Preinstallation Concepts

This section describes preinstallation concepts that you must understand before building any installation, including Windows deployment platform, core technologies, and deployment terminology.

Windows Vista Deployment Platform

The Windows Vista® family of operating systems provides a new deployment platform based on redesigned deployment architecture. The new architecture incorporates a single operating system image, two answer files, and a collection of new deployment tools.

Unlike previous deployment tools with multiple types of answer files, Windows Vista uses an XML-based answer file. The most common answer file is Unattend.xml, which enables you to customize most of the Windows Vista installation in one single answer file. You begin the deployment process by creating an answer file with Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM), and then applying the answer file to a Windows Vista product image during setup.

In addition to the new answer file structure, Windows Vista includes the core technologies that are described in the following table.

Tools and technologies Description

Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM)

This tool enables you to create unattended installation answer files and distribution shares, or to modify the files contained in a configuration set. Use Windows SIM on the technician computer, and then transfer your unattended installation answer file to the master computer before creating your installation image of Windows Vista. For more information, see Windows System Image Manager Technical Reference.

answer file

An XML file that scripts the answers for a series of graphical user interface (GUI) dialog boxes. The answer file for Windows Setup is commonly called Unattend.xml. You can create and modify this answer file by using Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) or the Windows Component Platform Interface (CPI API). Oobe.xml is used to customize Windows Welcome.

Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE)

This is a minimal operating system designed to prepare a computer for Windows installation. Windows PE is the primary image installation agent for the Windows OPK and Windows AIK, and is used in the installation and deployment of Windows. For more information, see Windows PE Technical Reference.


This Microsoft command-line tool enables OEMs and corporations to capture, modify, and apply file-based disk images for rapid deployment. ImageX copies Windows image (.wim) files to a network, and can also work with other technologies that use .wim files, such as Setup for Windows Vista Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS) and the SMS Operating System Feature Deployment Pack. For more information, see the ImageX Technical Reference.

Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS)

A server-based deployment solution that enables an administrator to set up new client computers remotely, without having to visit each client. The destination client computers must support remote booting. For more information, see Walkthrough: Deploy an Image by using Windows DS.

Windows Setup

Windows Setup is the program that installs Windows or upgrades previous versions of Windows. Windows Setup supports interactive installations as well as unattended installations. For more information, see Windows Setup Technical Reference.


Sysprep prepares a Windows image for disk imaging, system testing, or delivery to a customer. Sysprep can be used to remove any system-specific data from a Windows image, such as the security identifier (SID). After removing unique system information from an image, you can capture that Windows image and use it to deploy on multiple systems. In addition, Sysprep can configure the Windows image to boot to audit mode. Audit mode enables you to test the integrity of the system and install additional applications and device drivers. Sysprep is also used to configure Windows to boot to Windows Welcome the next time the system starts. For more information, see Sysprep Technical Reference.

Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE)

Windows RE is a diagnostic and recovery solution built on Windows PE. Windows RE is also a platform for building a custom system recovery solution.

Windows image

A single compressed file containing a collection of files and folders that duplicate a Windows installation on a disk volume.

Windows Vista is built and distributed as a single image with the new Windows image (.wim) file format. The .wim file format can contain multiple images, enabling you to package several custom installations into one file. Windows Vista is released as a multiple SKU image.

Deployment Terminology

These terms are used throughout this guide.

Term Definition

base image

A collection of files and folders (sometimes compressed into one file) captured from a master installation. This image contains the base operating system, as well as additional OEM or corporation configurations and files.


To manufacture and customize a computer according to customer specifications.


To manufacture computers according to general specifications.

configuration set

A file and folder structure that contains the necessary files that control the preinstallation process and define the manufacturers' custom information.

destination computer

The computer on which you preinstall Windows that will be distributed to customers. You can either run Windows Setup on the destination computer or copy a master installation onto a destination computer.

distribution share

A folder that contains the source files for Windows products that you install. It may also contain additional device drivers and application files. This folder can be created manually or by using Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM).

end user

The person who ultimately receives the computer manufactured by the OEM.

master computer

A fully assembled computer that contains a master installation.

master installation

A customized installation of Windows that an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or corporation plans to duplicate onto one or more destination computers.

original equipment manufacturer (OEM)

A company that typically purchases computer components from other manufacturers, uses the components to build a personal computer, preinstalls Windows onto that computer, and then sells the computer to the public.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, the general term "OEM" in this guide includes both named account OEMs and system builders.

technician computer

The computer on which you install Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM). Typically, the configuration sets and the distribution share are also located on this computer.


The generic name for the Windows Vista Setup answer file. Unattend.xml replaces all of the answer files in earlier versions of Windows, including Unattend.txt, Winbom.ini, and others.


A file name extension that identifies Windows image files created by ImageX.

Windows image

A single compressed file that contains a collection of files and folders that duplicate a Windows installation on a disk volume.