Donald Kenney (
Last Update: Thu Oct 8 01:18:41 2020


I recently (2006 actually) had the misfortune to encounter an apparently undocumented bug in the widely used InstallShield program. Since I plan to post these tech notes on the Internet and tell Google to Index them, I thought this would be as good a place as any to document this and possibly save others a few hours.


InstallShield is a widely used application installer for Windows9 and NT based systems. InstallShield handles the messy details of uncompressing software packages, determining what directories to install them in, copying files, making Registry (Ugh!!!) Entries, etc. InstallShield appears to be highly configurable and is widely used.

The InstallShield installation program seems to be unique for each product and is generally called SETUP.EXE although I imagine it could be renamed.

The product was originally distributed by Sterling Software. It was acquired by Macrovision in 2004 and resold to Acresso Software in 2008 see wikipedia

Problem Description

The problem I encountered was that InstallShield would start, An hourglass cursor would appear. Then the installation task would simply vanish. No error messages were generated, and no log file of any sort seemed to be written.


InstallShield has been around for a great many years. It is fairly well known that InstallShield occasionally has trouble if there are temporary files left by a previous failed installation. These files will be left in the Windows temporary directory specified by the TMP or TEMP environment variables. This will usually be C:\WINDOWS\TEMP on Windows 95 and some convoluted equivalent on NT based windows. Unfortunately, in my case cleaning up the temporary directory didn't cure the problem. Google revealed no other known problems that caused InstallShield to simply quit. The Macrovision web site is very glitzy but unhelpful. InstallShield information is organized by version -- which is not very helpful if you never get to a splash screen that might tell you the version number ... and it starts with a fairly high version number which means that problems that have been around forever probably aren't described even if they are known. Possibly an older problem list could be found via the Wayback machine.

What I eventually found was that a berserk driver installer had overwritten the CONFIG.NT (I was installing software for my wife on Windows XP -- which I detest) with a faulty file. Once CONFIG.NT was restored to its normal configuration, InstallShield ran flawlessly.

The problem appears to be that InstallShield is still a 16 bit program and it needs a reasonable number of MSDOS file handles to be available. If there aren't enough, it just quits. Anyway, when FILES=40 was inserted into CONFIG.NT, it started running.

Copyright 2006-2012 Donald Kenney ( Unless otherwise stated, permission is hereby granted to use any materials on these pages under the Creative Commons License V2.5.

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