastard Child” is very fitting! For a product that specializes in creating awesome software, the process of creating even mediocre installers seems to be out of its reach. And this is far from a “complex install”! If we were deploying this software outside the company, I would have long ago invested in a third party tool. For internal distribution (fewer than 5 installs), however, I just can’t justify it.

    My biggest complaint, really, is that my experience does not match the documentation. If it did, I never would have posted this in the first place. What you suggest would be fine IF I could select the output file. Since I can’t, the context menu will only let me create a shortcut to the folder itself, which does not solve the problem. I examined the Create Shortcut route, but only managed to create a shortcut to the Desktop that I later could not find or delete. That forced me to delete the entire project and start over. I may play with it again, but I got the job done (albeit manually). This problem is going to resurface eventually, so if I can find the time I will dig deeper.

  3. Andreas Adler
    June 17, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Hi. Isn’t it possible to Right Click on the setup project and choose View -> File system? This opens the File system where you can see the application folder. Here you can also add shortcuts to your project.
    It works fine with my version of Visual Studio 2008 Professional.

    Hope this helps.

    Andreas Adler

  4. olsch
    July 11, 2008 at 6:28 am

    Spend 2 hours doing this in the left pane of the file system editor : create shortcut. In the properties window i could not select the primary output.
    Doing just te same in the RIGHT pane + ‘create shortcut’ does the trick and pops up with the selection popup in which primary output is selecteable. At last…

  5. Mich
    July 15, 2008 at 11:11 am

    File System, right hand plane, find the file you want the shortcut to, right click, create the shortcut. Then drag the shortcut to the User’s Programs Menu folder.

  6. August 16, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks guys. I was having the same problem, could not select the Target as the primary output. I just did wha Mich suggested, right mouse click in the right pane and the dialog comes up with outputs browsable and selectable. Go figure…

  7. September 10, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Well, I finally had the need to create some new installers yesterday, and I was able to right-click in the User’s Program and Desktop folders and use the Create Shortcut feature. This worked fine and did what I needed.

    I’m not sure what has changed, although this is a newer install of Vista and Version 9.0.21022.108 of Visual Studio.

  8. September 10, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I am feeling the same joys and pains with the VS2008 Setup Projects.

    What is the alternative to using Visual Studio to create an installer? I am hitting a stumbling block with my .NET 3.5 SP1 Client Framework project which has dependencies on the VC++ Redistributables. I want to perform a silent install of the VC++ Redist, which I think is impossible with the Setup Project (correct me if I’m wrong, please!) 🙂 — and I am seeking alternatives.

  9. September 11, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Hi Rob,

    I was just reading yesterday about the Setup.exe Bootstrapper

    This is a non-.NET program that allows you to test for and install the .NET Framework on a machine if it is missing. Then you execute whatever MSI you want to install.

    It makes sense, but you cannot install the .NET Framework from a .NET MSI because the MSI uses .NET. My reasoning is that you could use the same process to install the VC++ Redistributables.

  10. Asder43
    February 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Thanks guys,
    this forum was really helpful for me. I was
    stuck at the ‘create shortcut’.

  11. Mark
    March 2, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks….. The “Right-pane” suggestion did it for me!

  12. April 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    The deployment projects are pitiful…..this workaround is fine it just sucked that it took a while to figure out…..Anyways…I am curious if anyone has seen there shortcuts act funny….I am testing an install and the shortcuts I create are somehow linked to my installer….they always try to begin the installation and then crash….I have created these shortcuts in every way possible besides doing any command line things….but pitiful is my only explanation….any thoughts?

  13. April 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    My shortcuts actually install things…..Not sure if anyone else has seen this but my shortcuts actually install the component that they are supposed to be a shortcut for….Now this is not to say that the components were not originally installed by the installer themselves…they were…the shortcut installs the component into the installation folder within a folder named after my deployment project file…This is the weirdest thing I have ever seen….And I have isolated the case so that it only happens when I attach homemade icons to the shortcuts….I am so lost…..Anyways Visual Studio sucks….I would be impressed if someone could get this kind of shortcut activity if they were trying to make it happen on purpose….All I know is this is PITIFUL!!!!! Help if you dare…

  14. April 16, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Well….final report for the day….I found out how to get it to screw up….regardless of icons….in the installer….when they ask you to specify to install for everyone or just me…..If you select everyone then it will work fine and if you select just me it does the weird install thing…..If someone has any clue why I would greatly appreciate it.

