Software installation overview for GPMC

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Software installation

You can use the Software Installation extension of Group Policy to centrally manage software distribution in your organization. You can assign and publish software for groups of users and computers using this extension.

  • Assigning Applications

  • Publishing Applications

Assigning Applications

When you assign applications to users or computers, the applications are automatically installed on their computers at logon (for user-assigned applications) or startup (for computer-assigned applications.)

When assigning applications to users, the default behavior is that the application will be advertised to the computer the next time the user logs on. This means that the application shortcut appears on the Start menu, and the registry is updated with information about the application, including the location of the application package and the location of the source files for the installation. With this advertisement information on the user's computer, the application is installed the first time the user tries to use the application. In addition to this default behavior, Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003 clients support an option to fully install the package at logon, as an alternative to installation upon first use. Note that if this option is set, it is ignored by computers running Windows 2000, which will always advertise user-assigned applications.

When assigning applications to computers, the application is installed the next time the computer boots up. Applications assigned to computers are not advertised, but are installed with the default set of features configured for the package. Assigning applications through Group Policy requires that the application setup is authored as a Windows Installer (.msi) package.

Publishing Applications

You can also publish applications to users, making the application available for users to install. To install a published application, users can use Add or Remove Programs in Control Panel, which includes a list of all published applications that are available for them to install. Alternatively, if the administrator has selected the Auto-install this application by file extension activation feature, users can open a document file associated with a published application. For example, double clicking an .xls file will trigger the installation of Microsoft Excel, if it is not already installed. Publishing applications only applies to user policy; you cannot publish applications to computers.

To take advantage of all of the features of Group Policy Software Installation, it is best to use applications that include a Windows Installer (.msi) package. For example, published MSI packages support installation for users who do not have administrative credentials.

However, you can also publish legacy setup programs using a .zap file. These applications will be displayed in Add or Remove Programs like any other published application, but typically can only be installed by users with administrative credentials.

A .zap file is a simple text file that describes the path to the setup program, as well as any arguments to be passed on the command line.

A simple example illustrating the syntax of a .zap file is shown below:

FriendlyName = Microsoft Works 4.5a
SetupCommand = ""\\DeploymentServer\Apps\Works 4.5a\Standard\Setup.exe""


  • When using quotes in zap files, the following rules apply:

    • The path and name of the setup executable must always be quoted.

    • If there are no command-line arguments, they must be quoted twice.

Additional Information

Group Policy Software Installation supports a variety of advanced features, such as patching applications and applying transforms at deployment time, as well as filtering based on language, processor architecture, and so on.

For more information about Software Installation, see Software Installation and Maintenance( and Step-by-Step Guide to Software Installation and Maintenance( at the Microsoft Web site.

See Also


Group Policy Object Editor Extensions
Group Policy Management Console Overview