Discover the many ways you can roll out the new OS

In the past couple of years, deployment has become a catchphrase, referring to the process of rolling out a new OS or application throughout an organization. In the early days of Windows NT, NT Setup required an operator to be present to provide input during the setup process. By NT 4.0, the OS provided options that simplified the setup process. Continuing the trend, Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) offers many ways to roll out Win2K Pro systems on your desktop or throughout an organization. (When I wrote this column, Microsoft had just made Win2K Pro Release Candidate 3—RC3—available. However, by the time this article appears in print, Microsoft should be shipping Win2K Pro. Thus, some of the content in this column might not hold true for the final release of Win2K Pro.)

Predeployment Considerations
Before you attempt to roll out Win2K Pro, you need to bear in mind some considerations. If you're going to roll out Win2K Pro on brand-new, ready-for-Win2K Pro hardware, you probably won't encounter the following problems. However, if you have to upgrade existing systems, you need to be aware of compatibility gotchas.

One of the possible hot spots includes drivers: Win2K Pro uses a different driver architecture than Windows 9x uses. Although Win2K Pro is basically an NT upgrade, Microsoft has changed the OS enough that you can't assume that all NT 4.0 drivers will work for Win2K Pro. Don't fall for the propaganda that claims Microsoft's Windows Driver Model (WDM) will fix these driver-compatibility problems. In a recent conversation with one of the developers of WDM, the developer told me that WDM doesn't apply to any form of display driver (i.e., screens, printers, or any driver that interacts directly with the Windows graphics device interface—GDI). The developer also informed me that Microsoft designed WDM for programmers rather than end users, and even where WDM works, the developer didn't guarantee binary compatibility between Win2K Pro and Win9x.

Application compatibility is also a problem. As of RC3, the following applications have Win2K Pro compatibility problems: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Adobe Type Manager (ATM); Aldus Freehand, CompuServe, and America Online (AOL) software; Computer Associates Inoculan and InoculateIT; Hummingbird Exceed; Intergraph DiskShare and GeoMedia; Lotus cc:Mail, Notes, Organizer, and SmartSuite; Macromedia Director; Micrografx iGraphx Designer; Microsoft Encarta, Office, PhotoDraw, NT 4.0 Services for UNIX (SFU), Visual Basic (VB), Visual C++ (VC++), FoxPro, Visual InterDev, and Visual Studio (VS); Novell GroupWise; Panda Antivirus; PowerQuest Drive Image; Seagate Crystal Reports; and Symantec applications including pcANYWHERE. To be fair, compatibility problems don't affect all versions of all applications, and most have workarounds.

I've listed only two of the many compatibility gotchas. What can you do about these problems? The old rules from the NT-upgrade days still hold true—check the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) to make sure Win2K Pro supports your hardware, check any third-party drivers, and read Win2K Pro's release notes to see whether any of your software presents a problem. To help discover incompatibility problems, you can use the /checkupgradeonly switch on winnt32.exe. (Winnt32.exe is the name of Win2K Pro's setup program, and you can find it in the \i386 directory of the distribution CD-ROM.) Alternatively, you can use Microsoft's standalone compatibility checker, checkupgrade_1.exe, which you can download from Microsoft's Web site.

Traditional Setup
Let's begin with the setup process for standalone end users. You run the basic setup program from the Win2K Pro distribution CD-ROM or from a shared directory on the network to which you've copied the contents of the distribution CD-ROM. If you want to access all the setup options, start a command prompt, switch to the \i386 directory, and type

winnt32 /?

Most of the resulting list of options are relevant only for an unattended setup. However, the list includes two new setup options for standalone end-user systems: /checkupgradeonly and /cmdcons.

The /checkupgradeonly switch causes Win2K Pro setup to run only to the point of checking for compatibility problems with installed hardware and software; then, it generates a text report that identifies any problems it finds. Running this option before you attempt a complete installation is worthwhile because it gives you a chance to fix any problems without disturbing the system's current OS installation.

You use the /cmdcons switch after you install Win2K Pro. This switch adds a Recovery Console (RC) option to the boot screen. The RC is basically a standalone command prompt that you can use to fix problems if Win2K Pro refuses to start (a situation that caused many users to maintain a dual-boot setup with NT 4.0). This option lets you replace damaged files and take whatever steps are necessary to repair a damaged Win2K Pro installation without resorting to using another OS.

Unattended Setup
If you're going to perform an unattended setup, I highly recommend that you use Setup Manager, which automatically creates the necessary command scripts (i.e., answer files) for an unattended setup. The Setup Manager is one of the support tools that Microsoft includes in the \support\tools directory on the distribution CD-ROM.

