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Comparing Windows XP and Windows Vista Deployment Technologies

Many of the deployment technologies that are used in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 have changed for Windows Vista. The following sections provide a brief description of how previous tools and procedures correspond to the Windows Vista deployment toolset.

OEM Preinstallation Toolkit and Windows Automated Installation Kit

The Windows OEM Preinstallation Toolkit (Windows OPK) and the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK) are the tools that are used to customize and to deploy Windows.

  • The Windows AIK is for the corporate deployment of Windows and contains the tools and the documentation that are required to configure and to install Windows.
    Previous versions of Windows included the corporate deployment tools as part of The Windows AIK contains the same set of tools that is included in the Windows OPK.
  • The Windows OPK is for OEMs and system builders, and contains all the tools and information in the Windows AIK. In addition, the Windows OPK provides specific information about OEM licensing requirements and policy guidelines.

Both products contain the same suite of tools.

Image Management

Windows Vista images are Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL)-independent. You can maintain a single Windows image that applies to all HAL types. However, you will need to maintain different images for different processor architectures (32-bit and 64-bit platforms).


ImageX is a new Microsoft imaging technology that is designed specifically for deployment. ImageX supports the latest Windows image (.wim) file format used in Windows Vista. ImageX is a command-line tool built on the Imaging APIs for Windows.

For more information, see ImageX Technical Reference.

Windows Setup

Windows Setup has changed significantly in Windows Vista. The following list describes some of the more important changes.

  • Setup.exe replaces the previous Windows Setup programs Winnt.exe and Winnt32.exe.
  • Setup.exe is a GUI-only tool that you run at a command prompt. The previous Text-mode Setup has been deprecated. To make customizations at different times during Windows Setup, review the different configuration passes that are available for the setting that you intend to modify.
  • In previous versions of Windows, you were able to create a Winnt.sif file that was automatically used by Windows Setup. For Windows Vista, the unattended DVD-boot method is replaced with a more thorough implicit answer file search. By naming your answer file Autounattend.xml and by making it available at the root of a floppy or a UFD device, this file will automatically be consumed by Windows Setup. You can copy answer files to the root directory of the floppy disk drive and to other locations on the computer, where Setup automatically uses the answer file before installation. For more information about implicit answer file searches, see How Windows Setup Works.
  • $OEM$ is still supported in Windows Vista. For more information, see Understanding Distribution Shares and Configuration Sets.

Adding Out-of-Box Drivers

You can now add device drivers to an offline Windows image before installation. This enables you to add boot-critical device drivers before installing Windows.

The previous method of using OEMPnPDriverPath as a mechanism to add device drivers to Windows is not supported in Windows Vista. You must add device drivers to your answer file by using Package Manager, or during Windows Setup.

For more information about these new procedures, see Manage Device Drivers for Windows.

Windows Unattended Setup

In previous releases of Windows, the unattended installation process was automated by multiple text-based answer files, such as Unattend.txt and Winbom.ini. These answer files enabled automation during different times of Windows Setup and deployment. Because some unattended Setup settings were valid during more than one pass, there was significant duplication between the files, particularly in Unattend.txt and Sysprep.inf.

In Windows Vista, the unattended installation process uses a single XML-based answer file (Unattend.xml) at different times during Windows Setup and deployment. There are several different stages of the setup and deployment process that are referred to as configuration passes. Unattended Setup settings can be applied in one or more configuration passes during Windows Setup. Unattend.xml mimics the previous implementation of multiple unattended Setup files. For more information, see How Configuration Passes Work.

You use Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) to create and to maintain answer files. For more information, see Windows System Image Manager Technical Reference.

Configuration Passes

During Windows Setup, different settings can be applied during different stages of installation. These stages of installation are called configuration passes. The configuration passes include windowsPE, offlineServicing, generalize, specialize, auditSystem, auditUser, and oobeSystem.

In previous versions of Windows, multiple answer files were used (Unattend.txt, Winbom.ini, and so on). For Windows Vista, a single answer file (Unattend.xml) is used to automate installation and deployment. This single answer file is divided up into different sections, one for each configuration pass, that correspond to the different answer files.

The following table maps the previous Windows answer files to the new Windows Vista configuration passes.

Windows XP answer files Windows Vista configuration passes


generalize, specialize


generalize, specialize

Winbom.ini WINPE


Winbom.ini FACTORY

auditSystem, auditUser

Winbom.ini OOBE




The following diagram illustrates how configuration passes in Windows Vista map to the different answer files used in previous versions of Windows.

