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3/2007 - USB Flash Drives are becoming the preferred means of data transport, replacing CDs and DVDs. They can be purchased in capacities up to 16GB now, and it won't be long before we see a 32GB flash drive. USB flash drives are fast, small, and you can carry a couple in your pocket with no problem. Running an unattended install of Windows Vista from a USB Flash Drive can be faster and easier than a network or DVD install.  Of course, for some environments, a network install or an optical media install is necessary, or more cost effective, but try out a USB install, you might decide they are the best way to install Windows.

Setting up the USB Flash Drive
Creating the autounattend.xml file
Unattended Install Notes
Example autounattend.xml file    Download File
Unattended Install Links


What’s Needed:
Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows Vista
A fast, 4GB or larger USB flash drive
An x86 or x64 based computer running Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista, or Windows Server 2003 SP1 operating system. This computer will be called the “Technician PC”.
A PC with Windows Vista already installed.
A PC to install Windows Vista on (can be the same PC)

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

Setting up the USB Flash Drive

1. 4GB USB Flash Drive - Since you will be copying the Windows Vista DVD to your flash drive, you will need a flash drive larger than 2GB. The next size up of flash drives is 4GB, so use one of these. The Vista DVD is about 2.6GB in size and after you copy it to your flash drive, you will still have plenty of room for anything else you might need. Also be aware that flash drives vary in quality and speed. Don't just buy the cheapest one out there (you get what you pay for). Look for a flash drive that has a minimum of 15MB read and write speed. You can use something slower, but then it will take longer to do the install.

2. Install the Windows Automated Installation Kit on the Technician PC or the Windows Vista PC. A little bit of a pain if you don't have this installed. You have to download an image of the WAIK from MS, create a DVD from the image (the same as creating a DVD from an ISO file), then install it from the DVD. You can download the WAIK for Windows Vista here.

3. Setup your USB flash drive with Windows Vista.

Note: the following is needed if your USB Flash Drive is not formated as FAT32. If it already is, you can skip
this step.

• Place the USB flash drive in a USB port on the Windows Vista PC.
• Delete any files on the USB drive.
• Partition and format the USB flash drive using Diskpart (next).

Note: According to the Windows PE documentation, the following Diskpart commands must be done on a Windows Vista PC. This is because Windows Vista Diskpart.exe has the ability to see and use USB flash drives. Earlier version of Diskpart do not. (see Additional Notes below)

This set of commands assumes your USB flash drive is detected as disk 1. You should double check this by listing the disks before cleaning the USB drive. Open a command prompt window and type the following commands, pressing <enter> after each command.

• Diskpart
• List disk
(this command is important. It will show you what disk your USB Flash Drive is. Most likely it will be Disk 1. You don’t want to format your C: drive !)

• select disk 1
• clean
• create partition primary
• select partition 1
• active
• format fs=fat32
• assign
• exit

Copy Windows Vista to the USB Flash Drive
You will now have a partitioned and formatted USB flash drive. All that is needed is to copy the files from the Windows Vista DVD to your flash drive. Place the Vista DVD in the DVD drive of your Vista PC. You can close the install window if it opens. Open a command prompt window and type the following command:

xcopy e:\*.*  f:\ /e/h/f   <enter>

The above assumes e:\ is the DVD drive and f:\ is the USB flash drive. Change them as needed.

You now have a bootable USB flash drive with Windows Vista ready to install from. (You should have about 1.3GB of free space on the USB flash drive.)

Note: You will have to set your PC BIOS to boot from a USB device in order to boot from the Vista USB Flash Drive.

Creating the Autounattend.xml file     Top

1. You now need to create the autounattend.xml file that will instruct Windows Vista how to install itself. On the PC you installed the WAIK, click Start > Programs > Microsoft Windows AIK and choose the Windows System Image Manager entry. WSIM is new to Windows Vista. It replaces the Setup Manager that was used for previous Windows operating system's unattended installations. Unlike System Manager, WSIM does not have a wizard to get you started. At first, using WSIM is a little daunting. There is so much to choose from, multiple panes to look at and rather mediocre documentation. You are going to have to play around and experiment with this. The instructions here will help you create a basic Vista unattended installation.

