Deploying Windows XP Part II: Implementing

Published: June 01, 2001 | Updated: August 08, 2001


This paper introduces automated deployment options and other tools used in deploying the Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional operating system in a corporate environment. As a roadmap to deployment resources, it summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each automated deployment option, and shows where to locate deployment tools.

On This Page

Choosing a Deployment Tool
Unattended Installation
Using a Bootable CD-ROM
System Preparation Tool
Remote Installation Services
Systems Management Server (SMS)
Other Tools Used in Deploying Windows XP
Windows XP Professional Installation Tools Checklist
Related Links


This paper introduces ways to deploy automated and customized installations of Windows XP Professional to one or more desktop computers. It is intended as an introduction and roadmap.

Reasons for automating and customizing installations

In large organizations that support hundreds or even thousands of computers, it is expensive and inefficient to manually install the operating system on each computer and answer every displayed Setup question. In this environment, it is often necessary to automate the installation process. Different software and hardware configurations and varying user needs also make it necessary to customize installations.

How it works

During an automated installation, Setup runs with minimal or no user interaction. Administrators can automate an installation of Windows XP Professional by using an answer file, which contains predefined settings and answers to the questions that are asked during Setup. Optionally, answer files can also contain instructions for running programs and applications.

A custom installation is a modification of a standard installation of Windows XP Professional that supports specific hardware and software configurations. To customize an installation, administrators can modify the answer file to provide Setup with specific answers and instructions, and to add specific custom files, applications, and programs to the distribution folder.

Administrators can automate and customize a Windows XP Professional installation to include:

  • The operating system.

  • Productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office.

  • Custom applications.

  • Support for multiple languages.

  • Service Packs for Windows XP Professional.

  • Hardware device drivers.

Choosing a Deployment Tool

You can install Windows XP Professional on client computers in various ways. Which installation method you choose should be based on several factors, including:

  • Whether you upgrade from an existing operating system or perform clean installations.

  • The number of computers in the deployment.

  • If you want to allow users to install the operating system themselves, or if you want to perform unattended installations.

  • How much customization is required for your installations.

  • What hardware is available and how the various types differ.

  • If you are using the Microsoft Active Directory™ service.

Considerations for each method are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1 Methods and Requirements for installing Windows XP Professional

Method and requirements

Bootable CD-ROM

Unattended installation


Remote Installation Services (RIS)

Systems Management Server

Upgrade or clean install

Upgrade or clean install

Upgrade or clean install

Clean install only

Clean install only

Upgrade only

Required hardware

CD-ROM drive on each computer

A network boot disk if using a remote distribution share

All desktop computers need similar hardware configurations

PXE-enabled desktop computers or computers with network cards supported by the Remote Boot Floppy

A fast connection to the SMS site

Server requirements

Does not require a server

Does not require a server

Does not require a server

Requires Active Directory on a server running Windows 2000 Server or later

Requires a Windows-based server with SMS running an SMS site

User interaction requirement

Minimal for upgrades; more for clean installation


Minimal if using Sysprep.inf



Considerations for modifying project

No changes can be made

Requires updating Unattend.txt

Requires updating and re-imaging the master installation

Requires modifying the answer file

Requires creating and advertising package

Unattended Installation

In an unattended installation, you use scripts to answer questions during Setup, a benefit that simplifies installing the operating system on multiple computers. You can use Setup Manager 3.0 to guide you through the process of creating custom setup scripts. To start an unattended installation, run Winnt32.exe on a computer that has Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, or Windows 2000 installed, and then select the appropriate command options to run the scripts.

When to Use Unattended Installation

Unattended installation is the easiest method to use for operating system upgrades on numerous computers. Unattended installation can also be used to automate clean installations. This tool is appropriate for installing Windows XP Professional on a large number of client computers with different hardware and software configurations. If you are planning to perform a clean installation on a computer that does not have an operating system installed, and you want to install from a CD-ROM in unattended mode, the name of the answer file must be Winnt.sif. Winnt.sif has the same sections and entries as Unattend.txt.

To install from a CD-ROM, the computer must also be configured with El-Torito No Emulation CD-ROM boot support, and the Winnt.sif answer file must be available on a floppy disk.

If you are planning to perform either a clean installation or an operating system upgrade on a computer that already has one of the supported operating systems installed, the answer file is typically named Unattend.txt; however, in this scenario you can determine the name of the answer file.

Advantages of Unattended Installation

Using scripts can save time and money by eliminating the need of administrators or users to attend to each computer and answer questions during installation. Unattended installation provides the ability to perform an automated deployment of an upgrade to Windows XP Professional on numerous computers. You can also design unattended installations to give administrators the flexibility to let users provide input during the installation process.

Disadvantages of Unattended Setup

Over a network connection, unattended setup only supports the upgrading of an operating system; you cannot perform a clean installation on a computer that does not already have an operating system installed. To use unattended setup to perform a clean installation of Windows XP Professional, the client computer must be configured with El-Torito No Emulation CD-ROM boot support, and the Winnt.sif answer file must be available on a floppy disk.

