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Deploying Applications Using Group Policy and SCCM 2007 : Deploying Applications Using Group Policy

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Deploying applications using Group Policy has the advantage of requiring no special infrastructure beyond that of AD DS, which most enterprise networks already have. When compared to a manual installation of an application on a workstation, Group Policy deployment provides users with quick access to the software they need, with a minimum of interaction. Administrators might not trust end users to perform a manual installation of a complex application unaided, but end users can usually complete a Group Policy installation with no special assistance.

Creating Packages

Group Policy application deployment is package-based. To deploy an application in this manner, the application must be in the form of a Windows Installer package file with an .msi extension. Some application developers—and particularly Microsoft—supply their products as package files or provide package files on the application installation disks.

For applications that do not include package files, your only recourse if you want to deploy them using Group Policy is to create the packages yourself. This requires an external utility because Microsoft does not include any package creation tools with Windows or with its applications. A variety of third-party tools are available, with varying capabilities, some of which are free and some commercial. A few of these package creation tools are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Windows Installer Package Creation Utilities

Product

Company

URL

Visual Studio 2010

Microsoft

http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/en-us/

Advanced Installer

Caphyon, Ltd.

http://www.advancedinstaller.com

InstallShield

Flexera Software

http://www.flexerasoftware.com/products/installshield.htm

Wise Package Studio

Altiris/Symantec

http://www.symantec.com/business/package-studio

WIX Toolset

Microsoft

http://wix.codeplex.com/

MSI Package Builder

Emco Software

http://www.emco.is/products/msi-package-builder/features.php

Exam Tip

When preparing for the 70-686 exam, you should be aware that the exam covers the process of deploying packages by using Group Policy, but not the process of creating those packages.

A Windows Installer package file is a relational database that contains one or more products, with each product consisting of a number of features and one or more components. The component is the smallest unit that the Windows Installer engine can install. For example, a single .msi file might contain two products: an application in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Each product might contain several features, which are the different programs that make up the application, with each feature having multiple components. The Windows Installer wizard interface typically displays the various features, as shown in Figure 1, enabling the user to select which ones to install.

The Windows Installer wizard interface

Figure 1. The Windows Installer wizard interface

Windows Installer packages contain instructions that dictate how the installation process proceeds on the target computer. A package can include an interactive preinstallation phase, in which the end user can select a location for the application and the features to be installed, among other options. Packages can also be configured to install the application with no interaction, either because the optional parameters are specified on a command line—a method called quiet mode—or because the default installation parameters are preconfigured in the package itself.

Note

DEPLOYING OTHER FILE TYPES

In addition to MSI packages, there are other file types you can deploy using Group Policy Software Installation, such as patch files (with an MSP extension) that contain updates or service packs and modification files (with an MST extension), which alter the installation process of an existing MSI file. For example, if you have an MSI package supplied by the manufacturer, you can use a third-party tool to create an MST file that changes the installation defaults, rather than modify the MSI file.

Understanding Group Policy Deployment Components

The process of deploying applications to Windows 7 workstations using Group Policy involves the following three main components:

  • Software Installation extension. Software Installation in an extension to the Group Policy Management Editor snap-in, which appears by default whenever you edit a Group Policy object. Administrators use the extension to create Software Installation policies, which specify the packages to be deployed and contain settings that dictate how the workstations install the applications.

  • Windows Installer. The Windows installation engine that reads the contents of Windows Installer MSI files and follows the instructions contained therein to install, maintain, or remove applications. All Windows server and workstation versions since Windows 2000 include Windows Installer, and associate the engine with the .msi file name extension.

  • Get Programs control panel. The Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 component on which applications published using Group Policy appear. Users can install applications deployed to this control panel as needed. In Windows versions prior to Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, this component was called the Add Or Remove Programs control panel.

Understanding Group Policy Deployment Types

The Software Installation extension is a component that uses Group Policy to associate packages with specific AD DS objects. AD DS then functions as a delivery service that deploys advertisements for the packages to specific computers and users on the network. After it’s there, the Windows Installer engine on the receiving computer processes the MSI package, executing the instructions it contains to install the application.

Every Group Policy object has two Software Installation policies, one under Computer Configuration and one under User Configuration, as shown in Figure 2. Computers in the AD DS domain apply Computer Configuration policies when they start up, and User Configuration policies when a user logs on to the domain.

Software Installation policies in a GPO

Figure 2. Software Installation policies in a GPO

The Software Installation extension supports two types of package deployment, as follows:

  • Assign. The Software Installation policy creates an advertisement that, in the case of a user policy, adds the application to the target computer’s start menu, and can also associate specific file name extensions with the application. When the user launches the application for the first time or opens a file associated with it, the system accesses the MSI file from the network and uses Windows Installer to perform the installation. The package advertisement follows the user to whichever computer she uses to log on. You can also assign packages to computers, in which case the installation occurs automatically when the system starts.

  • Publish. The Software Installation policy creates an advertisement, which it stores in AD DS, and which adds the application to the Get Programs control panel in Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 (or the Add Or Remove Programs control panel in earlier versions). This enables the user to select the program for installation or removal at any time. You can publish a package only to users; the Computer Configuration policy does not support the publish option.

Table 2 lists some of the questions you should ask when deciding the type of deployment you should use.

Table 2. Software Installation Deployment Options

 

Publish (User)

Assign (User)

Assign (Computer)

After the deployment, when is the software available for installation?

After the next logon

After the next logon

The next time the computer starts.

How does the user install the software?

By using the Get Programs control panel

By accessing the application from the Start menu or a shortcut

The software is installed automatically when the computer reboots.

If the software is not installed and the user opens a file associated with the software, does the software install?

Yes (if auto-install is turned on)

Yes

Not applicable; the software is already installed.

Can the user remove the software by using the Get Programs control panel?

Yes, and the user can choose to install it again

Yes, and the software is available for reinstallation

No. Only an administrator can remove the software.

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