Let’s start from the beginning, What is a file with the .msix extension? It is a Windows application installer. Microsoft recently revealed MSIX as an alternative to MSI and even AppX packages. But MSIX vs MSI is the main core of this article. You need to take caution and make sure you trust an MSIX file’s source before executing it.
Right now, Windows has three installer formats—MSI, EXE, and AppX. Every installer has different strengths and flaws.
MSI installers are best for simple, unattended, installations. They use a plain install GUI that installs or uninstalls the program with no excesses or options. At the core, this installer is a compact set of installer files including all necessary data for the software. The install method won’t detect if the software is already on the system, or if any parts are missing. It may overwrite any files in the install directory. This means a silent, all-default install is a picnic for administrators to complete.
AppX installers are utilized for Universal Windows Apps and transfer some of the benefits of MSI installers. They are easy, straightforward installers with some choices given to the end user. Additionally, they enable an easier upgrade path from older versions of software to the latest versions, and these packages allow for a cleaner uninstall. AppX installers also depend on container technology, so they are isolated from the remainder of the operating system for safety. Unfortunately, a program coded for an MSI or EXE installer had to be rewritten or altered, perhaps with the use of tools, for the AppX package. And AppX packages can only be utilized with Windows 10, so older versions of Windows can not take advantage of it.
Now let’s come to the MSIX file which has the advantages of AppX while being equivalent to an MSI file. It is a straightforward installer that system administrators can actually script for automatic, “unattended” installation. Also, it depends on container tech, which enables easy uninstalls and upgrades of the programs.
An MSIX installs just like an MSI file, but behind the GUI, it installs like an AppX file. Also, MSIX distribution beyond the Microsoft Store is even possible. And with this new process, it’s more comfortable to bring older programs in and reuse them for MSIX.
Possibly the most compelling feature of MSIX is that Microsoft released an SDK to improve cross-platform compatibility. As seen on their GitHub page, help is possible for iOS, macOS, Android, Linux, and even older Windows. Developers place unique instructions in the MSIX files to let it identify the OS and how to proceed.
When you install a program utilizing an MSI and EXE, that program can make some changes to the registry and create files and folders all across your system. When you uninstall the program, these files and registry keys get left behind in your Windows, leaving clutter and at times a mess on your system.
With MSIX, all programs are installed in a container and all their critical and needed files either stay within that container or obey precise, predictable regulations about where those files may reside. When you uninstall the program, all the data goes with the program—no clutter is left behind. That implies your system will be less cluttered going forward.
If you are looking at an MSIX file and thinking if is it safe, the first question you should ask is where you got the installer. Like any other program installer, if you don’t rely on the source, you shouldn’t open it.
Before you download any file, you should take measures to guarantee it is safe. Ultimately this is an installer, which means it can install a great program, a junk program, or something even much worse.
It may take a while before you see an MSIX file in the wild. Microsoft is still working some magic on the promised capabilities and only Insider builds of Windows 10 could make an MSIX package.
Even after fine-tuning, developers and the installer tech providers, they depend on will need to adopt, learn, and release the new package. That’s if they decide or pick to at all; developers are free to continue making EXE and MSI installers if they choose to. Adoption of a new format arrives with risks and costs, so developers must consider that against the advantages.