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Automating Windows 7 Installation : Using Windows System Image Manager (part 2) - Exploring the Components of an Answer File

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3. Exploring the Components of an Answer File

The answer file has several components based on seven configurable passes of an installation. The seven passes and they directly relate to these different components of an answer file:

  • windowsPE

  • offlineServicing

  • generalize

  • specialize

  • auditSystem

  • auditUser

  • oobeSystem

You can look at sample unattended XML files if you've installed the WAIK. Several sample files are stored in the C:\Program Fi1es\Windows AIK\Samp1es folder. You will need to add the UserData/ProductKey/Key information into the answer file or enter it manually during the installation. These files are architecture specific; in other words, some answer files are for x86-based systems and others for 64-bit systems.

3.1. Pass 1: windowsPE

Pass 1 includes many of the basic Windows preinstallation options as well as some basic setup options. Figure 3 shows the Setup section expanded to show many of the available options that can be added to the answer file. If you right-click over any of the items, the context menu appears.

Figure 3. Adding components to Pass 1

In the figure, the ModifyPartition component is selected, and it shows that the setting can be added to Pass 1. Most items can be added to only a single pass, but some items can be added to different passes. For example, the ExtendOSPartition item available in the Windows Deployment section (not shown in the figure) can be added to Pass 3, 4, 5, or 7. The good news is that you don't have to remember which passes are available for each item. WSIM only allows you to choose valid selections; invalid selections are dimmed.

3.2. Pass 2: offlineServicing

You can use the offlineServicing service to apply updates, drivers, or language packs to a Windows image. Any settings in the offlineServicing section of the answer file are applied after the Windows image is applied to the hard disk and before the computer reboots. This allows you to install and process any third-party device drivers you may need for special devices. There aren't many components and settings available for this section of the answer file. For example, if you have drivers that need to be available before the image is applied, you can add the Microsoft-Windows-PnpCustomizationNonWinPE component. You can then add the path to device drivers to this component.

3.3. Pass 3: generalize

You run the generalize pass only if you prepared your image with Sysprep. During this pass, the system-specific information (such as the SID and other hardware-specific settings) on the computer is removed. Even when the generalize pass is run, there aren't many additional settings that are commonly added to this pass. The most common setting is shown in Figure 4.

However, if you have any third-party drivers that are included in the image and you want them to be included in the final image, there is an important setting you must add. Figure 4 shows the PnpSysprep component being added. It is added to the Pass 3 generalize answer file section.

Figure 4. Adding components to Pass 3

The PersistAllDeviceInstalls value can be changed from false to true to keep these third-party drivers. When you change the value to true, all the unique device drivers for a system are not removed from the installation image.

3.4. Pass 4: specialize

This pass creates and applies computer-specific information. It runs after the first boot and creates the SID for the computer. You can configure a wide variety of settings during this pass, such as network settings, additional Windows features, and domain information.

Figure 5 shows a couple of the settings added to this pass. In the figure, the Internet Explorer settings are shown being added in the Windows Image components. The figure also shows some the settings available for Internet Explorer in the Answer File and Properties sections. The UnattendedJoin component, which allows you to specify details for joining a domain, has been added, along with the Windows-Defender component.

You can also configure network settings and international settings during this pass.

3.5. Pass 5: auditSystem

Pass 5 is used only when a system is configured to boot to Audit mode from Sysprep. The auditSystem pass can be modified to add additional configurations to an image, such as adding third-party drivers by an OEM, but you may not use it in an organization.

3.6. Pass 6: auditUser

Similar to Pass 5, the auditUser pass is used only if you boot into Audit mode after running Sysprep on a system. You can use this pass to run custom commands or configure Windows Shell options, but you may not use it for typical unattended installations.

3.7. Pass 7: oobeSystemi

The last pass applies settings to Windows before the Windows Welcome phase begins. You can use this pass to modify Registry settings, create user accounts, and specify language and locale settings. It also includes many settings used by OEMs. Figure 6 shows some of the settings added to this pass.

Figure 5. Adding components to Pass 4

Figure 6. Adding components to Pass 7

The Windows-Shell-Setup component includes several settings that you can add to modify the initial setup of Windows for your end users. Notice that the Windows-Shell-Setup section includes settings that can be added to all the passes except for Pass 1. You can also see that you have many different settings you can add in this section.
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