ONE FRUSTRATION I HAVE with Windows applications today is that a majority of these applications still require that network administrators visit individual desktops for user configuration. In this age of sophisticated OSs and software, not to mention the enormous global demand for lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for PCs, configuration at individual desktops is a less-than-thrilling proposition. For an administrator of 1000 or 10,000 PCs to physically visit individual workstations to install or configure an application is not practical or cost-effective. Although some applications include customization options (e.g., .inf and .sif application setup file options), such support is inconsistent between applications, and often requires advance study time and effort for the administrator who wants to employ the options. System policy files can sometimes help automate software configuration. However, system policy files' limitations include OS dependency (e.g., Windows NT and Windows 9x systems need different policy files) and a steep learning curve requirement, and system policy files can address only the Registry-configuration portion of application setup. (For more information about the System Policy Editor—SPE—and system policy files, see Clayton Johnson, "Expanding Your System Policy Capabilities," December 1998, and Darren Mar-Elia, "Windows NT System Policies," July 1998.)

Windows 2000 (Win2K) promises to ease the problems related to application deployment with built-in Group Policy Objects (GPOs) and the GPOs' inherent ability to automatically assign user applications to groups of users. But Win2K can't help with the current reality of NT 4.0 and Win9x. Heeding the cries of administrators, Microsoft has come to the rescue with several new deployment tools for the company's major applications. One of these tools is the Zero Administration Kit (ZAK), with individual versions for the NT and Win9x OSs. ZAK is a bundle of files that includes both application-deployment documentation and a set of customized system policy template files (i.e., .adm files) that contain Registry configuration settings for various Microsoft applications. Another tool is the Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK), which assists both network administrators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in automatically deploying and configuring customized versions of the Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser to their users. (For more information about the IEAK, see Doug Toombs, "Deploying IE with IEAK," page 75.)

Enter the ODK
Recently, Microsoft released the Outlook 98 Deployment Kit (ODK), a tool that lets you create customized Outlook 98 and IE 4.01 installations (i.e., CD-ROM or server-based installations) with a preconfigured set of program subcomponents and user options. The ODK combines the best of the IEAK with the ODK's predecessor, the Outlook 97 Network Installation Wizard utility. IEAK veterans will be glad to know that the ODK is a superset of the IEAK utility that includes Outlook 98 deployment capabilities in addition to the IE 4.01 deployment features. Outlook 97 Network Installation Wizard users will be glad to know that they no longer need to make tedious edits to profile files (i.e., .prf files) and setup information files (i.e., .sif files) to automate the selection of various configuration options during application setup. In effect, the ODK creates the equivalents of .prf and .sif files for you. Using a GUI-based wizard, the ODK lets you perform a five-stage configuration process to create a customized installation of Outlook 98 into your chosen directory. After you create this customized distribution point, you need to launch the customized setup version that the ODK creates for you from each workstation to complete the installation process, or you need to distribute the installation via CD-ROM to your users.

The ODK is a free software option available to Outlook 98 users, but you might have a problem obtaining the ODK. The ODK is available only through the Select Licensing, Open Licensing, Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), and Microsoft Certified Solution Pro-vider (MCSP) channels. I hope that Microsoft makes the product available on the Web in the future. (For more information about obtaining the ODK, contact your local MCSP, or go to the Microsoft Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/outlook.)

After you have the ODK in hand, launch the main setup utility in the \ODK subdirectory (i.e., on the CD-ROM version). Setup launches a noninteractive installation process that automatically installs the ODK in a C:\Program Files\ODK subdirectory on your hard disk and creates an ODK menu in the Start\Programs folder. The Outlook 98 Deployment Wizard (ODW) is the utility at the heart of the ODK and the utility that does the work. The ODW operates on any system running NT or Win9x. To launch the ODW, simply double-click the ODW icon in the Microsoft ODK submenu. Screen 1 shows the initial ODW dialog box.

The ODW: Step by Step
The ODW guides you through five stages that let you create a customized installation for your users. In the first stage, the ODW gathers basic information about the customized Outlook installation that you want to create. This information includes company details, the application's language version, and the name of the destination folder for the network share point.