  15. April 17, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Hi Erik,

    I have no answers for you, but after yesterday’s events I can positively say we will be investing in a real Installer Builder soon.

    I had a similar issue yesterday: an updated install kept the original desktop icon AND added the new one, but both of them pointed to the old version (which was supposed to be replaced). Long story short, I had to find and uninstall the “previous version” and then the new icon worked correctly.

    I’m just tired of messing with it. It seems OK for simple first time installs, but anything more complicated and it is one big FAIL.

  16. April 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Joel, So sorry to hear….for now I think it will just have to be an embarrassing readme…..Microsoft must be getting too much money from Installshield/Acresso to care about their own problems….But even more embarrassing is the fact that they even to pretend to try….

  17. Renga
    April 23, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Let me also add to these posts – the VS2008 is a monster and no one knows or can predict what problem you will face next. The VS2008 is like a spider’s web and once you are caught you will be sucked in full and you will end up as a dried up & burnt programmer.

    The installer is the last straw in the VS2008. Mine is a simple app – with one database and it took me a month to battle all over to find out how to use the dataset designer to create a multi-table datagridview and even now there are things that do not work in full. With the Installer you get all things right but at the end the short cut you get will not show the Icon ! And the icon is the symbol of what all you create in your app !

    For all the tall talk of .net – it is a time waster for all… Technically superior but you need to a full R&D in the app for each and every command till you get struck with the simple snippet you create because this works..

    VB6 may be old but it is safe and productive…I do not know when Microsoft will realise that people and not doctorates has to use their stuff..they should make the VS2008 more human…Less of MSDN mumbo Jumbo and may be a Text Book of VS2008 within say 300 pages which can tell it all..otherwise break the whole app into smaller segments..

    VS2008 will create endless confusion..it is as of now a nightmare for me..

    God Save Microsoft and their Brainy Development teams..


  18. sandip
    April 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks, it saved lots of time

  19. Garth
    June 24, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks All!

    I also have had problems getting the install to work right and have had to start over from scratch many times.

  20. August 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Reading this thread I too am frustrated trying to get the Desktop shortcut to launch the application. After installing the application, the Shortcut (both desktop and program menu, only opens the Target Application Folder, but does not launch the application. In the “Arguements” field I entered the program name, and tried again. The Shortcut displays “C:\Program Files\My Application folder” appname.exe where the appname is outside the quotes. If I move the name into the quotes, it works. What’s up with that?

    And if Microsoft says it’s fixed in VS2010 I’ll scream, because I need Crystal Reports runtime which is not available until Nov 2010.

  21. August 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I’m not sure about the first problem with the app folder being opened: my guess is you have missed entering or defining the application name somewhere.

    The second problem is because you placed the app name in the Arguments field. This is for command line arguments you wish to send in and so the installer is doing what it is supposed to.

  22. September 7, 2010 at 6:31 am

    elinize sa?l?k çok güzel yaz?

  23. anupam
    October 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    hey guyzz….plz help me……!!! i have build a new application and i realy want to add shortcut of that application,while it is being installed by the end user on windows in visual studio 2008….

    plz help….

    thnx in adv…..!!!

  24. October 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Visual Studio Setup Project is a bad solution , while it is very fast for creating initial setup you have the following problems:
    1. its not source control friendly – its project files is unreadable (you cannot understand changes)
    2. it doesn’t support MSP
    3. its closed solution (very hard to extend)

    Just use WiX

  25. Larry O'Heron
    December 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    In solution explorer, right click on setup project name. Then “View” -> “File System”.
    “File System” has 2 panes ( a tree view and a list view). If you can’t see both, expand the File System pane.
    In the tree view, right click on “User’s Programs” then click on Create Folder. Name your folder.
    Left click on Application Folder in the tree view.
    Right click on Primary Output in the list view then click on “Create shortcut …”.
    Drag and drop the shortcut to the new folder you named.
    When you deploy, the shortcut will be there.
    Larry O’Heron
    University of Rochester/Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

  26. Anne Lagang
    May 17, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I googled “installer visual studio tutorial” and found this great tutorial http://www.codeproject.com/KB/dotnet/Win_App_Setup_Project.aspx

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers ^_^

  27. UFO99
    August 5, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hello everybody,
    (Main topic solution – See first submit)

    sorry for this late answer but I have encountred this problem two days ego and found the solution today. The problem comes from multiple pictures in the ico file. If you set this kind of icon file for the projetct, the shortcut created by the setup project will have no icon. So the only thing you have to do is save your icon file with only one picture and set it to the project.


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