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3/2007 - With the new tools that come with Windows Vista, it is faster (and arguably easier) to deploy Windows to multiple desktops, that is, once you get your base image(s) created.  There is a learning curve. You will have to learn about the WAIK, WSIM, WinPE, ImageX, autounattend.xml and sysprep.xml.  Though not rocket science, time will need to be spent learning these new tools and processes.  The following will show you how to configure a reference PC that once imaged, using Sysprep and ImageX, can be deployed to multiple PCs in a Windows Server 2003 domain environment.

Configuring the reference PC
Creating the sysprep.xml file
Running Sysprep.exe
Capturing and applying a reference image
Example sysprep.xml file    Download File
Additional Notes
Useful Links


What’s Needed:
Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows Vista
An x86 or x64 based computer running Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or Windows Server 2003 SP1 operating system. On this computer you will install the WAIK and create the sysprep.xml file
A PC with Windows Vista already installed.
A PC to install Windows Vista on (can be the same PC)
A WinPE 2.0 CD or USB Flash Drive
A Windows Server 2003 Domain environment

These instructions are based on the Ultimate or Business versions of Vista
<enter> means press the Enter key
You know how to open an elevated command prompt in Vista
You have a basic understanding of ImageX and the WAIK
You have a basic understanding of DOS

Basic Steps
• Install and configure Windows Vista along with any needed applications on a reference PC.
• Using the WAIK and WSIM, create a Sysprep.xml file that will automate the configuration of Windows Vista.
• Copy the Sysprep.xml file to the reference PC.
• Run Sysprep.exe on the reference PC to "prep" the Vista installation for imaging.
• Boot the sysprepped PC with a WinPE CD or UFD and capture an image of the hard drive.
• Save the image to a network share (or removable media).
• Apply the saved image to other PCs.
• On first boot up of the newly imaged PCs, mini-setup, using sysprep.xml, will run and auto-configure Windows Vista.
• Login and use the PC.


1. Create a WinPE 2.0 CD or USB Flash Drive (UFD). WinPE 2.0 can be used to boot up a PC, and either capture an image of that PC or apply an already created image to the PC. You will need a WinPE 2.0 CD or UFD to complete these instructions.

2. Install Windows Vista on a reference PC. Use the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) to create an autounattend.xml configuration file, that when used with a Windows Vista DVD or UFD, can automate the setup of your reference PC - Run an unattended install of Windows Vista. You don't have to run an automated setup of Vista on the reference PC. You can manually install it using the DVD.

These instructions assume a Clean Install of Vista. Not only would I not recommend an in place upgrade of any Windows operating system from a previous version (there are just too many problems that can occur when doing this), Sysprep is meant to be used only with clean installs.

3. Configure the reference PC, then using Sysprep.exe, prepare the PC for Imaging.

4. Create an Image of the reference PC. Boot the Sysprepped reference PC with the WinPE CD or UFD, create an image of the PC using ImageX, and save the image to a Windows 2003 server.

5. Apply that image to a new PC or PCs.

Configuring the Reference PC     Top

Hopefully, you have standards in place for hardware and software in your current computing environment. The more homogenous your desktop environment is, the easier it is to deploy PCs and maintain PCs. If you are in an environment where there is a hodge-podge of hardware and software, (that end users can configure anyway they want) you need to create some standards, and stick to them. Assuming then, you have established a standardized desktop platform, you will need to create a reference PC that will be the basis of your desktop deployment. Of course, if you are a larger company with different groups, each with different computing needs, you might have multiple standardized computing platforms. If this is the case, you might have more than one reference PC to build.

Once you have Windows Vista installed on your reference PC, you will need to configure it. This PC will be the basis of the image that is applied to your end user PCs. How you configure you reference PC(s) will be predicated on your standards and particular computing environment. Below are some suggestions for configuring the Windows Vista operating system settings on your reference PC .

