A common pain among IT pros is central installation of commonly used Internet Explorer (IE) plug-ins. After some research I found out that Sun Microsystems' Java Runtime Environment (JRE), Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe Shockwave Player can be deployed with Group Policy.

If you're looking to use Group Policy to deploy JRE, Windows IT Pro has already published an excellent guide in "Use Group Policy to Distribute JRE With Its Automatic Update Feature Disabled". I mention it here only because it's a web-exclusive article, so busy IT pros who mainly read the print edition might have missed it.

Flash Player and Shockwave Player can be easily deployed with Group Policy. It's not widely known that Adobe makes them available as Windows Installer (.msi) packages. All you have to do is register on Adobe's website (www.adobe.com/products/players/fpsh_distribution1.html) and apply for a player license. (It's free.) You can then download the .msi files for Flash Player and Shockwave Player. Save these files in a shared folder on a server.

Next, you need to create a new Group Policy Object (GPO) or edit an existing one. Be sure the GPO is linked to the correct level (domain, site, or organizational unit—OU). To edit the GPO, go to Computer Configuration\Policies\Software Settings\Software installation if you're using Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008. In earlier Windows OSs, the equivalent path is Computer Configuration\Software Settings\Software installation. Right-click the Software installation node and select New, then Package. Type the Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path to the .msi file. Type an explanatory name to distinguish the application and version (e.g., Flash Player v11.0) and click OK. On the next reboot, the computers that this GPO applies to will install the player automatically.

I recommend that you first deploy the package to a few computers for testing purposes before deploying it to all of them. Afterward, you can visit the "Test Adobe Shockwave & Flash Players" web page or the "Version test for Adobe Flash Player" web page to verify the installation.

If you need to later upgrade Flash Player or Shockwave Player, the procedure is the same. However, I recommend that you first remove the older version by deleting the package from the GPO and selecting the option to remove all installed instances rather than making the newest package a required upgrade for older versions. This will make your GPO a bit lighter and reduce the possibility of having leftovers from the earlier version on the computers.