Windows System Image Manager

Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) is the replacement for Setup Manager. Windows SIM enables you to view the existing settings on a Windows image, create an answer file to modify those settings during Windows Setup, and create and manage distribution share contents and configuration sets.

For more information, see Windows System Image Manager Technical Reference.

Service Windows with Package Manager

Package Manager is new for Windows Vista. Package Manager is the tool that is used to apply updates, language packs, and other updates that are provided by Microsoft. Previous versions of Windows used Update.exe. An update installer was made available for each Windows update. For Windows Vista, there is now a native installer that is used for Windows. This installer is part of the Windows Vista servicing stack. Updates for Windows Vista are delivered as files and resources only.

Package Manager, the Add or Remove Programs item in Control Panel, and Windows Update all use the Windows Vista servicing stack.

Additionally, you can use Package Manager to install updates to an offline Windows image, including updates, boot-critical device drivers, and language packs.

For more information, see the Package Manager Technical Reference.

Running Additional Commands During Setup

The Cmdlines.txt file is replaced by the RunSynchronous setting in the Microsoft-Windows-Deployment component. To mimic Cmdlines.txt, this setting must be specified in the specialize pass.

Additionally, the [GUIRunOnce] section has been replaced with the FirstLogonCommands setting in the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup component.

There are several ways to run additional commands during installation:

  • Edit the Setupcomplete.cmd file. This file runs after Windows Setup completes and any commands in this file are executed. For more information, see Add a Custom Script to Windows Setup.
  • Add a RunSynchronous command to an answer file. RunSynchronous commands are available in the Microsoft-Windows-Setup and the Microsoft-Windows-Deployment components. For more information, see the Unattended Windows Setup Reference.
    RunAsynchronous and RunSynchronous define a common model and syntax for running commands during different configuration passes.
    RunSynchronous commands are always executed before RunAsynchronous commands in the same configuration pass. For RunAsynchronous commands, each application or script runs in the order that is specified in the section of the answer file, but does not wait for the previous command to finish before the next command runs. For RunSynchronous commands, each application or script runs in the order specified in the section, but must finish before the next command runs.
    The following table describes how legacy unattended Windows Setup settings are mapped to the new RunSynchronous/RunAsynchronous settings.
Legacy Setting Component & Setting Configuration Pass User Context







windowsPE, auditUser

System, User



windowsPE, auditUser

System, User


Microsoft-Windows-Setup/RunAsynchronous (one command only)



Language Packs

Language packs in Windows Vista replace Multilingual User Interface (MUI) files from previous versions of Windows. Unlike MUI files, language packs can be added to an offline Windows image. For more information about language packs, see Manage Language Packs for Windows.


Sysprep has changed significantly for Windows Vista. More information about how Sysprep works in Windows Vista is available in the Sysprep Technical Reference.

  • In previous versions of Windows, Sysprep was made available in the Windows OPK, Windows CD, or, in the latest service pack, the file that you can download. For Windows Vista, Sysprep is included on every installation in the %WINDIR%\System32\Sysprep directory. You must always run the version of Sysprep that was included in that version of Windows and you must always run Sysprep from the \Sysprep folder.

  • Sysprep for Windows Vista is independent of the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). You can create a generalized x86 Windows image and transfer that image to any x86-based operating system. 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows Vista require separate images.

  • The sysprep.exe /reseal command has changed to the sysprep.exe /generalize /oobe command. OEMs are required to run the sysprep /oobe command before delivering a computer to an end user.

  • Factory mode is renamed to Audit mode.

  • Settings in Sysprep.inf are replaced with settings in the Unattend.xml answer file.

  • Sysprep includes updated command-line options.

Previous Sysprep Options Windows Vista Sysprep Options


No change


Replaced by the /audit option.


Replaced by the /oobe option.


Replaced by the /generalize option.


To remove security IDs (SIDs), use the /generalize option.


No change


No change


No change






If the SkipRearm setting is specified, reset activation by using the /generalize option. Use the SkipRearm setting to remove licensing-specific information from a Windows operating system. For more information, see the Microsoft-Windows-Security-Licensing-SLC component in the Unattended Windows Setup Reference.

Windows PE

Windows PE 2.0 is an updated version of Windows PE that is based on the Windows Vista kernel. Like previous releases, Windows PE 2.0 provides a platform for booting raw hardware. In previous releases of Windows, Windows PE had limited availability. For Windows Vista, Windows PE customization tools are available in both the Windows AIK and Windows OPK.