• Get and install the latest BIOS
• In addition to the latest BIOS, get and install any Windows Vista OEM updates (updates your PC manufacturer recommends)
• Run Windows Update
• Update hardware drivers (if needed)
• Configure Windows Explorer settings
• Configure Internet Explorer settings
• Configure Desktop settings
• Configure Start Menu settings
• Configure Task bar settings
• Configure Windows Sidebar settings (if you want to use this)
• Add anything you want to run at login to the startup folder used for all users
(ex. a shortcut to Task Manager)
• Check/Configure System settings (Device Manager, Paging file, DEP, Restore Points, Remote Access, Performance settings, Hibernation file (do you want this?), Time Zone and Time and Power Settings)

Additional Configuration Settings

Default Profile - If you want all of the users who login to a PC to start out with the same profile, which makes sense for standardization of your computing environment, then do the following:

• Rename the current C:\Users\Default folder to Default.orig (or what ever name is meaningful to you. It will be the original Default profile folder. You don't have to do this, but it is good to have a backup of the original folder if you need it.
• Under the C:\Users folder, create a new folder call Default. This will become the new Default profile folder. In the Sysprep.xml file, (see below) you will set the CopyProfile setting to True under the
Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup_neutral component in Pass 4. What this setting will do is copy the profile of the logged in user, when Sysprep is run, to the C:\Users\Default folder. Now, all users who login will start out with the same profile. Each new user who logs into the PC has a profile created for them. It is built from a combination of the Default profile and what used to be called the All Users profile (which is now a combination of the Public profile and certain data pulled from the C:\ProgramData folder).
• When configuring a PC for imaging, I like to login to the PC as a member of the Domain Admins group, configure the PC and install any apps. This gives me administrative access to the PC, and also provides a user profile/login that can be used when setting up other PCs using this PC's image. You will probably have to change the computer name of each of your imaged PCs, and this login/profile has the rights to do this. (See additional notes at the bottom)

SetupComplete.cmd - this batch file is run after Windows is installed, but before the logon screen appears. Windows Setup searches for the SetupComplete.cmd file in the C:\Windows\Setup\Scripts folder. If a SetupComplete.cmd file is found, the file is executed.

For example, I created a SetupComplete.cmd file in the C:\Windows\Setup\Scripts folder to modify some registry settings, and I put the .reg file that SetupComplete calls, in the C:\Windows\Setup folder. When
Vista is being installed, but just before first login, the SetupComplete.cmd file is run and the registry settings are modified. Click here to see these files.

You can use SetupComplete.cmd to copy files to the PC, run scripts, modify registry settings and so on. For more information about SetupComplete.cmd click here.

Note: You do not see SetupComplete.cmd run or have interaction with it, so be sure any commands you do use in the SetupComplete.cmd file are accurate and won't error out on you.

Once you have the above done, but before you install any application software, you might want to sysprep this PC and capture an image of the PC as it is now. This will provide a clean Vista PC image with the operating system configured. If you should have problems when installing applications, while configuring your reference PC, you can always apply this clean OS image to your reference PC. It will save you from having to reconfigure the OS all over again. Additionally, if you have multiple images to create, and limited hardware to test with, you can use this base image as a starting point for your different images.

You can now install, configure and test any applications that will be needed by your end users. Be sure you test the PC before imaging. If your end users will not be a member of the local administrators group, then login and test the PC as a user who is not a member of the local administrators group. You don't want to deploy an image to 10s or hundreds of PCs just to find an application doesn't work properly.

Creating the Sysprep.xml file     Top

You now need to create the sysprep.xml file that will instruct Windows Vista how to configure itself on first boot up after the image is applied to a PC. Sysprep.xml will automate answering the questions Windows Vista normally asks when you install it - Computer name, product key, creating a local user account, time zone and so on.

The sysprep.xml file can be named anything you want (with an .xml extension). I am just choosing to use sysprepdomain.xml. Sysprep.xml is created using the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM). WSIM is part of the Windows Automated Installation Kit for Windows Vista (WAIK). If you need to know how to use WSIM, see this article on Automated Installs of Windows Vista. WSIM is used to create both the sysprep.xml file used when prepping a hard drive for imaging, as well as the autounattend.xml file used in an automated Vista install.

