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I want to start providing managed Windows XP images to my users, however I've only done this with Linux servers, and I'm unsure of where to begin.

Ideally, I want to start buying machines in groups, but until then, I'm stuck with differing models.

The particulars: I will always have local physical access to the machine. I don't need PXE boot, since I'll be working with 3-4 machines at a time, maximum, but PXE boot would be alright, too. Not all of the machines are the same model. I'm alright with creating multiple images if I have to, though an auto-install ala-kickstart would be great. Free OpenSource Software (FOSS) would be ideal, although if a commercial product (like Ghost or whatever) is the only way (or has useful features that I need that free softwares lack), then I can accept that, too.

What is the best way to do this?

Also, I don't have bulk licenses (yet). Each machine has its own XP license. I'm sure this complicates things, but I don't really know how. I apologize profusely for my ignorance.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

You can use Windows Deployment Services (the new RIS) if you have a 2003/2008 server. This provides PXE boot capabilies for your XP clients. You configure a 'template' on the server to answer the setup questions, but you will be prompted for anything you didn't enter (Windows Key in your case). Don't miss the intro video.

You might also find Unattended interesting, if you're using Linux servers. Features:

* Automated install of operating system, hotfixes and applications.
* Full documentation and source code.
* Support for floppy, CD-ROM, and "nothing but net" installs.
* True unattended installation, not disk imaging.
* No Windows servers required; use your Unix servers instead.
* No Unix servers required; use your Windows servers after all.
* Completely free.
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I would suggest getting started learning the WAIK and ImageX tools from Microsoft so you have a head start when you want to move to 7.

We transitioned off of Ghost a couple years ago and haven't looked back. I now have a bootable USB stick that automatically preps and images my new boxes with ImageX, no keypresses required.

In your case, you'll have to manually enter the license keys and maybe computer names (although names can be automatically pulled from a text file).

We use a single WIM image across a bunch of hardware models and 95% of the time there is no post-install configuration (there's some driver bloat but it's not that serious a problem).

In general, the workflow goes like this:

  • Configure your Windows machine the way you want it, install apps and set up security
  • Set up a default user profile that all new users will receive when they log in the first time
  • Run Sysprep to prepare the image for mass deployment
  • Capture the image with ImageX
  • Deploy the image to other boxes over the network or locally

There's a lot to this topic, though - keep posting when you run into roadblocks :)

Here are some resources:

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From what I've heard, ImageX is going away in the future, and the WIM format is being deprecated in favor of VHD-based images. I rather liked ImageX and have been using it on bootable recover DVDs for some time now. – Evan Anderson Jun 23 '09 at 18:58
I hadn't heard that! My main problem with ImageX/WinPE was the lack of PowerShell in that environment... I look forward to hearing more about their plans. ImageX/WAIK/WinPE is still the expected scenario for 7, though, right? – Doug Chase Jun 23 '09 at 19:02
seconded on the AIK/WinPE/ImageX recommendation; it's quite a nice set of tools. Support for USB, CD, DVD and network, with no fooling around with DOS disks, and will cost you nothing. Look for the Malware Removal Starter Kit document - I've found it to be an excellent primer in WinPE setup. – 21st Century Moose Jun 23 '09 at 20:16

The SMB version of Microsoft SCCM is fine if you don't have a lot of machines and I agree but there are other Windows software deployment options which might as well be just as good or even better at handling a multitude of machines simultaneously say 300 workstations maybe more. It could be a considerable investment for your organization but if the ratio of machines versus the IT staff is huge then the benefits outweigh the cost.

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I use FOG for easy imaging XP Clients (an iphone app ist available ;)

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I use Clonezilla for imaging. It's an open source tool very similar to Ghost.

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I too have been using Clonezilla to image machines. – steve.lippert Jun 23 '09 at 19:19

Figuring out sysprep for XP from scratch is nearly impossible. That is, until you find a guide that actually explains things rather than just "insert line 'foo.bat' in 'jabberwocky.ini'"...that guide is located at - There's still a few outlier items, but that will answer 99% of everything. (Things change dramatically w/ Vista/Win7)

However, it sounds like you want management, not just imaging/deploying? In that case, you need (default obvious answer, there are, of course, other solutions, but they all will cost money too AFAIK) at least one box running Windows Server of some flavor. (I'd recommend at least 2003R2). Don't be put off by where this is posted (it left me scratching my head as well), but the post/info I wish I had had when I started this gig 4 years ago is at

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Forget about the Windows Deployment Services/RIS stuff. If you're not licensing Windows organizationally, it's unlikely that you have lots of consistency in your gear. PXE booting will waste alot of your time and not solve any of your issues.

You're best bet if you don't want to spend money is an unattended install. MSFN has a fantastic Unattended Guide that is the authoritative guide for doing this. Ghost makes things easier, but you can use a BartPE disk, fileshare and dd to lay down the unattended Windows install.

We've used Ghost to multicast installs of up to 50 workstations at a time with great success. We're transitioning to a fully automated, one-touch install with vPro and SCCM which should be really interesting.

If you don't have a ton of machines, buy the SMB version of Microsoft SCCM. It's easy to use, powerful and will allow you to do work once and not repeat it. You'll even be able to delegate reimaging to clerks and other non-technical types if desired.

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SMB version of Microsoft SCCM is called System Center Essentials (SCE) and covers not only OS and application deployment, but also some features found in SCOM, corporate-level monitoring tool. If you have less than 300-500 machines - SCE is a nice all-in-one tool. – Speedimon Jul 23 '09 at 4:42

I've done extensive work on windows deployment.

I found RIS problematic because the overhead of getting drivers to work was always more than I really wanted to do.

I found Unattended to be a little 'too much infrastructure' for my uses.

I eventually went back to a CD-based installation. If you use nLite to build your XP CDs, you can make a disk with the latest mass storage drivers and all updates and service packs.

I then made a separate disk full of drivers (not included in the main disk for capacity reasons). The drivers at DriverPacks can be easily mass-applied to systems.

Then you can package your applications for silent install using the hints at Unattended, or AppDeploy. You can install from a share, or a DVD, as you like it.

This process makes for consitent, hardware specific builds, with a really minimal amount of Admin maintenance, once you have the pieces togetehr.

(As an aside, once you move to Windows 7, you mostly only need the Application share, since 7 does such a great job of including drivers and finding them online, and the install process has gotten so streamlined)

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After a few years of RIS/WDS, i've become to really like Vista + WDS. No sysprep required, i've created general image (basically factory WIM + drivers + patches) with drivers what deploys to all the hardware in infrastructure. It's all unattended and has been working for about a year. Roaming profiles and folder redirection take care of the rest.

RIS + XP wasn't that bad either, but WDS is better for Vista. I inserted necessary drivers with nLite and unattended the install image without using sysprep. It usually worked just fine.

I prefer installing software separately with ADSI/scripts/SCCM, because otherwise images get out of date really quickly.

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