Windows 7: Deployment tools

There are a handful of tools that can help streamline the process of deploying Windows 7 across the enterprise.

Jorge Orchilles

Adapted from “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” (Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier)

There are many tools now available to help streamline the Windows deployment process. Some of these include the Windows Automated Installation Kit version 2.0 (WAIK 2.0), Windows System Image Manager (WSIM), and the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE). Microsoft also has several additional solutions to help you with enterprise-wide deployment, such as the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010.

WAIK 2.0 and these other tools are available for free from Microsoft, although they aren’t bundled with the Windows 7 installation media. Download them from the Microsoft Download Center.

You’ll find the following components play an important role in the Windows 7 deployment process:

  • Sysprep: This tool lets you remove user- and computer-specific data from the OS image. Then you can have the reference system ready to capture its image and deploy it to other computers.
  • Windows PE 3.0: This is the Windows Preinstallation Environment.
  • Windows Imaging: This technology stores system images in files with the WIM format and .wim extension.
  • ImageX: This is the Windows Imaging command-line tool included with the WAIK 2.0. It captures and edits deployment images.
  • DISM: The Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool is a command-line tool to manage WIM files.
  • WSIM: This tool lets you customize an existing WIM file.
  • DiskPart: This is a command-line tool that lets you manage disk partitions.
  • USMT: The User State Migration Toolkit is part of the WAIK, and lets you migrate data from the existing computer to the new computer.

Setup stages

Windows XP and earlier editions had milestones at different stages of the setup process of getting the OS deployed onto the computer. It was a notorious step to go from the text-based portion of the setup interface to the GUI or mini-setup phase. These stages gave you a general understanding of the types of operations being performed, such as copying setup files, installing drivers, customizing user settings and so on.

The Windows 7 installation process can similarly be divided into three stages. Each stage marks a milestone and progress with the setup:

  1. Preinstallation (Windows PE): This phase consists of loading the preinstallation environment on initial boot of the installation media. During this stage, you prepare the hard drive for the installation by partitioning and formatting. Then the Windows 7 image and source files are copied to the hard drive.
  2. Online configuration: After copying the system files to the target hard drive, Windows 7 setup performs configuration routines or passes, which customize the applied installation to use the most-suitable drivers and set system-specific information, including networking configuration and other essential properties.
  3. Windows welcome: This phase consists of delegating control to the user and welcoming him to the newly installed OS.

Windows Setup also undergoes several configuration passes within these previously highlighted stages. These configuration routines provide the system with specific configuration functions. They apply related settings established in the Unattend.xml answer file. The following list, cited from the Windows 7 Resource Kit, describes each pass the Windows Setup routine runs:

  • WindowsPE: This configures Windows PE options and basic Windows Setup options. These options can include configuring a disk (by partitioning and formatting) and configuring networking.
  • OfflineServicing: This applies updates to a Windows 7 image and also applies packages, including software fixes, language packs and other security updates.
  • Generalize: The generalize pass only runs if you run sysprep/generalize. In this pass, you can minimally configure Windows 7, as well as other settings that must persist on your master image. The sysprep/generalize command removes system-specific information, such as the unique security identifier and other hardware-specific settings.
  • Specialize: This creates and applies system-specific information, such as network settings, international settings and domain information.
  • auditSystem: This processes unattended setup settings while Windows 7 is running in system context before a user logs on to the computer in audit mode. The auditSystem pass only runs if you boot in audit mode.
  • auditUser: This processes unattended setup settings after a user logs on to the computer in audit mode. The auditUser pass also only runs if you boot in audit mode.
  • ObeSystem: This applies settings to Windows 7 before Windows welcome starts.

With its entirely image-based installation—and considering the richness of Windows PE—there’s no need for you to run any text-based setup for Windows 7, or Windows Vista, for that matter.

You can customize each of these configuration passes with specific instructions to automate the setup and mold it to the organization’s needs. These setup passes can be individually configured through the use of an answer file. You can also automate Windows installation using the MDT.

If you were to automate the process without the help of the MDT, you would have to use the WAIK to create the Unattend.xml answer file that describes particular settings for Windows 7. The information on this file includes parameters and values for these settings in order to automate the “answers” a user would have to provide to move from one phase of the setup to another.

Using the tools Microsoft provides can certainly help streamline the Windows 7 deployment process, especially if you’re deploying to numerous systems across an enterprise.

Jorge Orchilles

Jorge Orchilles* began his networking career as a network administrator for the small private school he attended. He’s currently a security operating center analyst, and recently completed his Master of Science degree in management information systems at Florida International University.

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Microsoft Windows 7 Administrator’s Reference” by Jorge Orchilles. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit*