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Understanding the different ways to install software on Windows CE


Applies To

  • Windows CE 1.0
  • Windows CE 2.0
  • Windows CE 2.11, 2.12, H/PC Pro
  • Windows CE 3.0, HPC2000
  • Windows CE .net 4.0, 4.1, 4.2
  • Windows CE 5.0


Windows CE software can be installed on a Handheld PC in one of three different ways. This article briefly discusses the three different methods that a user may encounter when downloading and attempting to install software on their device.

More Info

Regardless of whether you download a software application or are provided with it on CD-ROM or floppy disk. The software will come 'packaged' in one of three ways. It is important to understand the differences between the different delivery types. Failure to do so may result in error messages such as

This is not a valid Windows CE application

The three methods are

  1. Host installer
  2. CAB installer
  3. Manual installation

Host Installers

A Host Installer is an executable file that is explicitly intended to be run on a synchronisation host (i.e. a Windows based PC running Handheld PC Explorer, Windows CE Services, ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Centre).

Host installers may come as .exe files or .msi files. However despite their similarities to Windows CE .exe files, they are architecturally different and can only run under a Win32 operating system such as Windows 95, 98, Millennium, NT 4.0, 2000, XP, Vista or Windows 7.

Attempting to run a Host Installer on a Windows CE device will result in the error This is not a valid Windows CE application or '<executable filename>' is not a valid Windows CE application.

Host Installers register the presence of the new software with the sync client, which will then automatically attempt to install the application for you the next time that the Windows CE device is docked. Host Installers can be a problem if you do not have access to a sync cable or a legacy Windows PC that supports H/PC Explorer, ActiveSync or WMDC. For Windows CE 2.0 and above devices, it is usually possible to forcibly extract the cabinet installer files from a host installer to use as part of a CAB installer process. For Windows CE 1.0 devices, it is not possible to reliably extract the Windows CE binary data from a host installer.

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View: Installing Applications onto your Windows CE device using the Host PC

View: Installing Applications from a Host Installer without a connection to a Host PC

CAB Installers

CAB Installers or Cabinet Installer are a Windows CE executable file that contains an installation script and a file bundle. When double tapped on a Windows CE device, the Handheld PC will decompress the CAB file, run the installation script and move files, shortcuts and registry settings into place. the HPC:Factor CAB Maker tool is an example of a CAB installer creator.

CAB files are only supported on Windows CE 2.0 and higher devices. They will not work on Windows CE 1.0 or 1.01.

If a software developer does not directly provide downloadable CAB files, they can often be extracted from a host installer

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View: Installing Applications onto Windows CE using a .cab file

Manual Installations

Manual installations are when the developer has not provided a scripted installer but instead provides a bundle of files and resources that you must manually copy over to your Handheld PC. You may need to create directory structures, copy files, create shortcuts on the desktop/start menu and manually add registry settings in order to make the program work.

They are often encountered for very simple, or very early Windows CE applications that pre-date the availability of affordable installer technologies. For more complex applications, it is important that you ensure that you follow any instructions carefully in order to ensure success.

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View: Installing Applications onto your Windows CE device when there is no automated installer

See Also

View: Uninstalling Applications in Windows CE

View: 'Setup cannot find a version of Windows CE Services on this desktop PC' error while attempting to extract CABs Host Installer