I really like Windows NT 4.0. I love the interface, the speed, the flexibility, the new features, and the list goes on and on. But my favorite part of NT is an undocumented feature, a simple Registry change, that lets me use my server to install software across the network painlessly.

The biggest challenge in using a Registry change for software installation is in getting the Registry change to each system. Two methods can help you get the Registry change to each system: manually (as outlined in this article) or with System Policy Editor, which lets you push Registry changes from a server to all systems on the network. (For information about how System Policy Editor works in NT, see Robert Slifka, "How to Edit NT 4.0 System Policies," February 1996, and Sean K. Daily, "Further Explorations of the NT System Policy Editor," page 139.)

Considering Network Management Software?
Several software packages let you powerfully manage and control systems on the network, even in a multiplatform environment. Intel's LANDesk, Attachmates' NetWizard, IBM's NetView, and Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) are just a few in the ever-growing niche of server-control software applications.

SMS can control DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, NT (all versions), NetWare Servers (Bindery mode only), Macintosh, IBM LANManager, and Microsoft LANManager clients. SMS lets you install software and operating systems, remotely administer and troubleshoot systems across the network, monitor activity, set up failsafe application serving, and perform other complex but powerful functions.

NT makes it easy with a simple Registry change

I used to use SMS to install software, which is the most powerful part of the program. I loved the ability to push software to users' systems and force them to accept it.

The reality, though, was that I seldom did that. Mostly, I set up SMS for users to easily install the software at their convenience across the network, without a CD-ROM. (For more on SMS, see Brady Richardson, "SMS Tuning Tips," page 95 and the list of related Windows NT Magazine articles.)

SMS requires SQL Server with licenses, plus SMS client licenses. For a 100-user network, SQL Server costs $1795, including five client licenses. SQL Server client licenses are $40 each. SMS Server software costs $1495, which includes five client licenses, and each additional client costs $24. A reduction in initial cost is available if you purchase the entire BackOffice suite, but no reduction in cost of the client licenses is available, except for volume purchases.

SMS is a nice but expensive package, as are its competitors. If you use all SMS's features, the time savings can justify the cost. But, if you only need SMS for software installation, a simple Registry change is a better choice.

Using the Registry
Unlike SMS or a similar software package, the Registry change that lets you install software across the network is free (except for your software licenses). Rather than spend the money on a sophisticated software package, make a change to the Registry, and every user will have access to pull the application installation across the network.

To make the Registry change, create a share, and copy the installation files to it. For example, create a share named Install and create subdirectories for Excel, Collage for Windows, and PageMaker, as you see in Figure 1.

At the server, edit \winnt\inf\apps.inf, and add the \[AppInstallList\] section, followed by a line for each application, in the format Label=\{path to setup.exe\}. Screen 1 shows the entry in the app.inf file.

At each workstation (NT 4.0 or Win95) that will participate in this process, add the Registry entry that follows. (Remember, editing the Registry can be dangerous. Mistakes in editing the Registry can make the system unstable, or even unusable. Back up your Registry before continuing, and then proceed with caution.)

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWARE\MicrosoftWindows\CurrentVersion

Add a new value, AppInstallPath, as a REG_SZ entry. (This tip uses the Windows key, not the NT key.) Type the name of the path to the apps.inf file on the server, as you see in Screen 2. Use a universal naming convention (UNC) name (\\servername\share\path\apps.inf) including the full path and the file name.

Once the data is at the server and you've made the Registry changes, activate the installation at the workstation with Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, Install, as Screen 3 shows. Notice the new Network Install tab shown in Screen 4. Click this tab, select the program you want from the list, and choose Install to install the software across the network to your local system.

Of course, you must inform each user that software is available for installation. I usually do this part with email and let users install the software at their convenience.

Installing Internet Explorer 4.0
When Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 4.0 (IE4), everyone on the network will want to install it. Rather than download it to each system, you can use this Registry technique to download it once to the server, extract the files, and use one instance of the files to install the program to every system on the network.

Although the application will be the same for NT Workstation and Win95, the setup program is different (because of differences in the operating systems). I'll give you the steps for installing IE4 in NT (for Win95 systems, change the filenames and descriptions accordingly).

At the server, download the compressed installation file from Microsoft (ntie40.exe). Create a new folder (NTIE4) under the Install share you created previously. Execute the downloaded file, and extract the files to the new NTIE4 folder. Edit the apps.inf file, and add the following line under the \[appinstalllist\] section (replacing \\server1 with the name of your server), as shown in Screen 5:

Internet Explorer 4.0 for NT=\\server1\install\NTIE4\setup.exe

Go to the Add/Remove Programs

applet in the Control Panel of one of your workstations and select the Network Install tab, as shown in Screen 6. Highlight Internet Explorer 4.0 for NT, and click Install.

Unlock the Potential
Using a simple Registry change can unlock an undocumented feature of NT 4.0 and Win95. Installing software with this tip is very fast, and very easy. It certainly doesn't do everything SMS and other software-management packages can do, but the cost is right.

RELATED ARTICLES IN WINDOWS NT MAGAZINE
Christa Anderson,
- "Designing Unattended NT Installations," March 1997
Nathaniel Bowman,
- "SMS Server and Client Setup," June 1996
- "SMS Server and Client Setup, Part 2," July 1996
Mark Eddins,
- Customizing Systems Management Server," January 1997
" - Custom Graphics for SMS Custom Inventory Objects," March 1997
Spyros Sakellariadis,
- "SMS: Inventory Your Desktop Systems, Part 1," May 1996
- "SMS: Inventory Your Desktop Systems, Part 2," June 1996
- "SMS: Inventory Your Desktop Systems, Part 3," July 1996

Contact Info
NetWizard
Attachmate * 800-426-6283
Web: http://www.attachmate.com NetView
IBM * 800-435-4199 Web: http://www.networking.ibm.com

LANDesk
Intel * 800-628-8686 Web: http://www.intel.com

SMS and SQL Server
Microsoft * 206-882-8080
Web: http://www.microsoft.com