Windows Vista Deployment Enhancements

Improved deployment features and tools make Windows Vista easier to deploy and manage

By Jerry Honeycutt

Desktop deployment often appears to be a trade-off between deployment costs and the business advantages of the new operating system. This article explores the new deployment features and tools in Windows Vista, formerly code-named Microsoft Windows "Longhorn", and describes how they make deployment easier and less costly for your organization.

On This Page

Windows Vista Design Improvements
Tools and Technologies
Deployment Best Practices
For More Information


Deploying a new operating system is a balancing act. On one side of the scale are the benefits of the new operating system. On the other side are the costs to deploy the new operating system. When you compare the two, deployment complexities seemingly make it hard to quickly realize the benefits of the new operating system because of a variety of challenges:

  • Time, cost, and effort required to deploy a new operating system
  • Compatibility issues between applications and the new operating system
  • Ambiguous and error-prone deployment processes that increase costs
  • Lack of best practices for deploying desktop operating systems
  • Lack of a comprehensive suite of deployment tools

Windows Vista tips the scale by providing the confidence to deploy the new operating system and taking advantage of its cost-saving features. Windows Vista is easier to deploy, manage, and support — from small businesses to large enterprises with thousands of computers. Windows Vista significantly lowers the cost and reduces the time required to deploy and migrate by introducing new imaging technologies and the tools to take advantage of them. To mitigate the top deployment barriers of application compatibility and migration, Windows Vista includes design enhancements and improved tools that help you migrate users to the new platform.

This article describes these and other new deployment features that youll experience in Windows Vista. It describes the design changes in Windows Vista that specifically address deployment. Then, it describes the enhanced deployment tools in Windows Vista. Last, it describes the deployment scenarios that Windows Vista supports.

Windows Vista Design Improvements

A typical cause of high deployment complexity and costs is the number of images that you must manage. Adding new hardware, language packs, updates, and drivers usually requires creating a new disk image. Updating multiple images and testing each of them when a critical fix appears is costly and time-consuming. Therefore, one of Microsofts major goals in Windows Vista is to significantly reduce the number of images you must maintain and help you maintain those images more easily. To achieve this goal, Microsoft modularized Windows Vista to make customization and deployment easier, based the installation of Windows Vista on the file-based disk imaging format called Windows Imaging Format (WIM), and made significant other deployment enhancements to the core operating system. The following sections describe these improvements in detail.

Windows Vista is the first Microsoft Windows operating system built with stronger principles of modular engineering design. Modularization doesn't just mean that users can choose which optional features to install in the image. This approach also provides a selective capability to customize Windows Vista, enabling the following benefits:

  • You can more easily add device drivers, service packs, updates, and languages to Windows Vista.
  • "You can more easily customize certain optional Windows Vista component to your specific requirements.
  • Microsoft can service an individual component without breaking the whole operating system.
  • You can reduce testing while deploying a new operating system.

Additionally, Windows Vista is language-agnostic. Languages, including English, are optional components and can be added separately from the operating system itself. You don't need a separate image for each language, thus reducing the number of images a global organization needs to maintain and resulting in millions of dollars of annual savings.

Windows Imaging Format
Windows Vista is distributed in WIM, the new hardware-independent image-file format. This means that an organization needs only one image addressing the different hardware configurations within the company. This format has the following advantages:

  • It enables you to store multiple images in one file.
  • Microsoft can ship a single worldwide binary to its customers (one each for 32-bit and 64-bit architectures).
  • This format reduces file sizes significantly by using a compressed file format and single-instance storage techniques (the image file contains one physical copy of a file for each instance of it in the image file, which significantly reduces the size of image files that contain multiple images).
  • You can service the image offline, including adding and deleting optional components, updates, and drivers, without fundamentally creating a new image.
  • You can mount images as folders, making it easier to update files within images, using interfaces as common as Windows Explorer.

These advantages dramatically reduce the number of images you need to maintain.