2. If this is the first time you are creating an autounattend.xml file, you will need to copy the install.wim file from the Sources folder of the Vista Install DVD into a folder on your technician computer's hard drive. The install.wim file has all the images for Windows Vista, and WSIM needs to know what version, or SKU, you will be working with.
• Next, click File > Select Windows Image, which opens a dialog box where you can navigate to the folder you placed install.wim in, and then click Open. You will be shown a list of all the Windows Vista images/versions available in install.wim. Choose the version you want to work with from the list. These instructions are based on Vista Ultimate, but you could also choose Vista Business. You will then be prompted to create a Catalog file, choose Yes. The catalog file is like an inventory of what is in the image. You only have to choose your version and create a catalog once. Subsequent use of WSIM will not prompt you to do this as long as you are working with the same version/image of Vista. If you want to work with another version of Vista, you will need to go through the process again.

3. Now that you have WSIM open, chosen a version of Vista, and a catalog file has been created, you can create your autounattend.xml file. The autounattend.xml file will have all the instructions to install Windows Vista, and the file must be named this. (WSIM will automatically create a file named autounattend.xml.)
In the bottom left hand pane of WSIM, expand the Components node. This section has all the "components" of the unattended install. Depending on what you want your unattended install to do, you choose the needed components, from the Components list, to accomplish this. We will do the following in this unattended install.

Note: Dark Blue lines are required components. WSIM requires a minimum set of components and settings to run the autounattend.xml file correctly. To see the actual components and settings used, click here to see the final autounattend.xml file.

Task Component -Preferred Pass
• Set the language used for the install

SetupUILanguage subcomponent >

Microsoft-Windows-International-Core-WinPE - 1
• Disable Firewall=True - This is Only for the WinPE Pass
• Enable Network=True - This is Only for the WinPE Pass
• DiskConfiguration > Disk
Configure the hard drive (partition and format)
Wipe all partitions from the HDD, create a 60GB primary partition, format it as NTFS, set it to Active.
(note: this can be configured to suit your needs. This is just one way of doing it)
• OS Image > InstallTo - indicates what disk# and partition# to install Vista to.
• UserData > User Name, Organization, Accept EULA

• 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.)

Microsoft-Windows-Setup_neutral - 1
• Run a Regedit command to fix the Network Location, Home / Work / Public (because there is a bug)
Right click the Components heading, choose Insert Synchronous Command to Pass 4 - Specialize. Type the following into the Path field:

reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\NetworkList\Signatures\FirstNetwork" /v Category /t REG_DWORD /d 00000000 /f

All zeros means Home/Work. All zeros with the last digit a 1, means Public.

This reg command will modify the registry with the proper Network Location. Something that the unattended installation fails to do.

Microsoft-Windows-Deployment_neutral - 4
• Since this PC will have a static IP address, we will configure the DNS servers. If you want 2 DNS servers, you need to add the IpAddress sub component twice, one for each IP address:
Interfaces > Interface > DNSServerSearchOrder > IpAddress > Key=1, Value=
IpAddress > Key=2, Value=

• If you want to use DHCP, you don't need to add the TCPIP component or sub components. DHCP will be used by default unless disabled.

Microsoft-Windows-DNS-Client_neutral - 4
• Configure some Internet Explorer settings

Microsoft-Windows-IE-InternetExplorer_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

• Computer Name
• Time zone (right click, choose Help to see the Time Zone names. ex. Eastern Standard Time or Pacific Standard Time)
• RegisteredOrganization=Microsoft (do not change this)
• RegisteredOwner=AutoBVT (do not change this)
• Configure your Display settings

Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup_neutral - 4

Set the IP address, subnet mask and default gateway (ridiculously complicated and not documented.)

• Disable DHCP since we are using a static IP Address: Microsoft-Windows-TCPIP > Interfaces > Interface > Ipv4Settings > DHCPEnabled = False

• The IP address and subnet mask are indicated by a slash IP address, in the UnicastIpAddresses > IpAddress subcomponent. Similar to what you would see in a router configuration. /24 would equal /16 would equal and so on.

ex. would be:
IP Address =
Subnet mask =

• The default gateway IP address is entered in the Routes > Route subcomponent using the NextHopAddress setting. ex.

