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Checking if software is already installed

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Hi folks - I had a bit of a search to see if this has been asked before - I guess it must be a common question but can't find anything.

I'm writing software installers and commonly need to check if a package has already been installed. What's the best way of going about this? I'm just simply checking existence of a top level directory for now, but I realise this isn't really good enough. Is there an easy way of querying whether a particular package has been installed without querying the registry?

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