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Understanding Distribution Shares and Configuration Sets

A "distribution share" is an optional set of folders that contain files used to customize Windows through unattended answer files. When you add items in a distribution share to an answer file, the path to the item is included in the answer file. During installation, Windows Setup uses this path to install the additional applications and device drivers. For example, if you connect to a distribution share on a network, that network path will be referenced in the answer file.

When you create a distribution share by using Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM), three folders are created automatically. The folders are named $OEM$ Folders, Out-of-Box Drivers, and Packages. If you create your own distribution share, it must contain at least one of the following folders to be recognized as a valid distribution share folder by Windows SIM:

  • $OEM$ Folders
  • Out-of-Box Drivers
  • Packages

Distribution Share Folders

The following sections describe the different folders in a distribution share.

$OEM$ Folders

The $OEM$ folder and subfolders can only be used when creating configuration sets. You can use $OEM$ folders to include logos for branding and to add applications and other files that customize the unattended installation. $OEM$ folders were used with previous versions of Windows, and, in some cases, are not supported in Windows Vista.

As a general rule, to add new files and resources to Windows, use a data image. For more information, see Create a Data Image.

For more information about using $OEM$ folders, see Add Content to $OEM$ Folders.


Do not overwrite existing files carried and serviced by the operating system. Using $OEM$ to update or overwrite these files can cause the operating system to behave unexpectedly and result in serious issues.

Legacy $OEM$ Information

The following table describes the support for legacy $OEM$ folders.

Legacy Term Legacy Definition Supported


Contains all supplemental folders and files for an automated or customized installation.



Contains updated mass-storage drivers and HAL files required during the text-mode portion of Setup.



Contains files that Windows Setup copies to the %WINDIR% (for example, C:\windows) folder during installation.



Contains custom help files that Windows Setup copies to the %WINDIR%\Help folder during installation.



Contains files that Windows Setup copies to the %WINDIR%\System32 folder during installation.



Represents the root of the drive on which you installed Windows (also called the boot partition) and contains files that Windows Setup copies to the boot partition during installation.



Contains new or updated Plug-and-Play (PnP) drivers. The user specifies the folder name in the Unattend.xml file for unattended installations. For example, this folder might be named \$OEM$\$1\Pnpdrvs.



Contains files used for Sysprep-based installation.



Contains files that Windows Setup copies to %DOCUMENTS_AND_SETTINGS% during installation.



Contains programs that Windows Setup copies to the %PROGRAM_FILES% folder during installation.


\$OEM$\$Progs\Internet Explorer

Contains the settings file to customize Internet Explorer.



A subfolder of the drive that contains files that Windows Setup copies to the subfolder during installation. Multiple instances of this type of folder may exist under the \$OEM$\drive_letter folder, for example, \$OEM$\D\MyFolder.


Out-of-Box Drivers Folder

Drivers are a type of software that enables hardware or devices to function.

The Out-of-box Drivers folder includes additional device drivers that you install during Windows Setup. You can add additional device drivers during Windows Setup by using Windows SIM. Three types of drivers are used in Setup:

  • In-box drivers.
    In-box drivers are handled the same as packages.
  • Out-of-box drivers.
    You can add additional .inf-based, out-of-box device drivers during Windows Setup by using Windows SIM. Typically, these out-of-box drivers are processed during the auditSystem configuration pass. Your .inf-based, out-of-box drivers must be in a distribution share subfolder called "Out-of-Box Drivers". For more information, see Add Out-of-Box Drivers to a Distribution Share.
  • In-box drivers installed using an .msi file.
    In-box drivers requiring an .msi file are added through the same means as applications.


Boot-critical device drivers required for installation must be added during the windowsPE configuration pass. These device drivers are added by using the Microsoft-Windows-PnpCustomizationsWinPE component. For more information, see Add Device Drivers During Windows Setup. You can also add device drivers to an offline image by using Package Manager. For more information, see Add Device Drivers to an Offline Windows Image.

Packages Folder

Packages must be imported to a distribution share by using Windows SIM. The Packages folder is a location for Microsoft Windows software updates. Package types include service packs, security updates, language packs, and other packages issued by Microsoft. You must use Windows SIM to import packages. Once the package is imported and available in the Distribution Share pane, you can add the package to the answer file. For more information, see Import a Package to a Distribution Share.

Configuration Sets

After an unattended answer file has been validated and saved, you can create a configuration set. A configuration set is a subset of a distribution share that can be created by using Windows SIM. Configuration sets are useful when a network share is not available. Configuration sets can be stored on removable media and used in the field. Creating a configuration set exports binaries referenced in the unattended answer file and puts them together into a self-contained file set accessible from the Unattend.xml file.

What a Configuration Set Contains

A configuration set contains a complete collection of files, drivers, applications, patches, and answer files that are used to customize Windows installations. A configuration set contains all the required binaries packaged with an associated unattended answer file.

Benefits of Configuration Sets

Using configuration sets for unattended installations provides the following benefits:

  • A configuration set is a smaller and more portable version of a distribution share, which can be several gigabytes in size. You can use configuration sets to install Windows operating systems out in the field.
  • Configuration sets are completely self-contained and have no references outside the file set.
  • You can duplicate a configuration set and then edit it for each different computer model that you manufacture and release.


If a configuration set is used during Windows Setup, all the contents at the root of the media where the answer file exists are copied to the Windows installation. If there are many files and folders at the same level as the answer file, Windows Setup copies all the files and folders to the Windows installation. Be aware that this might slow down installation, and, in some cases, you might run out of disk space.

See Also


Windows SIM Terminology
Windows SIM Architecture
Windows System Image Manager User Interface
Understanding Windows Image Files and Catalog Files
Understanding Answer Files
Understanding Settings and Properties