I don't think you need the metric parameter in the Route settings, but it doesn't hurt if you do have it.
Identifier = 0
Prefix =

Look at the autounattend.xml file to see how all this is setup.

• If you want to use DHCP, you don't need to add the TCPIP component or subcomponents. DHCP will be used by default unless disabled.

Microsoft-Windows-TCPIP_neutral - 4

Disable Windows Defender. DisableAntiSpyware=True
(you can do better for anti-spyware)

Security-Malware-Windows-Defender_neutral - 4
Set the OOBE settings - more Shell settings:

• HideEULAPage=true (Skip the EULA)
• NetworkLocation=Home (Fill this in, but it doesn't work. See fix above)
• ProtectYourPC=1, 2 or 3 (using 3 will disable automatic updates)
• SkipUserOOBE=true (Skip the annoying Windows Welcome Screen)
• RegisteredOrganiztion=Microsoft (do not change this)
• RegisteredOwner=AutoBVT (do not change this)
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


4. Adding Components in the autounattended.xml file
• You pick a component you need for your unattended install from the Components pane and right click it.
• The right click menu will have one or more passes that you can add the component to.
• You choose a pass from the menu and the component gets added to the answer file pane in the middle of WSIM, under the pass you chose.
• You don't have to use every component or all of a component's sub components. Just use the components/subcomponents you need. Likewise, you don't have to fill in every available setting for every component. Just the ones you need (and any required ones).
• Once the component is in the answer file pane, you click the component to highlight it, and if applicable, in the right hand pane, will be some settings that you can modify.
• Some components will have subcomponents (they will have a little plus sign next to them) that you might need. These too can be added the same way. Right click and choose the pass you want to add it to. (This is going to the be same pass you added the parent component to.)
• Once you have all your components and settings chosen, you click File > Save Answer File and an autounattend.xml file will be created for you. Windows Vista uses this .xml file to configure itself during setup.

You then copy the the autounattend.xml file to the root of your USB flash drive you created earlier. Vista will automatically look for an autounattend.xml file during install, and if one is found, in the root of the flash drive, Vista will process it.

Note: When you save your answer file, WSIM will Validate it for you. Look on the bottom right pane and you can see if there are any problems with your answer file in the Messages pane. You should check this and fix any problems. Some error messages are informational. If you add a component, but don't configure any settings, the Validation will tell you this. You can click on the error message in the Messages pane and WSIM will show you where the problem is in the Answer File pane. Alternatively, you can click on Tools > Validate Answer File to validate your answer file.

(Click image to enlarge )

Below is what the complete list of components will look like. 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.

So how do you know what Components to use and what passes to put them in? There is no definitive answer for this. You have to familiarize yourself with all the components. This might seem like a big task, but many of the components and their subcomponents are self explanatory, and some can only go in one pass. Much of creating a successful autounattend.xml (and sysprep.xml) is experimentation. I ran about 8 unattended installs with 8 different autounattend.xml files before I had a good, working unattended install. (Much of this was trying to get the undocumented static IP address information right.)

Where is the Help? Much like creating a WinPE CD (or USB flash drive), Microsoft does not make the unattended install process easy. However, there is context sensitive Help throughout WSIM. Right click any component or subcomponent, in any pane, and choose Help. Help will open for that component. The Help is a little vague (typical MS) but much of it will tell you what the component is for and how to use it. The same goes for the settings in the right hand pane. Right click a setting and choose Help. Help will explain what the setting is and what parameters to use.

You will have to do some reading - the WAIK help and the WSIM help. You should also check out the Windows Vista TechNet sites (links are below). It will become easier after you use WSIM for a while. The hard part is working around the bugs.

What Bugs? - be prepared for things to not work exactly as planned. There are some bugs in the unattended installs. Some of them you can work around, some not. Few are show stoppers (except not being able to enter a Computer Name when it is deliberately left out of autounattend.xml or Sysprep.xml - think installing hundreds of PCs with different names)  Hopefully, when Vista SP1 comes out, or maybe before, we will see an updated WAIK with less bugs, and maybe even a Wizard front end. It would also be helpful if any required Components and settings were highlighted with a specific color so you knew you needed to add/configure them.