Below are the components and their settings used in this example sysprepdomain.xml file. To see the actual sysprepdomain.xml file, click here.

Task Component -Preferred Pass

This will allow you to reset Activation up to 8 times. This is useful if you will be testing Sysprep multiple times.

If you set SkipRearm=0, or leave out the component, Activation will be reset, or rearmed to 30 days. However, you can only rearm/reset activation 3 times.

Microsoft-Windows-Licensing-Security-SLC_neutral - 3
• Run a command to enable the local Administrator account (this is optional).

Right click the Components heading, choose Insert Synchronous Command to Pass 4 - Specialize. Type the following into the Path field:

net user administrator /active:yes

Then set Order=1, if is not set.

Microsoft-Windows-Deployment_neutral - 4
• Tell Vista to skip Auto Activation (you have plenty
of time after the install to activate). There is only one setting here: SkipAutoActivation=True

Microsoft-Windows-Security-Licensing-SLC-UX_neutral - 4

• ComputerName (use an asterisk * here, and see the Additional notes below.)

• CopyProfile=true (this will copy the logged in user's profile to the default profile if you want to set a default profile for every user who logs in)
• Enter Product Key (optional - the product key determines what version of Vista you are installing. ex. You can't install Vista Ultimate with a Vista Business product key.)
• RegisteredOrganization=Microsoft (do not change this)
• RegisteredOwner=AutoBVT (do not change this)
• ShowWindowsLive=false (this will not show a Windows Live link on the start menu)
• Time zone (right click, choose Help to see the Time Zone names. ex. Eastern Standard Time or Pacific Standard Time)

• Configure your Display settings using the Display sub component (optional).

Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup_neutral - 4

• This component joins the PC to a Windows domain

• In the Identification sub component, configure these settings:
JoinDomain=your domain name

• In the Credentials sub component enter the user name and password of a member of the Domain Admins group or Account Operators group so the PC can be added to the domain. Enter the name of the domain to join.

Microsoft-Windows-UnattendedJoin_neutral - 4

Set the language used for the install

Microsoft-Windows-International-Core_neutral - 7

• RegisteredOrganization=Your Company Name
• RegisteredOwner=Your Company Name

OOBE sub component:
• HideEULAPage=true (Skip the EULA)
• NetworkLocation=Work
• ProtectYourPC=1, 2 or 3 (using 3 will disable automatic updates)
• SkipUserOOBE=true (Skip the annoying Windows Welcome Screen)

UserAccounts sub component:
• AdministratorPassword sub component - this sets the password for the local administrator account we enabled above. Putting it here encrypts the password.

In the LocalAccounts sub component, create a local user account and password that you can login with when the install is finished. (note: this is required even if you are joining the PC to a domain).

(note: OOBE stands for Out Of Box Experience)

Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup_neutral - 7


Below is what the complete list of components will look like in WSIM . You will notice that only 3 of 7 possible passes were used for the components. This is to be expected. Passes are different phases of the Windows Vista installation. Some components will have more than one pass to choose from, some can only go in one pass, and some components will be in more than one pass. It all depends on how and when Vista processes the various components during the install.

Note: Pass 1, windowsPE is not used with Sysprep. If you enter any Pass 1 components, they will be ignored.


Sysprepdomain.xml in WSIM with all the components added and expanded.

Running Sysprep     Top

Copy Sysprepdomain.xml to your reference PC - In previous versions of Windows, Sysprep.exe was an add on program. In Windows Vista, it comes with the operating system. Sysprep.exe can be found in C:\windows\system32\sysprep\sysprep.exe. You will need administrative access to view/use this folder.

Copy sysprepdomain.xml to the C:\windows\system32\sysprep folder.