In the second stage, the ODW invokes the Active Setup portion of the installation, which searches the computer running the ODW for installed Outlook 98 components. This check is especially noteworthy, because some administrators might want to install and deploy the ODK directly from a network server. Although you can install and run the ODW from a server, server-based installations aren't always advisable: The ability to install an individual ODK component depends on whether the system running the ODW has that component installed. Because you don't want to clog a crucial server with unnecessary software, an administrative workstation is a better choice of platform for installing and running the ODK; the preferred choice is a workstation running the same options that you want your client workstations to inherit.

After the ODW begins Active Setup, the ODW analyzes your system's current Outlook 98 configuration and produces an onscreen report, which Screen 2 shows, that lists the installation status of each component the ODK can install on user workstations. Note that the available software options aren't limited to Outlook 98 and IE 4.01. The ODK also lets you install additional software, including Microsoft NetMeeting, Microsoft Chat 2.0, Microsoft NetShow, Microsoft FrontPage Express, Progressive Networks' RealPlayer, and a host of other accessories and options. When Active Setup determines that your system has missing or problematic components (e.g., an incomplete installation or an old version), the ODW notifies you via a symbol to the left of that component, as you see in Screen 2. Unfortunately, the only way to fix such problems is to abort the ODW, install the components in question (i.e., by using the customary Outlook 98 or IE 4.01 setup utilities), and restart the ODW.

If the array of software available with the ODK isn't enough, you can use the ODW to create additional custom components while you install additional software. As Screen 3 shows, the ODW lets you create (up to 10) custom components to include during the Outlook 98 setup process. Compressed cabinet files (i.e., .cab files) or self-extracting files (i.e., .exe files) can contain these components. You can assign other identifying parameters to these components, including a version number and a globally unique ID (GUID), or you can opt to have the ODW generate a GUID for you. After you've specified the custom components you want to create, the ODW displays a Trusted Publishers dialog box that provides an opportunity to use a digital certificate to digitally sign your custom components. (For more information about digital certificates and component signing, go to the Microsoft Web site at http://backoffice.microsoft.com/securitypartners, and see Tao Zhou, "Digital Signature Technology," February 1999.) A digital signature isn't mandatory, but signing your component designates it as a trusted component and avoids warnings that Active Setup issues for unsigned components. To use the Trusted Publisher dialog box, you first have to obtain a digital certificate with which to sign your components. (For more information about configuring certificates, go to the Microsoft Web site at http://technet.microsoft.com/ cdonline/content/complete/internet/client/ie/ reskit/part7/part7b.htm.) The ODK provides tools specifically for creating and signing .cab files; these tools include the Cabinet Maker utility (i.e., makecab.exe) and the Code-Signing Wizard (i.e., signcode.exe). The ODK setup automatically installs these and several other related utilities that you can find in the C:\ProgramFiles\ODK\Reskit\Addons\Tools folder.

In the third stage, the ODW gives you the opportunity to customize the appearance and operation of the Setup utility that users will launch to install Outlook 98. The first dialog box of this stage lets you customize the autorun screen, which launches when users install their customized CD-ROM (or when users run the setup.exe program on a server-based installation). You can specify several custom options for this screen, including the titlebar text and the background bitmap. The next dialog box in this stage is more important to your custom Outlook 98 installation. As Screen 4 shows, this dialog box determines whether the Outlook 98 installation will be silent or nonsilent.

Silent or Nonsilent, That Is the Question
Silent installations, as the name implies, take place silently, in the background, on a user's workstation after you launch setup. The user will not notice anything until the installation completes and the system automatically reboots. Remember this automatic reboot, because your users might have unsaved data files open at the time the installation finishes. Nonsilent installations require some user input and navigation during execution, but the administrator's choices from the ODW setup process set limits on user participation. Another important distinction between silent and nonsilent installations is that nonsilent installations let you select up to 10 user installation options; silent installations offer only one option. In addition, silent installations require that you make a choice for the E-mail Services Option during the ODW setup process, which I'll describe shortly.

