My company is in the process of upgrading all of our users from old Windows XP computers to newer quad-core Win7 computers. This is a good thing - it's long overdue that we upgrade our workstations - but I now spend a ton of time configuring new computers. Is there any way to automate this process?

The steps that I go through with just about every computer:

  • Run through Win7 setup process (we do mostly HPs, so we get the stupid "The computer is personal again" thing.
  • Uninstall bloatware (norton, bing bar, roxio, etc.)
  • Install Updates
  • Add to domain & configure network settings
  • Install Office, and other company-specific applications
  • Configure important shortcuts (Outlook on task bar)

There's a couple other things that I do after that that would be nice to automate, but it's unlikely due to license keys, passwords, etc.

  • Configure Outlook
  • Pull in files/settings with easy transfer wizard
  • Map network drives

I know that it's possible to create a complete image of a computer, but how does that work with different hardware/drivers? What about Win7 license keys? If there is a way to make this work, what is the best (preferably free/open source) software out there to do this?

6 Answers 6


Don't bother with uninstalling or fixing bloatware. Just reimage the computers. In fact it's pretty easy to setup a reference image, sysprep, capture, and deploy it using WDS + MDT. See the aforementioned for various driver packages: trust me you're not the first person to think of this stuff, it's been solved already.

Profiles can be transferred with USMT. Mapped drives are best done with a logon script. Outlook 2007+ with Exchange 2007+ can use Autodiscovery. Install updates with WSUS (fully automated at install with a simple script). Keys and Activation can be managed with scripts or VAMT.

Fair warning that if you don't know about any of this stuff already you've got one heck of a learning curve to get through and you're way behind the times. If you really only have a handful of computers it probably isn't worth the time to set this stuff up now, but if it's more than a dozen it's worth the time. Also future hardware refreshes aren't nearly so painful. Bonus that many of these skills allow you to be more efficient in your routine tasks and help prevent problems.

  • OK - so that sounds good so far. Could you go into a bit of detail on the process of getting a reference image, sysprep, capture, and that WDS + MDT thing? I don't know anything about any of those :)
    – jwegner
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:14
  • 7
    I hate to be rude and tell you to follow the links, but detailing reference image -> deployment could easily fill a book. If you've got a specific hangup by all means ask away but the MS docs are a pretty good starting place. Also, MS Certification 70-680 covers most of this stuff, so books prepping for that test will teach you almost all the basics.
    – Chris S
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:28
  • 11
    '"Mapped drives are best done with a logon script."` - I disagree that logon scripts are the best way to map drives. Group Policy Preferences for Mapped Drives is great and supports item-level targeting as well as many other cool options are are a PITA to implement with logon scripts. Very good suggestions, otherwise.
    – MDMarra
    Jan 6, 2012 at 15:52
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    @MDMarra &JimB I've had good experiences with GPO Preferences in Win7, so I can't disagree with you in a homogenous environment. I have had too many troubles to count with Preferences in WinXP however, since this is a mixed environment I would recommend against relying on Preferences. It may be the case that the XP machines are already setup so he wouldn't care, if that's the case Preferences are a good way to keep the configuration simplified and collected. Also, I know some of the above are part of one another, just wanted to detail some of the tools for the new guy.
    – Chris S
    Jan 7, 2012 at 15:21
  • 1
    @ChrisS, +1 for the comment regarding preferences and Windows XP. I got burned by that too, and ended up ripping it all back out and going back to using plain old logon scripts. We're planning on moving to Windows 7 in the next year or so I'll probably revisit preferences then, but definitely one to avoid in a mixed/win XP environment.
    – Bryan
    Jan 24, 2012 at 0:01

Solution that would work:

Install following applications

  1. WDS (windows deployment services)

    • Use WDS to provide PXE boot. All laptops can boot via PXE into WDS server.
    • WDS will host MDT boot images
  2. MDT (Microsoft Deployment Tool)

    • Create task sequences to capture your default Windows 7 install
    • Create task sequences to install your captured Windows 7 image
    • Create task sequences to install Applications
    • Automate the installation of HP drivers
  3. WAIK (windows automated installation kit)

    • Required to automate the Windows 7 Install
    • Provides USMT and allow integration from within MDT

All of the above sits inside MDT boot images that is hosted within WDS. Thus during the boot into WDS server you are provided with all of these task sequences.

Create default Windows 7 Image and Capture for re-deployment

  1. Install Windows 7 as normal
  2. Uninstall bloatware using PC decrapifier software
  3. Install Windows updates
  4. Create MDT task sequence to sysprep and capture image
  5. Boot into WDS and choose task sequence created and capture Windows 7 Image

When you sysprep a machine it strips the machine back to a state where it can effectively be re-instated with different Product Keys, different drivers, different machine name, differernt SID , etc…. It also boots the machine back to Audit mode – the state a newly bought machine is usually in (U know that Welcome screen you see to complete the final steps of a new PC install).

Configuring MDT Rules to automate yor requirements

  1. Licensing - I MDT you can specify a VLM key or use the rules to request a product key to be asked during every deployment. Example of the rule to always ask to provide product key.

  2. Add to domain with different machine name - This can be done with MDT rules. Rules settings below


USMT & saving user data

I have not done this before, but in theory you create a standard replace task in MDT, run this on the existing Windows XP PC and USMT will allow you to save the user settings to a network location. You then boot into WDS and run a standard install task for Windows 7 and during the wizard phase specify that you want to restore user settings.

