More than 2 years after first publicly discussing its next-generation Windows Vista (formerly code-named Longhorn) deployment tools, Microsoft last week finally shipped the first working beta version of these tools to testers. Dubbed the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) Beta 1, this set of tools is designed for IT professionals, system builders, and others who will be deploying Vista to multiple desktops. Because these tools are in some ways significantly different from the deployment tools you likely use today, now is a good time to examine this code and see what's changed. At a basic level, Microsoft is building Vista as a far more componentized (modularized) product than earlier Windows versions. This componentization will have far-reaching ramifications for PC makers, especially, because it will make it easier for them to ship customized Windows versions to customers more quickly. But IT pros will benefit from the componentization of Windows as well. At the heart of Vista is a component called MinWin--the base OS component. This language-independent portion of Vista will include about 95 percent of the product's code base and will form the basis for all the product editions that Microsoft later creates. On top of MinWin, Microsoft will add functionality supersets, such as the Home Edition component and the Professional Edition component (these names could change). To create a Vista Professional Edition product for the US market, for example, Microsoft will simply combine MinWin with the Home component, the Pro component, and the US English language component. By separating out the language support from the core OS, Microsoft is making it much easier to service Windows. So when later service packs and hot fixes appear, IT pros can more easily add these updates to a wider range of Windows editions. Thanks to this new componentized architecture, Microsoft can finally implement image-based deployment tools. These file-based images are called Windows Imaging (WIM) files and use the .wim file extension. Because .wim files are highly compressed, you can transfer them across networks with a minimal bandwidth hit. And because they are file-based, you can hot-edit them. That is, you can take an existing .wim file and add or remove functionality (such as a hotfix or service pack) without needing to create a new image from scratch. This, too, will make it easier to roll out identical images that service multiple languages. You could have one language-independent image that you use for all your desktops, then hot-apply languages independently as the images are rolled out. Microsoft's WIM management tool is called XImage, but you'll still be able to use familiar tools such as Sysprep and Group Policy to deploy .wim files. XImage is a command-line tool in WAIK Beta 1, but I'm trying to determine whether a GUI version is forthcoming. XImage works with other related tools, such as Windows Deployment Services (WDS), which is an update or replacement for the Microsoft Remote Installation Services (RIS) toolkit that debuted with Windows 2000. In earlier Windows versions, administrators often used an unattended installation file (or answer file, typically unattend.txt), created via Setup Manager, to perform custom and automated Windows installations. The WAIK Setup Manager still performs these duties, but it now creates an XML-based unattended installation file, called unattend.xml by default. Here's what a simple version of unattend.xml looks like:
The Setup Manager UI is simple and wizard-like. It contains three sections: User Settings, Disk Configuration, and "Run Once" Commands. In User Settings, you enter information such as full name, organization, computer name, and the product key. Disk Configuration helps you determine which partition the installation will be added to. And under "Run Once" Commands, you can define which applications run after the Welcome Screen appears for the first time. Here, you can trigger application installations and other scriptable events. I'll continue this examination of Windows Vista image deployment next week.
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