Other Improvements
The following list describes additional deployment improvements in Windows Vista:

  • XML-based answer files. The new Windows Vista Setup exclusively uses XML-based unattended-setup answer files to enable remote and unattended installations. The goal is to have a single unattended-setup answer file format for the entire deployment process rather than the current usage of multiple files (unattend.txt, winbom.ini, sysprep.inf). With XML, you gain the ability to automate increasing portions of the desktop engineering and deployment process. The component settings are exposed in a consistent method, allowing tools such as Windows System Image Manager to create, manipulate, and validate complete unattended-setup answer files. This has the potential to make installations faster, more manageable, and less error-prone.
  • Script-based installations. Windows Vista includes extensive support for using the command line and scripting to enable remote, automated, and repeatable deployment scenarios. For example, ImageX, Migration and Windows System Image Manager are completely scriptable.
  • Installation performance and reliability. Windows Vista is designed for a faster installation experience than previous versions of Windows. The Windows Vista upgrade experience uses a new image-based operating system setup, making it easier and much more reliable while providing the familiar upgrade experience for users. Upgrading to Windows Vista is essentially a clean installation followed by the migration of user settings, documents, and applications from the old version of Windows.
  • File and registry redirection. Many organizations would like to move their desktop environments to be fully managed. Providing a locked-down (for example, User Account Control for Windows Vista) environment, is very important to achieve this goal. However, many of the older applications break in this protected user mode because they write to restricted areas such as registries and the Windows directory. Windows Vista enables these applications to run in a protected user environment by redirecting the writes to a virtual store, thus "tricking" the applications into thinking they are still running with full administrative privileges. The capability provides huge benefits in application compatibility and in achieving goals for well managed desktop environments.

Tools and Technologies

In addition to core enhancements, Windows Vista provides new deployment tools and technologies that make deployment easier and less costly. In fact, the core enhancements in Windows Vista make these new tools possible. These improved tools apply to every phase of the deployment. In the Planning phase, Windows Vista provides improved tools that help you inventory, test, migrate data and user state. In the Engineering phase, Windows Vista provides tools that make developing and customizing disk images more of a science and less of a trial-and-error approach as it was in the past. Lastly, in the Implementation phase, Windows Vista provides flexible support for a variety of deployment scenarios, including remote installation and in-place upgrades. The following sections describe the Windows Vista impact on these deployment phases in greater detail.

New inventory and migration tools simplify the first step of deployment—planning. One of the biggest challenges any organization faces when deploying a new desktop operating system is to migrate installed applications without breaking them. Application migration and compatibility issues can significantly slow or even stall an upgrade to a new environment, preventing a company from reaping the benefits of the new operating system. Windows Vista includes an improved Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit and Microsoft Windows User State Migration Tool (USMT) to better support the planning process.

Application Compatibility Toolkit
The Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT 5.0) is a lifecycle management tool for medium and large businesses and Enterprises that assists in identifying and managing overall application/device/computer portfolio, reducing the cost and time involved in resolving application compatibility issues, and helping you quickly deploy Windows Vista and Windows Updates.

ACT includes a set of compatibility evaluators and tools that can be run down level (Windows 2000 and higher) to test for known compatibility issues in Windows Vista.

The Evaluators in ACT 5.0 include:

  • Inventory Collector Gathers data on a computer regarding applications, devices (device manager), and system information.
  • User Account Control Evaluator Detects which applications may have issues with running as Standard User on Vista
  • Windows Vista Evaluator Checks for Deprecations, GINA, Session 0 and Internet Explorer 7 known issues.

To complement the evaluators and inventory, ACT 5.0 also includes a set of tools to help developers and testers manage their application compatibility issues.

  • Standard User Analyzer For customers using the User Account Control feature, this tool provides a way for testers to further test their applications to determine what will fail as standard user on Vista.
  • Internet Explorer 7 Test Tool Provides a way for testers to further test intranet web applications to understand issues and determine which of their web applications will not work with IE 7.
  • Setup Analysis Tool Analyzes setup programs and detects issues such as WRP, installing of 32 bit kernel mode drivers, or 16 bit components and flags these issues.
  • Compatibility Administrator Tool to shim applications so they will work on a new operating system (no code changes required)

Online Compatibility Exchange
The online compatibility exchange will feed a webservice that is available through either ACT 5.0 or the Windows Vista Upgrade Adviser. The Exchange is a place where ISVs, IT Professionals and Microsoft can exchange information on compatibility issues.

