Deploying Windows Vista centrally

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Microsoft Windows Vista has been designed from the ground up to be easy to deploy. The guys introduced a couple of new technologies to help you accomplish an organization wide deployment. Along with the technologies that we already had to our disposal, these are bundled in the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment. (BDD for short)

We have all learned for exams 70-210 and 70-270 how to deploy Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and the Microsoft Windows XP flavors. Our training materials showed us four ways with different characteristics, files (sysprep.inf, unattend.txt, winnt.sif, winnt.exe, winnt32.exe) and tools (Setup Manager, Sysprep).

Now with Microsoft Windows Vista there allows for 4 distinct scenarios for deploying Microsoft Windows Vista centrally:

  • Microsoft Windows Deployment Services (WDS);
    (combining the power of RIS and ADS)
  • Microsoft System Management Services (SMS);
    (soon to be System Center Configuration Manager 2007)
  • Network shares and other media;
  • 3rd party imaging tools (like Symantec Ghost).

I'll discuss these scenarios and conclude with a table in which I point out the specifics and requirement for each scenario, but I'll start with some basics on the Microsoft Windows Vista deployment process.



Microsoft Windows Vista uses imaging technology to install. Deploying it with the DVD-Rom purchased at your local reseller or with one of the methods described here doesn't make a difference: Everything is done with Windows Imaging (WIM) files.

WIM 1.0

Microsoft Windows Vista Setup boots from a WIM file, installs a WIM file and uses an unattend.xml file in the process. Filebased imaging instead of filebased copying results in faster installs: Installing Windows Vista in only 30 minutes is feasible.

The cool thing about WIM files is that these files are as system architecture independent as possible. Although you need separate images for x64, x86 and Itanium based machines and need to make an image per language this is a huge improvement over the previous ways you'd deploy Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft Windows Vista and Microsoft Windows Server codename "Longhorn" use version 1.0 of the Windows Imaging (WIM) file format.

BDD 2007

The guys at Microsoft made it easier than ever to deploy Microsoft Windows Vista. With the Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) you won't need to boot from some obscure floppy or CD-Rom anymore, search the net for NDIS drivers or edit sysprep.inf, unattend.txt, msoobeinfo.ini, winbom.ini or cmdlines.txt. Instead you have the following tools at your disposal:

  • Windows PE 2.0
    Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 2.0 is a ready-to-use WIM file you can burn onto a CD, DVD or USB stick. You can edit its configuration easy (by using XImage) and you can just add Windows Vista drivers. If you don't want to bother using Windows PE you can use PXE or continue to use one of the many alternative Boot media you've come to love.
  • System Installation Manager
    Only one file needs to be edited to deploy Microsoft Windows Vista. With the System Installation Manager (previously known as the Setup Manager) you can create and edit this file. It even has built-in validation for unattend.xml files!
  • XImage
    The Windows Image format (WIM) comes with a very useful tool called XImage.exe. This tool allows you to create and deploy WIM based files. Booting Windows PE (or any other external boot media) on a source machine lets you start XImage and create a new WIM for deployment to target machines. Booting the target machine with the media allows you to restore the image to that machine, effectively deploying Microsoft Windows.
  • Guides, documents and how-to's
    The Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) interface introduces you to the whole process of implementing Windows Vista in your organization. It gets you acquainted with some organizational skills, gets you up to speed with guides, takes you by the hand to deploy Windows Vista. For Prince2-savvy people sample documents are included so you can more easily produce the papers needed to get serious project managers off your back. Nice!
  • Scripts
    A collection of scripts makes it possible to work with the 'Light Touch Installation' and 'Zero touch Installation' scenario's introduced in the guides.
  • WDS
    More in this in the next section!

All these tools help you deploy Windows Vista in an easy way within the four scenarios I sketched before.


Windows Deployment Services (WDS)

Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Microsoft Windows Server 2003 came with Remote Installation Services (RIS) to deploy Microsoft Windows throughout your organization. For complex server deployments you could resort to Automated Deployment Services. (ADS)

Getting from RIS to WDS

I downloaded the Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007 Beta (DBB) and found the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) which I used to update my Remote Installation Services to Windows Deployment Services. Remember that for Remote Installation Services (RIS) to work you needed an Active Directory and properly configured network services like DNS and DHCP. These requirements also apply to Windows Deployment Services (WDS) when you upgrade from Remote Installation Services (RIS).

Graphical is for women

I often hear Paul say "graphical is for women" so there's a commandline utility to perform everything you can accomplish by clicking around. It's called wdsutil. Of course women can start WDS using the Windows Deployment Services MMC Snap-In. (wdsmgmt.msc)

Using WDS

When you tell WDS to look on your Microsoft Windows Vista DVD it adds seven install images to your console and one boot image, containing Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) v2.0. The boot image can be used to boot your target computers for installing one of the install images. Both boot and install images can be scripted, so automated deployment can be achieved.

Pros and cons

The benefits of using Windows Deployment Services (WDS)  in conjunction with Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007 Beta (DBB) instead of Remote Installation Services (RIS) are you automatically get access to XImage, Windows PE 2.0 and the Windows System Image Manager. WDS also has some limitations: It doesn't support scheduling, Wake-on-LAN or bandwidth control and also doesn't offer any supervision or monitoring features, but hey! it's free.

"Light touch"

Within the BDD using Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and its functionality is referenced as 'Light touch'.


System Management Services (SMS)

You can extend the functionality of Microsoft System Management Services (SMS) Server 2003 with the Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack (FP).


The original OSD FP published in late 2004 features the Windows Imaging (WIM) file format, but it's version 0.9. You can use it to deploy Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows Server 2003. You can't use it to deploy Microsoft Windows Vista or Windows Server codename "Longhorn" however. WIM version 0.9 just isn't compatible with WIM version 1.0.