Next in the installation process, you select the components to include with your custom installation package. The ODW provides three basic installation options: Minimal, Standard, and Full. Screen 5 shows how to tailor your specifications and select components from the available component pool. The right pane lists currently selected components to install. Remember that this dialog box will list only components that Active Setup detected during the ODW's second stage; to obtain additional components, you'll have to abort the installation and install those components on the local system. After you select all the components for your custom installation, the ODW will ask you for a custom version number for this installation and an optional custom identifier string. In addition, the ODW asks you for the user's workstation target installation directory and whether you want to have Outlook setup install the Windows Desktop Update option (i.e., Active Desktop) of IE 4.01.

Configuring Outlook and IE Application Settings
In the fourth stage, the ODW lets you specify default answers to some or all of the questions Active Setup asks users during the Outlook 98 and IE 4.01 setup. This feature lets you preconfigure these applications for your network environment and thus standardizes your users' application configurations and prevents data entry errors during setup, reducing support costs. During this stage, you can configure email client options for Outlook 98. The standard choices are Internet Only, Corporate or Workgroup, No E-mail, or User-defined. The Internet Only option is for Outlook 98 installations that require access to Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) mail servers. The Corporate or Workgroup option is for corporate email clients that require access to corporate email systems, such as Microsoft Mail and Exchange Server, in addition to the POP3 and SMTP mail options. The No E-mail option is for Outlook 98 clients that require no email support. The User-defined option is available only for nonsilent installations and lets users select email server support options during Outlook 98 setup.

After you specify email and calendar-related options, the ODW lets you specify a customized Outlook bar and a customized toolbar file for your installation. (For documentation about creating a custom Outlook bar configuration file—i.e., outlbar.inf—go to the ODK installation subfolder \olbin\en\optional.) Finally, the ODW lets you customize IE Web browser options.

Configuring User Settings
Screen 6 shows the ODW's final stage, in which you configure user-specific settings for the various ODK-installation applications. Note that user-specific Registry settings related to these applications exist, including Outlook 98, IE 4.01, and NetMeeting. If you're familiar with NT or Win9x system policy files, you might notice that this configuration dialog box closely resembles the SPE application. In fact, you can import existing SPE policy template files (i.e., .adm files) at this stage to preserve existing settings on your network: At the bottom of the dialog box, select the Import button, which will ask you for the name of the custom .adm file you want to import.

The final dialog box of the ODW lets you enter additional custom Registry entries to add to the target workstation during the Outlook setup process. However, you might prefer to implement Registry changes through custom system policy files rather than through the Outlook setup process. To make Registries easier to manage in the future, you need to include changes in custom .adm files—and subsequently in your system policy files (i.e., .pol files).

At this point, you've answered all the questions the ODW requires to create your customized Outlook 98 installation. After you click the Finish button, the ODW will package the required installation files and place them in the folder you specified during the first setup stage. Note that the final setup.exe file is not in the root of this installation folder, but rather in a \CD subfolder. You need to copy the contents of the \CD folder to the root of a CD-ROM image. Use this CD-ROM image to make distribution CD-ROMs for deploying your new customized version of Outlook to your users. You can manually launch the customized setup over the network by using the setup.exe program located in the \CD subfolder. After you launch Outlook, you will see a custom setup dialog box similar to the one Screen 7 shows (i.e., unless you chose a silent installation).

Test and Deploy
The ODK has a very approachable and friendly interface, yet a number of complexities lie beneath the surface. Before you use the ODK tool to perform a live rollout of Outlook 98 and IE 4.01, you need to create a few customized installations and test them on systems that represent your average network workstation. Using test installations, you'll learn how different options affect your final Outlook and IE configurations, and whether these options will suit your users. Finally, be sure to consult the HTML-based documentation that accompanies the ODK. (To obtain these files, go to C:\Program Files\ODK\Help and open the odkdef.htm file.)

A Small Step in the Right Direction
The ODK is a must-have for administrators who deploy Outlook 98 on their networks. However, the ODK is an application-specific tool and won't help with the installation or configuration of anything outside its scope (i.e., Outlook 98 and IE 4.01). The true solution to the problem of application configuration is one that lies at the OS level (i.e., an API that lets software developers enable their applications for automatic installation and configuration across the network). Until Microsoft delivers on the promise of automated application deployment and configuration in Win2K, easy application deployment won't be a reality. In the meantime, you can use tools such as the ODK to help reduce your administrative burdens.