Once copied, you are almost ready to run sysprep on the reference PC. Before you run sysprep to prepare the PC for imaging, you need to clean up the PC. While configuring the test PC and installing applications / files / drivers, etc., you have probably created some garbage that needs to be deleted.
Use the following as a guideline when cleaning up the PC:

• Run "Delete All" in Internet Explorer > Internet Options to clear out temp files, cookies, etc.
• Delete any user profiles you don't need (extra ones you might have created after the install)
• Delete any .zip or .exe program / driver files you might have copied to the PC, to install, and no longer need.
• Delete any extra folders you might have created during testing and don't need
• Uninstall any utility apps you might have used for testing and don't need in the final image
• Run Disk Cleanup (click start, type clean in the search box, click on Disk Cleanup. Make sure you choose to cleanup "Files from All users".)

Sysprep does do some of its own clean up too. These are the things Sysprep will delete/remove:

• Deletes event logs
• Deletes restore points
Disables the local Administrator account and deletes its profile
• Removes any SID information from the PC
• Removes any Plug and Play device drivers that were installed during initial installation of Vista
(these will automatically be re-discovered when the PC next boots up)
• If the Test PC is a member of a domain, Sysprep will automatically remove it and make it a member of "Workgroup".

Once you have cleaned up your reference PC, it is time to run Sysprep. Sysprep takes less than a minute to run. All you do is open an Administrative command prompt, change directory to
C:\Windows\System32\Sysprep and type:

sysprep /generalize /oobe /shutdown /unattend:sysprepdomain.xml

The /unattend switch uses the sysprep configuration file you created in WSIM.
The /generalize switch cleans up the PC - mentioned above.
The /oobe switch says to start the computer in Windows Welcome mode the next time it is booted up. The settings in your sysprep.xml file will be used to answer the questions that are normally entered manually during Windows Welcome.
The /shutdown switch shuts down the PC once Sysprep has run.

Note: Sysprep in Vista can be run with a GUI interface. Although generally, you would not do this, if you type just sysprep.exe with no switches at the command line, it will open a GUI version of Sysprep where you can check options for Sysprep.

Capturing and Applying a reference image     Top

Capturing an Image

Now that you have configured your reference PC and ran sysprep.exe on it, you are ready to capture an image of the PC and store it on a network server. Once you have an image of the reference PC, you can use it to setup all your other PCs.

Get your WinPE 2.0 USB flash drive or CD and boot your reference PC with it. This will boot the PC into Windows PE. Once in Windows PE you will use ImageX to capture an image of the PC. Using ImageX to capture an image is very easy.

Since we are assuming that you are using a Windows 2003 (or Win2000) domain, you are going to save your reference image to a server in your domain. Once the image is on a domain server, you can use your WinPE USB flash drive (or CD) and boot up any PC, map a drive to the server, and apply the saved image to the PC.

First map a drive to the server you will be saving the image to. For example:

net use * \\server1\installs\vistaimages /user:mydomain\installman  (you will be prompted for a password)

Now use ImageX to capture an image of the PC and save it to the server:

imagex /capture /compress maximum /check c:  z:\ult32domain.wim "Ultimate32 Domain"

/capture - tells imagex it will be capturing an image (as opposed to applying an image)
/compress maximum - tells imagex to use maximum compression on the image
/check - tell imagex to check the integrity of the image file
c: - is the drive we are imaging
z:\ult32domain.wim - is the destination folder (your mapped drive) and image file name you are creating on the server
"Ultimate32 Domain" - is a descriptive name for the image

While imagex is creating the image file, you can look in the shared folder on the server and see the image being saved there.

Applying an Image

Once you have captured/created an image file and saved it to a domain server, it can be used to image other PCs in your organization. Applying an ImageX image file is very similar to capturing one.

Use your WinPE USB flash drive (or CD) and boot up the target PC, map a drive to the server, and apply the saved image to the PC.

First map a drive to the server you will be applying the image from. For example:

net use * \\server1\installs\vistaimages /user:mydomain\installman  (you will be prompted for a password)

Before you apply an image, you need to prepare the hard drive. ImageX does not partition or format a drive when applying an image. It simply lays down the contents of the image file on the hard drive. Therefore, you should either format the drive you are applying the image to, or if necessary, partition it, then format it.