Using a Bootable CD-ROM

Administrators can copy the image created with the System Preparation (Sysprep) or tool onto a CD. You can provide an automated clean installation for any user without a network connection. As with other Sysprep installations, you may require the user to enter information, for example, a computer name, or provide a script. To provide a unique script for each user, copy the script onto a floppy disk that the user runs at the same time as the CD-ROM during Setup.

When to Use a Bootable CD-ROM

Use a bootable CD-ROM to install Windows XP Professional on client computers that are not readily connected to the network. For example, a bootable CD-ROM might be sent to a field office that has only low-bandwidth network connections. The system can then be installed at field offices without interaction by the user.

Advantages of a Bootable CD-ROM

A bootable CD-ROM is quick, saving the time required for downloading system files from a network. It simplifies deployment of the operating system on computers that do not have high-speed connectivity. A bootable CD-ROM can be used to install Windows XP Professional, fully configured for a network, on client computers that are not connected to the network.

Disadvantages of a Bootable CD-ROM

The bootable CD-ROM requires manual installation at each computer and may not be suitable for very large images (over 650 MB).

System Preparation Tool

The System Preparation tool (Sysprep.exe) allows you to take a snapshot of a configured workstation and transfer that image to multiple workstations (using a third-party tool). This process is also known as cloning, disk-image copying, or ghost imaging.

How it works

To clone a system, configure a reference computer with the operating system, standard desktop settings, and applications that users need, and then make an image of the reference computer's hard disk. This enables you to transfer the image to other computers and install the system, settings, and applications quickly and without the need to configure each computer. Sysprep prepares the reference computer for cloning. Sysprep creates a unique Security ILD (SID) for each cloned client thereby making this process secure. Sysprep detects Plug and Play devices and adjusts for systems with different devices. Sysprep runs a Mini-Setup Wizard to solicit user-specific information, such as user name or time zone selection. You can also write an answer file script to provide these answers, enabling fully automated installations.

Note: Sysprep performs the preparation of the system image, but a cloning utility from a third party is required to perform the image-copying phase. For more information, see the section below Using other tools with Sysprep.

When to Use Sysprep

Use Sysprep to deploy clean installations in large organizations where hundreds of computers need the same applications and desktop configurations. Use Sysprep if the computers in your organization have only a few standard hardware configurations, rather than many customized configurations.

Sysprep allows you to duplicate a custom image based on a Windows XP Professional installation from a master computer to destination computers. The master and destination computers must have similar hardware and software configurations. The master computer and the destination computers must have the same hardware abstraction layer (HAL).

Advantages of Sysprep

Sysprep greatly reduces deployment time, because nearly every component, including the operating system, applications, and desktop settings, can be configured without user interaction. The master image can be copied to a CD-ROM and physically distributed to clients, saving the time and network capacity required to load files across the network. Using Sysprep to deploy Windows XP Professional on numerous desktops in a large organization enables you to implement standardized desktops, administrative policies, and restrictions. In addition, by default, Sysprep does not perform full hardware Plug and Play enumeration, reducing this part of Setup to a few minutes, instead of the usual 20 minutes to 30 minutes for each computer.

Disadvantages of Sysprep

If you use a third-party imaging utility with Sysprep to copy a reference image onto physical media, you must be able to distribute the physical media to remote clients. The size of the reference image is limited by the capacity of the CD (approximately 650 MB). Sysprep cannot be used to upgrade earlier versions of the operating system. You must arrange to back-up data and user settings prior to the installation, and then restore the data and user settings after the installation.

Where to find Sysprep

Sysprep is located on the Windows XP Professional CD-ROM in Support\Tools\ A version can also be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site at

Using Other Tools with Sysprep

There are several other tools that you can use in conjunction with Sysprep:

Remote Installation Services

Remote Installation Services (RIS) enables you to perform a clean installation of Windows XP Professional, any current version of Windows Server, or any version of Windows 2000 (except Windows 2000 Datacenter Server), on supported computers throughout your organization. You can simultaneously deploy the operating system on multiple client computers from one or more remote locations.

How it works

RIS works by enabling your computer to boot from a network card. System administrators can use RIS to create and store one or more images of a supported operating system on a server running RIS (RIS Server). A RIS image can then be downloaded over a network connection by a client computer that supports the Pre-Boot eXecution Environment (PXE). The installation of the downloaded RIS image can either be completely automated, or the user can be required to provide input, such as a computer name or an administrator password.

RIS is a feature introduced in Windows 2000 Server. To use this feature, the Active Directory service must be configured. Then, you can deploy the supported operations systems using the Pre-Boot eXecution Environment (PXE) technology that allows computers to boot from their network adapters. Administrators working with a RIS server can install a pre-configured image of a supported operating system on a client computer's hard disk.

For computers that do not contain a PXE-based remote boot ROM, Remote Installation Services includes a tool called Remote Boot Floppy Generator (Rbfg.exe) to create a remote boot disk for use with RIS. The RIS remote boot disk can be used with a variety of supported PCI-based network adapters.

