High Touch with Standard Image

The High Touch with Standard Image strategy is for small organizations that have an information technology (IT) generalist on staff and that often use partners to help with technology adoption. Small organizations using this strategy usually have 100–200 client computers with small, unmanaged networks in distributed locations.

Typically, these organizations manually install Windows from retail or volume-licensed (VL) media, manually install applications from their media, and then manually configure the computers to suit their needs. IT pros often begin using answer files to automate Windows installations—a technique that the High Touch with Retail Media strategy advocates.

Investing in a major deployment infrastructure provides limited returns for a small organization, but customizing and deploying a standard image can help those organizations save time and money by making deployment faster and more consistent with fewer problems. Additionally, organizations can begin to take advantage of solutions from Microsoft, which helps them transition to more automation as they grow.

Like the High Touch with Retail Media strategy, this strategy advocates a high-touch installation, but it uses a standard configuration image instead of the retail image. This strategy works well in organizations with more technical IT staff, and it scales to 100–200 client computers. It can provide faster deployment with fewer problems without requiring a big investment to support an infrequent task.

About the Strategy

When installing a Windows 7 operating system in small organizations, users run the Setup program from the retail or VL media and answer each prompt. This process is repetitive, problematic, and inefficient. Administrators repeat the same manual steps, leading to inconsistent configurations that don’t always work correctly.

Small organizations can create a more efficient deployment process by using the Windows Setup program. It supports customizing and installing a standard image, which is a snapshot of a computer that you have configured with settings and applications. Organizations can create standard images that include settings, device drivers, applications, and so on. As advocated by the High Touch with Retail Media strategy, this process also helps automate installation, allowing the IT pro to bypass interaction with the Setup program during installation.

After creating a standard image, the organization uses the Windows Setup program to refresh client computers with the new image instead of using the retail or VL image that Microsoft provides. Using a custom image provides the following benefits:

  • Fewer problems and reduced support issues because configurations are consistent across all client computers.

  • Faster deployment, because the images include settings, applications, and so on.

  • Reduced deployment validation and testing time.

  • Many updates to the standard image, which can be performed offline without having to install, customize, and recapture the image.

In addition, the High Touch with Standard Image strategy allows small organizations to provide their original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with these images when ordering new client computers. This allows them to receive new computers with their custom image already installed. So, deployment to new client computers is not a process that many small organizations need to perform—they simply unpack the computer, turn it on, and connect it to their network. Although this strategy focuses on refreshing existing client computers with a standard image, you can ask your OEM to use that image on new client computers to save you time and money.

Strategy Requirements

The following elements are required to use the High Touch with Standard Image strategy:

  • Windows retail or VL media provided by Microsoft

  • Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK)

  • Removable storage device, such as a USB flash drive, from which to install the standard image

  • Reference computer on which to create and customize the master image

  • Optionally, Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.5

Strategy Limitations

The High Touch with Standard Image strategy has limitations that could lead a small organization to consider network deployment with the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy. If any of the following issues describe your organization, consider using the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy:

  • The strategy doesn’t scale. The High Touch with Standard Image strategy doesn’t scale to larger organizations because it requires media (such as a USB flash drive) and a technician to deploy the Windows software to the client computers. Larger organizations can consider a Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy to better automate installation and provide a self-service capability to users.

  • The strategy works best with one image. This strategy works well in small organizations with similar applications and configuration requirements across most of its client computers. Organizations that require multiple images (for example, each department requires a completely different application) should consider a Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy that uses thin images. Thin images are Windows images with little or no customization. After installing thin images, you can manually or automatically install applications, device drivers, and updates on each computer.

  • The strategy works best when image changes are made only rarely. Licensing restrictions limit the number of times that you can update an image to which the System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) has been applied online. For best results, you should start the image creation and update process by installing a Windows operating system from retail or VL media. Organizations that update their images frequently should consider using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010, which allows you to automate the standard image creation process. For more information, see the Lite-Touch, High-Volume Deployment strategy.

  • Upgrade is not supported. When deploying a standard image, upgrading an existing Windows installation and preserving users’ applications is not supported. Instead, you must refresh computers with a new Windows installation and then migrate users’ files and settings. If you use this strategy, we recommend using Windows Easy Transfer to migrate users’ files and settings. Optionally, you can replace Windows Easy Transfer with the User State Migration Tool.

Deployment Process

Creating the standard image for the High Touch with Standard Image strategy is an online process, which means that the small organization’s IT generalist or their partner installs the Windows operating system on a reference client computer; customizes it as required by installing applications, device drivers, and updates; and then captures an image. After capturing the custom image, the organization can then deploy the image to its client computers. Additionally, small organizations can maintain images offline, which allows them to easily update their images with new operating system updates and device drivers as they become available.

The following table describes the high-level deployment process for using the High Touch with Standard Image strategy. The left column describes the step, and the right column contains links to detailed information about completing that step. Because each image supports only a single architecture (x86 or x64), perform the steps in the table for each operating system that is used in the organization.

Step More Information

1. Optionally, use the ACT to prioritize your organization’s applications, determine the compatibility status, and consolidate applications. The ACT can help organization’s triage and remediate applications that have compatibility problems.

Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) Version 5.5

2. Install Windows on the reference client computer from the retail or VL media. We recommend that you use an answer file (Unattend.xml) to install Windows on the reference computer to make this process consistent and reproducible.

3. On the master client computer, install any applications, device drivers, and updates that you want to include in the master image. Additionally, configure settings that you want to include in the master image.


4. On the master client computer, run Sysprep to generalize the image, and then shut down the computer. Some applications are not accommodating to Sysprep, and it is important that you test them fully. If there are Sysprep issues, we recommend that you automate the installation of these applications at deployment time by using an Unattend.xml file.

5. Start the master client computer by using Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), and then capture an image of it by using ImageX. Copy the image to a removable storage device, such as a USB flash drive, or a network share.

6. Prepare the media for installing the Windows operating system. Do one of the following:

  • Create an answer file (Unattend.xml) that points to the image that you copied to the removable storage device or network share in the previous step.

  • Create a new installation media, and replace the Install.wim file on the media with the file that you captured in the previous step.

7. Optionally, if you are refreshing the computer with a new installation, use Windows Easy Transfer to save users’ documents and settings from the computer (you will restore them after refreshing the computer).

Step-by-Step: Basic Windows Migration for IT Professionals

8. Install the standard image on each client computer. If you created new installation media, start the computer by using the media, or run Setup.exe from the previous Windows installation. Otherwise, run the Setup program by using the answer file that you created earlier.

9. Optionally, use Windows Easy Transfer to restore users’ documents and settings to the computer.

Step-by-Step: Basic Windows Migration for IT Professionals

10. Users of retail media must activate their computers online.

Windows Volume Activation


By using the Windows AIK, you can service custom images offline, which means that you can update device drivers and updates without installing, configuring, and recapturing the image. Offline servicing makes it easier to keep your standard image updated. You can also service images online by repeating the process described by this strategy. For more information, see Phase 5: Image Maintenance.