Windows Vista Hardware Assessment
This assessment and inventory tool designed to quickly assess an organizations’ current PCs readiness for Windows Vista upgrades network-wide with a single networked PC. It is designed to remotely connect to PCs on a network, assess their hardware and device compatibility with Windows Vista, and automatically create a comprehensive report with assessment results and upgrade recommendations for each PC.

UserStateMigration Tool
Windows Vista is focused on making sure settings and data migrate well from earlier versions of Windows. For example, users who have their environments configured exactly the way they want can transition to the new environment with very little loss of productivity, because Windows Vista is designed to migrate their settings and data seamlessly.Windows Vista combines and improves both the USMT and the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to provide a unified upgrade migration framework. Providing a common framework reduces the cost of designing for migration and upgrade scenarios and increases the reliability of migrations and upgrades. The improved USMT provides the following capabilities:

  • Includes better heuristics for identifying user state data
  • Migrates user state data (documents and settings)
  • Saves users state data to a server and restores it to the desktop after installation
  • Upgrades users state data and applications in place
  • Increases automation of the deployment process by better scripting and using XML technologies

The design improvements in Windows Vista enable enhanced engineering tools. For example, Windows Vista support for the WIM image format makes the ImageX disk-imaging tool possible. Modularization of Windows Vista makes the improved Windows System Image Manager a reality. The following sections describe these new tools.

When most information technology (IT) professionals think about desktop deployment, disk imaging quickly comes to mind. Any IT professional who has worked with image-based deployments knows the challenges. The biggest challenge, of course, is the necessity to maintain numerous images over time. Other challenges include the complexity of the tools and techniques needed to build and deploy disk images.

Windows Vista adds new capabilities that improve the disk-imaging experience. These include the following:

  • Offline image editing. You can update and edit an offline image without creating a new image for distribution.
  • Creation of a desktop image. You can take an image of an existing personal computer for distribution or for backup. You can save the image to a distribution share, from which users can install the gold image, or you can push the image out to the desktop.
  • Scripting support in image creation. You can use scripting tools to create and edit images.
  • Hardware extraction layer (HAL) independence. Retail versions of Windows Vista are HAL-independent.

The Windows Vista tool you use to work with WIM disk images is ImageX. You use ImageX to create and manage WIM image files. In fact, you can store multiple images in a single image file. You can mount WIM image files as folders, enabling you to edit images offline. ImageX is an easy-to-use command-line utility that you run from a command prompt as well as from Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE).

Windows System Image Manager
Windows System Image Manager is a tool for customizing and automating the installation of Windows Vista. Windows Vista significantly improves Windows System Image Manager, which enables easy customization of Windows Vista for deployment. These improvements include the following:

  • Script Windows System Image Manager from the command line.

  • Add, modify, or delete optional components such as languages, service packs, updates, and device drivers within an existing image using an unattend file.

  • Create and edit XML-based unattended-configuration files for automation of installation.

The result of the improved Windows System Image Manager is that desktop images are easier and faster to engineer than previous versions of Windows. Windows System Image Manager provides more flexibility for adding device drivers and components. It lets you easily automate the installation of Windows Vista by using the unattended-setup answer file, which is now based on XML.

After building a disk image by using the new deployment features of Windows Vista, you deploy the disk image by using removable media or a network boot from the desktop. The new Windows Vista image-based Setup is faster and more reliable than earlier versions of Windows. Windows Vista provides tools for migrating a user's data and settings at the time of installation. The following list describes the deployment tools and capabilities that Windows Vista is designed to provide:

  • Multiple boot options. You can boot from the network (Pre-Boot eXecution Environment — PXE boot), CD, DVD, hard disk, or RAM disk.

  • Secure remote deployment. You can remotely install the new desktop.