Install applications and pre-configure office & outlook

  • Applications can be automatically installed via MDT - you will need to ensure you identify the silent install options for the application so that it does not interrupt MDT during ddeployment phase.
  • Office 2007 or 2010 settings (default templates, product keys, etc...) can be configured and installed via MDT (to automatically detect user settings upon first run of outlook you will need exchange 2007 & outlooked 2007)

Upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7

  • Again using MDT you need to create a task sequence to deploy the Windows 7 image you captured.
  • Set USMT to ensure user settings are saved
  • Choose which applications to install during deployment
  • Set MDT to re-run windows updates after install
  • MDT can also run any scripts or bat files yuo speicfy for any additional functionality (to map drives etc...) Although you are probably better to map drives using AD and group policy

You know. I find the easiest way is to use Symantec Ghost, which essentially means you configure one machine how you want it, snap an image, and then use that image on all the other machines.

If you need the user profile on the old machine, then you can run a free tool called Transwiz on the old machine, save the profile on an external, and then use Transwiz on the new machine, select the profile, and it does all the work. It will transfer documents, profile, application settings, etc, etc. http://www.forensit.com/move-computer.html

At the very end of the day, I use SCCM for my re-imaging needs. I find working with packages easier than working with ghost because they are easier to alter if you need to make subtle changes between machines.

  • 1
    Yup same here, except I use clonezilla
    – Tim
    Jan 6, 2012 at 16:50
  • If you use sccm you should try mdt to image. It adds a great deal of flexibility to sccm deployments
    – Jim B
    Jan 7, 2012 at 6:21

If you do choose to go with the Ghost, Clonezilla or similar "imaging" method, you can make the image work on different chipsets by removing the "disk controller(s)" from inside of Device Manager before shutting down the system for imaging.


In addition to Symantec Ghost, Symantec also has a more enterprise ready solution that leverages Ghost, Symantec Deployment Solution. This product provides the core elements to reimage the systems, but also capabilities to transfer the personality (desktop, screen saver, application templates) to the new OS. And you can automate the entire process with workflows that allow end users to self service the migration. You can check it out at http://www.symantec.com/business/deployment-solution.


I used to look after a load of pc's that would be deployed to short term sites with crappy wan links so I used to spend ages reimaging them and roaming profiles wasn't an option.

I never bothered with the microsoft method as I never found the time to look into it. What I used to do was:

Wipe the dell factory image and start again with a fresh os install. Then once all drivers loaded and pc fully updated, take an image with Acronis (acronis is like ghost but I had a bad experience with ghost 2003 so I went to acronis) then I would install our standard program suite.

I would then open regedit, select hkey users, then load hive and then load c:\users\default user\ntuser.dat which would open the registry settings used for creating fresh profiles. While in there I would set the relevant settings for stuff like wallpaper, show file extensions in explorer and a heap of other stuff. Then close the opened hive. Also I would copy desired shortcuts to the relevant folders for default user but this could be a pita if s/w ever was changed for a newer version as a new profile would still get the old/wrong icons. For s/w that may be changed, I found c:\programdata\desktop (or startmenu) was better but if one user deleted an icon, it would also vanish for other users.

For the outlook issue - install the group policy extensions for relevant version of office, run gpedit.msc and for outlook there is a setting that would let you specify to use the relevant ad account for outlook. Then while I was editing the registry of the default user, I would use the runonce section to run outlook so first time a user logged on, the pc would automatically run outlook and sort the account out without intervention.

Then I would take another image. This step was normally unneccessary but I will explain in a sec.

Then I would run c:\windows\system32\sysprep /oobe /generalise /shutdown, then take the final image. Reason I would image before this step is that once in a blue moon, sysprep would cock up and destroy all my hard work and it was nice to go back.

Then when you restore this image to another pc, it sorts out a load of stuff like creating a new sid which is essential in a domain envoironment, and asks you for pc name. Then I would manually join to the domain and update and pc was ready for use.

Also having the image with just windows on it was nice so around once a year when all our software packages were replaced with newer versions, rather than upgrade my images, I would just go back to a fresh windows install, do the windows updates then install the new programs.

N.B. I believe if you are using oem windows, it is against the eula to wipe windows and start fresh then image it. For some daft reason they only let you image the factory provided copy. If this is relevant to you, check the eula.

N.B. 2 - I'm sure I read somewhere that editing the default user profile was unsupported by ms. I always fixed my own problems rather than calling ms so wasn't bothered by that.

N.B. 3 - My old install procedure was pages and pages of notes so I've probably missed something out - although with a little trial and error I'm sure you will be able to customise this procedure to your needs.

N.B. 4 - As well as never having the time to look into the "proper"/ms method, this prevented me using all our lan bandwidth which was another reason I never bothered.

N.B. 5 - I couldn't put kaspersky on the image as it wouldn't work. When we used to use mccrappy, that was fine though.

N.B. 6 - Windows was pretty nice about pulling updates automatically when an image was restored, but some stuff like acrobat and java needed me to prod it to hurry up.

N.B. 7 - The instructions I've typed were for win 7, very slight differences for xp (directory names).

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