If you already have your hard drive partitioned the way you want, just run a quick format on the destination drive first.

format c: /fs:ntfs /q/y    (if the drive is already formatted as NTFS, you can leave off the /fs switch)

Now use ImageX to apply an image to the PC:

imagex /apply z:\ult32domain.wim 1  c: 

If you need to partition the hard drive first, use Diskpart to create the partition and format it. The following are the Diskpart commands you run one at a time. Press <enter> after each command.

• Diskpart
• List disk
(this command is important. It will show you what disk drives you have. Most likely your hard drive will be will be Disk 0, but you need to check it first.)

• select disk 0
• clean
• create partition primary size=60000
(this creates a partition 60GB in size. If you want to use the whole hard drive, just leave off the size=number)

• select partition 1
• active
• format fs=ntfs quick
• assign letter=c
• exit

Now use ImageX to apply an image to the PC:

imagex /apply z:\ult32domain.wim 1  c: 

z:\ult32domain.wim - is the location folder (your mapped drive) and image file name you are applying
z:\ult32domain.wim 1 - the number 1 here is the index number of the image you want to work with. The index number in required. Wim files can contain more than one image, and the index number indicates what image you want to work with. Since your image files will probably contain only 1 image, use the number 1.
c: - is the drive we are applying the image to.

Once the image is applied, type wpeutil reboot at the WinPE command prompt to reboot the PC.
Or type wpeutil shutdown at the command prompt to shutdown the PC.


Additional Notes about Sysprep and ImageX     Top

• Sysprep.exe is located in the C:\windows\system32\sysprep directory on all Vista installations. Sysprep must always be run from the C:\windows\system32\sysprep directory, and must run on the version of Windows with which it was installed.
• You must apply your Sysprepped image to the same volume it was captured from. So if you captured an image from drive C:, you must apply the image to drive C:.
Do not encrypt any files or folders on your reference PC that you will be running Sysprep on. If you run Sysprep on an NTFS file system partition that contains encrypted files or folders, the data in those folders becomes completely unreadable and unrecoverable.
• How much time does it take to capture and apply images? As an example, when I imaged a fully configured Vista PC with a few applications (no giant Office Suite type apps), it took about 50 minutes to capture and save the image to the file server using the steps outlined above. The final image size was about 2.5GB in size. It took a little less than 6 minutes to apply the image from the file server. This was using a 100Mb full duplex network connection with a new dual core AMD processor based PC. You might be able to cut down on the capture time by not using /compress maximum, but then your image file will be bigger.

• In the above sysprepdomain.xml file you had to enter a Computer Name. I suggested you use an asterisk instead of an actual computer name. In past versions of sysprep, if you left the computer name out of the sysprep configuration file, the install would stop and prompt you for a name. This is typically the way multiple Windows computers were/are setup because each Windows computer needs a unique name. In Windows Vista, there is a bug. If you leave out the computer name, sysprep will generate a random computer name and not stop to prompt you for one. Not only does it not prompt you, but when you try to login to a domain after the PC finishes setup, it will generate an error message. "The trust relationship between this workstation and the primary domain failed". So far there is no fix for this, however; if you use an asterisk ( * ) for the computer name, it still generates a random name, but there is no error message about the trust relationship. Once the the install finishes, you can simply login to the PC with a user account that has rights to change the computer name (Domain Admins or Account Operators) and rename the computer to its proper name. Not ideal, but until Microsoft fixes this, it is probably the simplest way to address the problem.

• Location of Sysprep logs:
generalize - C:\windows\system32\sysprep\panther\setupact.log
specialize - C:\windows\panther\setupact.log
Unattended Windows setup actions - C:\windows\panther\unattendgc

More information about Sysprep   Top

Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) reference

Sysprep for Vista Technical Reference

Diskpart Technical Reference

ImageX Technical Reference

Configuration Passes - How they work, what they are.