5 EASY STEPS TO A CUSTOMIZED BROWSER DEPLOYMENT

IN THE RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD of Web browsers, the number of available patches, add-ons, and upgrades is mind-boggling. As a systems administrator, your arduous task is to try to keep all your clients' browsers consistently working. As users customize their browsers, managing installations across an enterprise becomes increasingly challenging. Fortunately, Microsoft developed the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK) to simplify the task of deploying a uniform customized Internet Explorer (IE) throughout your enterprise.

Not Just for ISPs
Administrators often overlook IEAK because they see the kit as a tool for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), software developers, or OEMs who bundle IE with their products. However, IEAK offers more than the capability to customize fancy options such as a company logo or default home page; the functionality and control that IEAK provides makes it a perfect tool for deploying a uniform browser configuration across an enterprise network.

IEAK lets you customize any options and plug-ins within IE for all languages and platforms that you need to support, and lets you create a deployment that is uniform across all your clients' desktops. I was skeptical because IEAK sounded too good to be true. But I found that this product lives up to its promise.

Jumping Through Hoops
To get started with IEAK, download the utility from Microsoft's IEAK Web site (http://ieak.microsoft.com). Because you'll be building a customized version of a Microsoft product (i.e., IE) with IEAK, Microsoft requires you to register your organization before you can download this tool. Registration is free; however, Microsoft requires you to submit quarterly updates that detail how many customized copies of IE you have deployed. This request is reasonable when you consider that you're modifying Microsoft's code for your purposes and repackaging it.

After you get your customization code, you're ready to download IEAK.

If you're downloading IEAK for the first time, make sure that you have an up-to-date copy of IE. The browser installed on the system that you're downloading IEAK to needs to be running the latest version of IE.

After you download the kit, launch the IEAKWIZ application from the default installation directory \ProgramFiles\IEAK. The first IEAK wizard screen will appear and begin walking you through the steps to create your customized IE deployment. Be sure your Internet connection is online, so that IEAK can check Microsoft's download sites and ensure that the latest versions of IE and its related components are available.

Sample Configuration
The IEAK wizard offers options to configure almost every aspect of IE, including a few components you might never have considered customizing. Because I can't detail every possible option, I'll walk you through a basic IE configuration that is suitable for most administrators and discuss the steps necessary to create a download site on an intranet server for IE 4.01.

For my example configuration, I'll deploy a customized version of IE 4.01 that includes preconfigured proxy settings and a default corporate home page. To ensure that nobody gets around the proxy server and accesses the Internet directly, I'll restrict the browser so users can't change the proxy option.

IEAK lets you build a download site similar to Microsoft's IE download sites, but on your servers. I'll set up the example installation site on an Internet Information Server (IIS) system named ARCHITECT4, and clients can start IE Active Setup from that server. I'll configure the Active Setup program to run as a silent installation, which means end users don't interact with the installation after they've launched it.

STEP 1: Initial Setup
First, IEAKWIZ will collect information about your organization, such as company name and your role. You'll need to have your customization code from Microsoft to continue setup. In fact, every time you run IEAKWIZ, you reenter this customization code, so write it down and keep it handy.

After you enter your customization code, the wizard walks you through questions about the platform for which you're building IE, target language, and deployment options (i.e., intranet server directory, CD-ROM, or floppy disks). As Screen 1 shows, I told IEAK to put the deployment files in the C:\InetPub\wwwroot\Cie\Dist directory. You don't have to use the \Cie\Dist directory, but remember which IIS directory you choose, because you will reference that directory later in the setup process.

Next, the wizard asks where to look for IE's most recent .cab files. If you live in the United States, you will probably select one of the ConXion network sites, because the ConXion network handles most of Microsoft's US high-speed download needs. IEAK compares the latest IE code and plug-in options on the site you chose with IE .cab files available on your machine. If any components are missing or outdated on your machine, IEAK offers to download the updates before proceeding. As Screen 2 shows, IEAK determined that my server had the current source code for only the IE 4.01 components, fonts, VDOLive video player, and sound files. To simultaneously deploy NetMeeting, Outlook Express, Macromedia Shockwave, or other components and IE, highlight the options you want to add in IEAK's Automatic Version Synchronization (AVS) window and click Synchronize.