To run Setup Manager, double-click the tool's icon from Windows Explorer, or type

setupmgr.exe

from the command prompt. The system will present you with a Welcome to the Windows 2000 Setup Manager Wizard message and a series of screens that let you designate how you want to set up Win2K Pro on the target system.

Most of the configuration options are self-explanatory, but I want to draw your attention to the User Interaction Level window. As Screen 1 shows, this window offers you installation alternatives that range from providing default settings, which the operator performing the administration can change, to a completely automatic setup in which user interaction is neither permitted nor required. I prefer the Hide pages option, in which setup screens appear on the unattended system only if the setup program needs the desktop user to supply input. This option lets you selectively configure the installation settings that you don't want users to see (e.g., network and security settings) and permits users to select noncrucial settings (e.g., the desktop color scheme).

After you complete all the wizard's steps, Setup Manager will create the necessary answer file and a network share point (if necessary). You only have to run winnt32.exe with the necessary command-line switches on the machine that you want to install Win2K Pro on. The main catch of this approach is that you have to run winnt32.exe, and you must do so from an existing system that has access to the setup files. Thus, the system must have either a local CD-ROM drive or a network connection.

System Preparation Tool
Cloning is another approach to Win2K Pro deployment. To accomplish this task, you use the Win2K Pro System Preparation Tool (sysprep.exe), which is also one of the tools in the \system\tools directory on the distribution CD-ROM. Microsoft will probably include Sysprep in the Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional Resource Kit. Sysprep makes a complete copy of the system files on a source system, then modifies the copy for you to use to clone the source system. The modifications include adding a system service that creates a unique local SID on first startup, adding a mini-setup wizard (which you can use an answer file to automate) that provides a welcome screen, and adding configuration setup options that permit users to input information similar to the user input necessary for the final stages of a conventional desktop setup (e.g., username and password). In addition, Sysprep forces a complete Plug and Play (PnP) device detection on the target system. This functionality means that you can create one system image and use it to set up a variety of target systems, provided the target systems support PnP.

Remote Installation Service
So far, we've explored cloning and conventional setup options. Both of those methods require an existing OS from which you can run winnt32.exe and access the Win2K Pro distribution files. What about setting up a system that has a blank hard disk? That job is for Remote Installation Service (RIS), which is a new feature of Windows 2000 Server (Win2K Server). You use RIS to set up one or more servers that contain either the Win2K Pro distribution files or images of a cloned system. The target systems need to support remote boot. Or, you can run a 3.5" disk that provides equivalent capability. However, using RIS has two significant catches: The boot ROM in question must support the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE). In addition, to keep the size of the boot disk manageable, RIS supports only PCI-based NICs. Thus, RIS works only on desktop systems because no PC Card NIC currently supports PXE; however, this lack of support is likely to change in the future.

RIS is a complicated topic that will be of interest to administrators on large networks that support many users. For more information about RIS, see Mark Minasi, "Using Win2K's Remote Installation Service," September 1999, or Microsoft's white paper "Automated Deployment Options" (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/professional/deploy/default.asp).

Win2K Server Terminal Services
Suppose I offered you a way to attain all the benefits of Win2K Pro without the pain of an upgrade. All you have to do is install a simple application that runs on NT 4.0, Win9x, and even Windows 3.x systems. The only catch is that you must have a Win2K Server system on your network.

This scenario is possible—believe it or not—using Win2K Server Terminal Services. Microsoft integrated Terminal Services directly into Win2K Server as a network service, and you can easily start Terminal Services by bringing up the Configure Server Wizard and selecting Terminal Services from the Application Server menu.

To create client disks, you use Terminal Services Client Creator, which Terminal Services Setup installs in the Programs, Administrative Tools menu. The result is one 3.5" disk that contains a client that you install on an NT Workstation, Win9x, or Windows 3.x system. (Microsoft also offers a version for Windows CE 2.11 devices, although this version requires a more complicated installation.) After you install the client software, running the software provides you with a remote control session that runs on the Win2K Server system. This remote control session offers a full-blown Win2K Pro desktop with all Win2K's features (including Active Directory—AD), regardless of whether the client PC is running NT Workstation, Win9x, or Windows 3.x.

This setup is advantageous to everyone involved: Users get all the benefits of Win2K Pro's new features, and administrators don't have to deal with any of the configuration and compatibility challenges. I'm not sure how well Terminal Services scales in an enterprise LAN environment, so this solution might not be right for every organization. But for those organizations that can use Terminal Services, it's a dream come true.