Windows PE 2.0 new features include:

  • Security updates. Support for Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is now included in Windows PE.
  • Tools for .wim file management. You can customize and boot .wim files with the ImageX command-line tool.
  • New boot support. You can boot Windows PE from the .wim file on the Windows OPK DVD, the Windows AIK DVD, or by using the ImageX tool with the /boot option.
  • 72-hour reboot support. The Windows PE reboot clock is extended from 24 hours to 72 hours.
  • Plug and Play support. Hardware devices can be detected and installed while Windows PE is running. This supports any in-box Plug and Play device, including removable media and mass-storage devices. This is enabled by default.
  • Drvload tool. Use this new command-line tool to add out-of-box drivers to Windows PE when booted. Drvload installs drivers by taking driver .inf files as input.
  • PEImg tool. Use this new command-line tool to customize a Windows PE image offline. PEImg enables you to add and to remove drivers, Windows PE components, and language packs.
  • Boot Configuration Data (BCD). Use this new boot configuration file to customize boot options. This file replaces Boot.ini.
  • Boot Sector (Bootsect) tool. Use this tool to enable deployment to earlier versions of Windows by changing the previous version of Windows boot code to support the boot manager (Bootmgr) for Windows Vista. This tool replaces FixFAT and FixNTFS.
  • Writable RAM drive. When booting from read-only media, Windows PE automatically creates a writable RAM disk (drive X) and allocates 32 megabytes (MB) of the RAM disk for general-purpose storage.
  • [LaunchApps] section in Winpeshl.ini. This section is expanded to enable command-line options.

For more information, see the Windows PE Technical Reference.

Windows Welcome

Windows Welcome, also known as OOBE, has changed significantly for Windows Vista. In earlier versions of Windows, the term OOBE was used as an acronym for the "Out-of-Box Experience" and as the name of a folder in the \System32 directory. In Windows Vista, Oobe.xml is the content file for OEM-provided information to be displayed in Windows Welcome, ISP Sign-up dialog boxes, and Welcome Center.

Windows Welcome has been redesigned and streamlined to help end users access the desktop more quickly and more easily. There are fewer pages in Windows Welcome; end users are required to enter less information; and the entire process takes less time for end users to start using Windows.

Welcome Center is a new launching point for a number of optional, yet important Windows tasks, as well as a launching point for OEM-defined tasks. Welcome Center offers a rich surface for OEMs to use to expose additional value to customers. Welcome Center provides information from Microsoft about transferring files and settings, adding new users, and managing performance of Windows. In addition, OEMs can add information about, and links to, ISP signup, and other offers for end users.

For more information about Oobe.xml, see Oobe.xml Technical Reference, Walkthrough: Customize Windows Welcome, and Walkthrough: Customize Welcome Center.

Customizing the Support Experience

The support experience has changed significantly for Windows Vista. The following list provides an overview of what has changed.

  • For Windows Vista, customizing the Help and Support Escalation page is a requirement for OEMs who are delivering multiple-language or multiple-region computers.
  • For Windows Vista, OEMs who deliver single-language or single-region computers must customize the support information in the System program in Control Panel. OEMs can perform this customization by using Unattend.xml settings in Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM). For more information about using Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) to modify or to remove a setting, see Customize a Setting in an Answer File.
  • In previous versions of Windows, Help and Support was an HTML-based application. For Windows Vista, Help and Support is XML-based. Help and Support now offers more flexibility for OEMs and corporate customers to add specific kinds of content.
  • In addition to the Help and Support Escalation page, OEMs and corporate customers can customize content on the Help and Support Home page, and add customized topics in a variety of forms. This customized content may include topics that are specific to OEM or corporate features, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), lists of top customer concerns, information about maintenance and warranties, links to online support and chats, and links to a support Web site.
  • OEMs and corporate customers may make the customized content available through the Help and Support table of contents, as well as through Help and Support search.
  • Information about customizing Help and Support for Windows Vista can be found in a software development kit (SDK), Windows Vista Help Authoring.chm, located on the Windows OPK DVD or on the Windows AIK DVD. For more information about Customizing Help and Support, see Help and Support and Walkthrough: Customize Help and Support.

Remote Installation Services (RIS)

RIS has been replaced by Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS). For more information, see the Windows Deployment Services documentation.