  • Windows Deployment Services (WDS). WDS is the next version of Microsoft Remote Installation Services (RIS). WDS provides for the storage, management, and deployment of images. It uses the PXE boot process to install the operating system, including bare-metal installations.

  • In-place upgrade. You can upgrade the user's personal computer in place and migrate data, applications, and settings. This is done by using clean installation of the operating system with existing data stored locally or remotely in a network share.

  • Add critical updates during install. You can add critical updates to the standard image at the time of the installation by using the image-based setup.

Deployment Best Practices

The best technologies and the best tools are not enough to ensure a good deployment result. This also requires investments in best practices and guidance in order to standardize and produce repeatable and scalable deployment solutions. Microsoft will be providing an enhanced version of the Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator (known as BDD) with Windows Vista to take advantage of the new technologies and tools.

Supplementing the Windows Vista deployment technologies with BDD best practices will enable customers to confidently deploy the new desktops. For more information on BDD, visit the Desktop Deployment Center.

New Computer Installation

  1. You modify the Windows Vista image to have the necessary drivers and optional components by using the desktop engineering tools.

  2. You install this image on a test computer, add additional applications required by the business (such as Microsoft Office applications), and save the image onto a network share or removable media (such as a DVD or CD).

  3. The user can use the media to install Windows Vista or press F12 to enable a network boot.

  4. The user is asked personalization questions, such as which language to use, and installation continues automatically.

Upgrade Computer Installation

  1. You modify the Windows Vista image to have the necessary drivers and optional components by using the desktop engineering tools.

  2. You install this image on a test computer, add additional applications required by the business (such as Office applications), and save the image onto a network share or removable media (such as a DVD or CD).

  3. The user uses a CD or DVD to install Windows Vista locally.

  4. The user is not asked any questions. Windows Vista Setup completes the installation by upgrading the user's data, settings, and applications to the new Windows Vista desktop. In most cases, the old data is moved to the side in the local hard-drive and a new Windows Vista image is cleanly installed. The user data and settings are then put back onto the new Windows Vista desktop.

Computer-to-Computer Deployment

  • In a corporate scenario, the steps are the same as for an upgrade, with the exception that Windows Vista Setup gathers the data from the old computer and the new installation is done on the new computer. The installation is unattended.

  • In an end-user scenario, the user can install Windows Vista on a new system and then Windows Vista Setup migrates data and settings directly from the old computer to the new computer.


Windows Vista deployment improvements address the complexity and cost of desktop deployment by significantly reducing the number of images you must build and maintain. In addition, Windows Vista provides you the ability to service images easier, including adding updates and device drivers to them offline — without creating a new image.

Windows Vista also provides new and improved tools for deployment, including the Application Compatibility Toolkit and USMT. The WIM image file format Windows Vista uses enables Microsoft to provide the new ImageX disk imaging tool.

In contrast to earlier versions of Windows, Windows Vista provides a complete deployment story, through the Planning and Engineering phases to the Implementing phase. Table 1 summarizes the improved deployment features in Windows Vista and describes the tools that enable them.

Table 1. Improved Deployment Features in Windows Vista

  Planning Engineering Implementing



  • Application inventory

  • Application analysis and testing

  • Application compatibility mitigation

  • Migration testing

  • Migration scripts

  • Build desktop image from components

  • Customize image

  • Add drivers, languages, applications

  • Capture image

  • Install image onto desktops

  • Migration and upgrade

  • Remote deployments



  • Application Compatibility Toolkit

  • USMT

  • ImageX

  • Windows System Image Manager

  • Sysprep

  • USMT

  • WDS

  • Image-based setup

Finally, to enable a smooth deployment process, Microsoft will provide updated guidance in the form of the Business Desktop Deployment Solution Accelerator. All these enhancements will make Windows Vista the easiest and most economical version of Windows operating system ever to deploy.

For More Information

See the following for more information about deploying Windows Vista:

Note Features discussed on this site are subject to change. Some may not be included in the final product due to marketing, technical, or other reasons.