OSD FP Update

To deploy Microsoft Windows Vista you'll need Microsoft System Management Services (SMS) Server 2003 with ServicePack 2 and the Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack (FP) Update.

Pros and cons

If you need to deploy vast amounts of desktops and laptops using SMS Server 2003 with the OSD FP Update is your best guess. You'll probably be harnessing the power of Active Directory, DDNS and DHCP anyway, which are prerequisites. In exchange you'll receive the ability to plan and target deployments based on your SMS inventory and afterwards keep track of and report on deployments. When you use it in conjunction with the User State Migration Tool (USMT) you'll even get the ability to 'refresh' the Operating System. These possibilities make using SMS Server 2003 with the OSD FP with BDD the ideal solutions for administrators and helpdesk personnel… unfortunately it's the worst nightmare for your financial department when your organization isn't big enough to justify your TCO calculations.

"Zero touch"

Putting Microsoft System Management Services (SMS) Server 2003 with ServicePack 2 and the Operating System Deployment (OSD) Feature Pack (FP) Update to work is referenced as 'Zero touch' within the BDD. It literally allows you to send e-mail messages to your colleagues with the request to update their Operating System, while maintaining all software packages and user settings without you ever touching their machine.


Network shares and other media

Deploying Microsoft Windows Vista from a network share or other media isn't a very difficult scenario. The steps involved are:

  1. Creating (Microsoft Windows PE) bootable media;
  2. Booting from media and creating an image on a Network share or external media from the master computer;
  3. Booting from media and deploying Microsoft Windows Vista on the target computer.

This scenario is where Microsoft Windows PE and XImage really add up. The Microsoft Windows PE bootable media facilitates easy booting, formatting and connecting to the network share. XImage lets you create and deploy Microsoft Windows Image Metadata (WIM) files.

Pros and cons

Since it's the simplest of the four ways to deploy Windows and it even allows for scripting the whole process you can use it to make backup images of your Windows installation to a second partition on your hard disk, a second hard disk, a (re)writable DVD, a (re)writable CD or a network share. It also lets you do some things that SMS Server 2003 with the OSD FP Update doesn't, but you'll have to do them by hand. Probably not the preferred method to deploy hundreds of boxes unless you have a lot of friends that want to help in exchange for beer and a BBQ…


3rd party imaging software

In every book on Microsoft technology that you've read you might have seen '3rd party imaging software' getting mentioned. For ages I've been using Symantec Ghost for this purpose, which was recently renamed to the Ghost Solution Suite. Still using Symantec Ghost 7.5 Enterprise Edition however we've managed to ghostcast and ghostwalk Microsoft Windows Vista. Ghostcasting was used to push an image to multiple machines at once and ghostwalking afterwards changes the computername and corresponding SID's.

The process for deploying Microsoft Windows Vista is largely identical to deploying Microsoft Windows XP or Microsoft Windows Server, except for the following:

  • After pushing a Microsoft Windows Vista image to a machine we encountered an error stating winload.exe was corrupt or could not be found. Subsequently the machine wouldn't boot. This is due to the fact that Microsoft Windows Vista no longer uses boot.ini but instead relies on the new Boot Configuration Database (BCD). Change the following values in the database by entering the following commands before pulling an image from the originating machine:
    • bcdedit /set {bootmgr} device boot
    • bcdedit /set {default} device boot
    • bcdedit /set {default} osdevice boot

  • Ghostwlk.exe would not run after pushing an Microsoft Windows Vista image. Ghostwalk uses msdos.sys and boot.ini to locates a suitable Windows installation, but on our newly created Windows Vista machine these couldn't be found. We solved this little puzzle too:
    • First we deleted msdos.sys and made a new file with the same name. We did not enter any information in this file.
    • After that we created a boot.ini … erhm …. well …. we didn't create one actually. we felt lazy and copied it from a Windows XP machine that was standing right next to it and had the same hard disk partitioning.

    The real hard part here was that we needed to unhide hidden files and system files and needed to uncheck the 'hide known file extensions' option. Thanks for enabling these by default! 😉

Pros and cons

Some things can't be done automatically and some people just don't have any friends. 3rd party imaging software is their tool 😉 Without kidding: 3rd party imaging software might be great if you're in a organization where you can't put the Active Directory, DHCP or the Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) to use.



Deploying Microsoft Windows Vista is different from previous Windows deployments, but Microsoft has a tool to easy the transition: the Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD). It can help you complete the necessary steps for successful deployments.

Although it's still a beta I'm enjoying it very much already!

It would come as no surprise the four scenario's correspond with Microsoft's Infrastructure Optimization Model.

Further reading

Microsoft Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007
WAIK Up: A First Look at Windows Vista Deployment Tools on Deploying Windows Vista
Huge news from OSD Land…
SMS 2003 Operating System Deployment Feature Pack Update
Systems Management Server Roadmap
SMS 4.0 Library on Microsoft TechNet
Windows PE 2.0 (aka Vista WinPE)
Windows Vista imaging and deployment
Booting Windows PE from a USB flash drive and Part 2
Getting started with Windows PE and Customizing Windows PE
Business Desktop Deployment: Tools + Guidance

3 Responses to Deploying Windows Vista centrally


    Well, yes, graphical IS for women. Before you know it, we'll have little puppies running around in MMCs offering to aid us in configuration of your infrastructure.
    When that happens, the world is at an end.

    Nice article, Sander, I can see who'll be the first to do a nice big Vista roll-out at the other side of the country. 😉


    … And suddenly I find myself feeling curious about your definition of 'puppies' Hmm Wink


    We are busy deploying using a mixture of DFSR (to transfer the images around the network) WDS and WAIK 🙂 its working pretty well at the momement 😀


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