Additional Notes about Unattended Installs     Top

Using a quality USB flash drive to run an unattended install is faster than installing from a DVD or installing over the network, but there is one thing you need to be aware of. A bootable USB flash drive, unlike a bootable CD/DVD, does not prompt you first to boot from it. It will just bootup and start the install. This is OK, but be aware that the Vista install process will reboot the target PC at least twice during the install. If you do not remove the USB flash drive before the PC reboots, the install will start over. You can remove the flash drive as soon as Windows finishes copying files from it very early in the install process. It will not be needed again. DON'T forget to do this.

, you can add a Synchronous command in Pass 1 (WinPE) to run a batch file that will pause the install and tell the user Vista is about to be installed. Click Here for an example.

If you want to enable the local Administrator account during an unattended install, the easiest way is to add a synchronous command in Pass 4 and then in Pass 7, set the Administrator password:
1. Right click "Components" at the top of the WSIM Answer File pane.
2. Choose Add Synchronous command to Pass 4, Specialize
3. Enter this command in the command line box :  net user administrator /active:yes
4. In Pass 7, add the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup > UserAccounts > AdministratorPassword component and enter a password in the Settings. Entering the password here will encrypt it so it can't be seen in the answer file.

• Unattended installs in Vista are really only meant to get your Imaging PCs setup. It is not the preferred way to set up multiple PCs. Imaging, using Sysprepped images and ImageX to create (capture) and apply images, is now the preferred way to deploy Windows.
• There are some bugs in unattended installs (including sysprep installs). You will just have to test them to see where the problems are.
• WSIM is used to create both the autounattend.xml answer file for unattended installs and the .xml answer file used with Sysprep. Note: these 2 files are basically the same thing. They just have different names and Sysprep does not use any Pass 1 components.
• Not every setting for every component needs a value. If you are not sure, right click the setting and choose Help to find out more information about the setting.
• The Windows documentation can be a little vague and even leave out important info, like how to configure a static IP address.
• You don't have to include a product key in the autounattend.xml file, but if you leave it out, you will have to accept the install screens saying you don't want to enter a product key now, and then choose your version of Vista screen.
• Vista requires a local user account be added during setup. Even if you enable the local Administrator account, you will still have to add a local user account or Vista will stop during the unattended install and ask you to add one.
• The .xml answer files created by WSIM are very similar to HTML files. Get to know the .xml answer files to better understand what is being done.
What are Packages? Packages are additions to the Windows Vista operating system. Games, Telnet Server, IIS Web Services, etc. can be enabled or disabled. Generally, you can leave out any Packages and Vista will install the standard Windows defaults.

• The WAIK for Vista documentation says you have to run Diskpart on a Vista PC if you are going to be making a WinPE bootable UFD, or in this case, a bootable Vista install UFD.  In typical Windows documentation fashion, it doesn't say why.  This demand seemed a little odd.  Why do you Have to do it on a Vista PC?

I put my USB flash drive in a USB port on a Win2003 SP1 32bit server.  Opened a command prompt and ran Diskpart.  I then ran the Diskpart command "list disk".  It only showed my local HDD, not the USB drive.  My USB drive was visible in Windows Explorer.  I then copied Diskpart.exe from a Vista Ultimate 32bit PC to the Win2003 server and ran it.  I received an error message: "This is not a valid Win32 application", then "access is denied".  I checked the permissions, and the logged on user had full permissions to Diskpart.exe.
I then put the same USB flash drive on the Vista Ultimate 32bit PC and ran Diskpart.exe.  Sure enough, the USB drive was now listed when the "list disk" command was run in Diskpart.

I can only conclude that Windows Vista Diskpart.exe has the ability to see and use USB flash drives. Earlier version of Diskpart do not.

More information about Windows Vista Unattended Installs   Top

Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) reference

Windows Vista Unattended Installation Technical Reference

Required Settings for Vista Unattended Installs

Configuration Passes - How they work, what they are.