Managing Group Policy Software Installation

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Managing Group Policy Software Installation

Administrators generally complete the following phases to manage software for their organization: preparation, management, and removal. For tips about using Group Policy Software Installation, see Best practices for Group Policy Software Installation. For more general information, see Group Policy Software Installation overview.


Before you can use Group Policy Software Installation, you should have a Windows Installer package (.msi) for the program that you want to install. The package is often supplied with the software. If a program does not have a Windows Installer package, you must generate one. Other utilities are available for repackaging a program that you plan to install. You can then use transforms to further customize a package. Transforms, which have the .mst extension, are sometimes called modifications. For more information, see Add or remove modifications for an application package and File types that you use with Group Policy Software Installation.

The next step is to create a shared network directory, called a software distribution point, that contains the packages (.msi files), any transforms (.mst files), and the program files and components. Administration is simpler if packages and program files are kept together, although this is not absolutely necessary. (Packages and transforms do have to be kept together.) As an administrator, you might also benefit from using distributed file systems to help manage these software distribution points.

Finally, verify that users can read from the software distribution point and write to the target of the installation, particularly if the program is written to a network file server.



You can use Group Policy Software Installation to manage programs within your organization. You can assign programs to either computers or users, or you can publish programs to users.

Program assignment and publishing to users have the following software life cycle phases:

  • Evaluation phase--For evaluation purposes, you might want to have only a few users try out and evaluate the new program. During this phase, the old version of the program is the default version, and the majority of users are still using it. A new user installs the assigned or published version. This is often called a pilot. The pilot is a good time to experiment with Group Policy Software Installation options, such as assigning an application and publishing an application, which is less forceful. You can also try setting the autoinstall option for an application, so that the software is installed when the user attempts to open a file with an extension that you have associated with the application. You can also try the Basic or Maximum options for the installation user interface, which you can set by using the procedure Set Group Policy Software Installation defaults. These options control the level of visibility of the installation process to the user.

    For more information, see Assign an application, Publish an application, and Set the autoinstall option for an application.

  • Rollout phase--During rollout, you begin making the new program available to more users. The new version of the program is now the default, and the majority of the users are using the new version. A new user only has the option to install the new program. You can leave certain users unaffected if upgrading them at this time would affect their work.


As an administrator, you must select one of the following options, which are mutually exclusive, when you remove a program:

  • Immediately uninstall--This option requires that no one currently uses the program. Those users who still have the program on their computers receive an advertisement that removes the program.

  • Just prevent new installations--This option allows users to continue using the software that they already have.

For more information, see Remove a managed application.

Deletion from the server

When you are sure that an old version of a program is no longer needed by the organization, you can delete the Windows Installer package and the program files and components. You might want to archive the package and the program files and components and then delete the files from the software distribution point.