STEP 2: Active Setup
When you perform an individual IE installation, you use Active Setup to configure your IE options. When you use IEAK, you customize a version of Active Setup that points to your download server and chooses the installation options you want for your clients' desktops. In this step, you must use the same directory name structure on your Web server that you defined in step 1, or the setup process will fail. As Screen 3 shows, I entered only one download site because I was deploying a silent install.

Although I chose a silent setup, for testing purposes, you might not use this option. If you deploy a silent install, the Active Setup program won't present configuration options to end users after they launch the program, and the end users' workstations will automatically reboot at the end of the IE installation.

If you choose to not deploy a silent installation, your users will need to complete dialog boxes about what type of installation they want Active Setup to perform (i.e., browser only, standard, or full) and which Web server to download IE from. These dialog boxes present users with the same questions Active Setup confronts them with when they perform a regular IE installation from Microsoft's Web site.

STEP 3: Browser Configurations
In this step, the fun starts—you set the customization settings for the browser. Follow the wizard's prompts, and you can easily customize options in IE, such as the title bar, default startup URL, default search engine, Favorites menu, Channels list, proxy settings, and content ratings. For example, I like to disable the Welcome to Internet Explorer 4.0 guided tour prompts that appear when you install IE.

If users in your organization frequently access several Web sites in the course of their jobs, predefining these sites in a list of favorites is a great way to ensure that all users can access the links they need. And configuring your company's home page or intranet Web site as your users' default startup page is an easy way to update users about corporate news. I preloaded my company's home page as the default start page for my example configuration.

STEP 4: Components and Lockdowns
After configuring your environment's basic IE settings, IEAK provides the option to define additional settings for add-on programs such as NetMeeting and Outlook. You can restrict users' ability to videoconference with NetMeeting or to send and receive files in Outlook.

In addition to configuring add-on components, IEAK lets you lock all your configuration options. For example, earlier I mentioned locking proxy settings so users can't change them. Screen 4, page 76, shows the System Policies and Restrictions window, in which I selected the Disable changing proxy settings option. After users install IE with this option enabled, their proxy settings are unavailable.

You can also set your clients' security settings and content restrictions, and let users have as little or as much end-user browser customization as you want. By controlling users' ability to customize and ensuring that users have the same initial settings, IEAK can help you reduce support costs for browser-related problems.

STEP 5: Installation
After you complete the first four steps, IEAKWIZ builds the necessary .cab files for your customized version of IE. The wizard will place the files and supporting directory structures in the directory you specified in step 1. To test your new IE download Web server, point one of your client browsers to http://server_name/Cie/Dist/win95_nt/ download/win95_ntT/ie4setup.exe, assuming you specified the default directory in step 1. Run the executable program, and the workstation will begin the Active Setup process and install IE with the options you've chosen.

If you run into a problem, make sure the directory name you specified in step 1 represents the same structure you defined in step 2 (e.g., C:\InetPub\wwwroot\Cie\Dist). As long as these paths are the same, IE setup will proceed on its own or with user interaction, depending on whether you selected the silent install option. After the workstation reboots, your customized version of IE is installed.

Give IEAK a Try
I've explored a few of IEAK's basic capabilities to give you an idea of how powerful and easy to use this tool can be. IEAK offers several other detailed customization options, such as autoconfiguration files, software distribution mechanisms, and channel definitions. IEAK is a great tool to help administrators deploy a customized browser rapidly and uniformly. In addition to simplifying IE deployments, IEAK saves Internet bandwidth because end users won't flock to Microsoft's sites for the latest version of IE. If you're the systems administrator of a large environment and browser maintenance takes up a lot your time, IEAK can simplify your life.