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Automating Windows 7 Installation : Using Windows System Image Manager (part 1) - An Overview of WSIM, Understanding Catalog Files

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The Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) is installed when you install the WAIK. You can access it by clicking Start => All Programs => Microsoft Windows AIK => Windows System Image Manager. You can use WSIM to create unattended Windows Setup answer files to automate the installation of Windows 7. Instead of a user answering the questions for an installation, the answer file can provide all the information. Additionally, you can modify the default behavior of the installation with an answer file.

WSIM comes in both x86 and x64 (32-bit and 64-bit) versions. It's important to use the version that matches the image of your reference computer. For example, if you try to use the x64 version to create a catalog for an x86-based image, it will fail. However, you can use the x86 version to create catalogs for both x86- and x64-based images.

1. Exploring the Panes: An Overview of WSIM

When you first open WSIM, it has almost nothing in it. However, once you start creating an answer file, the different panes of WSIM start displaying some important information. Figure 1 shows WSIM with an image opened and an answer file started. In the figure, you can see the various panes of WSIM:

Figure 1. The WSIM panes


Distribution Share

A distribution share is a set of folders that contain files you can use to customize the Windows installation. This can be a local folder that includes items that will be installed after the installation, or a network share available to the system after the installation. Windows Setup will use the path defined here to install additional applications and drivers. When you create the distribution share, it creates the three folders shown in the Distribution Share pane.


Windows Image

The Windows Image pane shows the selected image and available components and packages that can be defined for the image. The figure shows an image named Windows 7 ULTIMATE added with the available components. As you can see, many components can be added. You can add components to the answer file by right-clicking them and selecting Add Setting. Different settings are added to different passes of the installation. You can add packages by right-clicking them and selecting Add To Answer File. Instead of selecting an image here, you can select a catalog file for the image if one exists.


Answer File

This pane shows the answer file as you're building it. This pane starts empty, but as you add components and packages from the Windows Image section, it becomes populated. In the figure, only one component has been added: x86_Microsoft-Windows-Setup_ neutral. This has two sections: UserData (selected) and ProductKey.


Selected Components' Properties and Settings

When you select a component in the Answer File pane, the available properties and settings for the component appear. You can then configure the settings as desired. For example, the AcceptEula setting has been configured with a value of True and an organization name has been added. Some properties have specific data types you can select (such as true or false) whereas other properties allow you to enter the data as free text.


Messages

The Messages pane includes different messages for you while working with an answer file. For example, if you select Tools => Validate Answer File, it will check for any issues. In the figure, the validation has identified that the ProductKey setting doesn't have a value and the message indicates this will be not be added to the answer file.

4.9.2. Understanding Catalog Files

A catalog file (.clg) is a binary file that contains the state of all the components and packages within a Windows image. If you look back at Figure 1, you'll see that the Windows Image pane has been expanded to show the available components for the image, and one of the components has been added to the answer file. This list is derived from the catalog file.

Figure 2 shows an answer file with the available packages expanded. You can right-click any of the packages and select Add To Answer File. After adding the package, you can select package components, and configure their properties. and settings sections of the answer file.

Figure 2. Viewing packages in an image file

The installation DVD includes separate catalog files for each image within the install.wim file in the sources folder. If you're using a default image, you can simply copy one of these catalog files to your technician's computer when you copy the install.wim file. Alternately, you can use WSIM to create a catalog file. WSIM queries the image and creates a list of the settings in the image to create the catalog. If you update the image, you need to re-create the catalog file. For example, if you use DISM to add or remove packages, the catalog file needs to be updated to reflect these changes.

When you open an image in WSIM, it looks for the catalog file for the image. If it can't locate the catalog file, it will prompt to you create one. If you launched WSIM with administrative permissions, you can simply click Yes and it will create the catalog file.

Be careful, though. There are several known reasons why the catalog file creation will fail, including the following:


When the WIM File Is Read-Only or in a Read-Only Location

The location includes the installation DVD. You need to copy the image file to your hard drive.


When You're Trying to Create an x86 Catalog from an x86 Image on an x64 Technician's Computer

If the WAIK is installed on an x86 technician's computer, the x86 version of WSIM will run and you can use it to create both x86- and x64-based catalogs. The help file indicates that you can use the x86 WSIM to get around this problem, but it isn't available if you installed the WAIK on an x64 computer.


When You're Using It for a Nonsupported Version

For example, you cannot create a catalog file for Windows Vista RTM version.

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