When to use Remote Installation Services

Use Remote Installation Services on new desktop computers that are added to a network, or on desktop computers on which you want to perform a clean installation of the operating system. Use Remote Installation Services when you want to standardize a Windows XP Professional configuration on new desktop computers or on computers with an existing operating system that you want to replace with Windows XP Professional. With RIS, you can create two types of media: CD-ROMs or RIPrep images. The remote source (the RIS server) contains the operating system image, to be installed on a CD-ROM or in the RIPrep image format. The CD-based option is similar to setting up a client directly from the Windows XP Professional CD-ROM, except that the source files reside on an available RIS server. You can only use RIS for clean installations.

Advantages of Remote Installation Services

Remote Installation Services offers a simple way to replace the operating system on a computer. RIS uses the Single Instance Store (SIS) method to eliminate duplicate files and reduce the overall storage required on the server for system files. You can use the RIPrep option to install and configure a client computer to comply with specific corporate desktop standards.

The most important advantages of RIS are:

  • It enables you to standardize your Windows XP Professional installation.

  • It enables you to customize and control the end-user installation. You can configure the end-user Setup wizard with specific choices that can be controlled by using Group Policy.

  • It does not require you to distribute physical media, and image size is not constrained by the capacity of distributed physical media.

Disadvantages of Remote Installation Services

Remote Installation Services can only be used for client computers that are connected to a network running any current version of Windows Server with Active Directory configured. It can only be used on computers that are equipped with PCI network adapters that are enabled for PXE technology. RIS will only work with images that have been created from the C: drive, and it will not use images of other partitions on a hard disk. You cannot use RIS to upgrade the operating system on a client computer. You can only use RIS for clean installations of an operating system.

Where to Find Remote Installation Services

RIS is included in Windows 2000 Server under Administrative Tools.

Systems Management Server (SMS)

SMS includes an integrated set of tools for managing Windows-based networks made up of thousands of computers. SMS includes desktop management and software distribution tools that can significantly automate the task of upgrading the operating system on client computers.

When to Use SMS

In organizations where SMS is already deployed to manage computers and deploy software from a central location, it provides a convenient means for administrators to upgrade computers to Windows XP Professional.

You can only use SMS for upgrades of Windows-based clients, not for clean installations. For information about how administrators should plan for and implement a Windows XP Professional deployment using SMS, see Using Systems Management Server to Deploy Windows 2000 at

Advantages of SMS

You can upgrade computers in locked-down or low-rights environments, and even upgrade computers after hours, without the user being signed on. SMS enables you to set deployment policies, making deployment optional, absolutely mandatory, or delayed mandatory. Automatic load balancing between distribution points accommodates large numbers of concurrent upgrades.

The primary advantage of upgrading by using SMS is that you can maintain centralized control of the upgrade. For example, you can control when upgrades take place, which computers to upgrade, and how to apply network constraints.

Disadvantages of SMS

SMS is an efficient deployment tool for Windows XP Professional only if it is already being used within your network.

Where to Find SMS

SMS is a stand-alone product. For more information, see the Microsoft Systems Management Server Web site at

Other Tools Used in Deploying Windows XP

There are numerous tools that administrators can use to deploy Windows XP Professional. This section highlights advanced tools that can speed and enhance your deployment.

Active Directory Migration Tool

The Active Directory Migration Tool provides an easy, secure, and fast way to migrate to Windows 2000 Active Directory service. As a system administrator, you can use this tool to diagnose any possible problems before starting migration operations to Windows 2000 Server Active Directory. You can then use the task-based wizard to migrate users, groups, and computers; set correct file permissions; and migrate Microsoft Exchange Server mailboxes. The tool's reporting feature allows you to assess the impact of the migration, both before and after move operations.

Windows 2000 Active Directory Sizer Tool

The Active Directory Sizer tool allows you to estimate the hardware required for deploying Active Directory in your organization. The estimate provided is based on your organization's profile, domain information, and site topology. If your organization consists of more than one domain, answering the domain input wizard multiple times or duplicating existing domains may model multiple domains.

Active Directory Services Interfaces (ADSI)

ADSI abstracts the capabilities of different directory services from different network vendors to present a single set of directory service interfaces for managing network resources. Administrators and developers can use ADSI to manage the resources in a directory service, regardless of which network environment contains the resource. ADSI enables administrators to automate common tasks such as adding users and groups, managing printers, and setting permissions on network resources.

Windows Installer

Windows Installer is a core component of the software installation and maintenance feature.

Windows Script Host (WSH)

WSH is a language-independent scripting host that brings simple, powerful, and flexible scripting. This allows you to write powerful scripts for automating deployment tasks. WSH provides a foundation for the execution of scripting languages, such as VBScript or Microsoft JScript®. With these and other available scripting languages, administrators can write extremely powerful management applications to automate operations throughout the network environment. WSH scripts have access to the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and ADSI. WSH scripts also support the use of Microsoft ActiveX® controls.

Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)

WMI is the Microsoft implementation of Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM), an initiative to establish standards for accessing and sharing management information over an enterprise network. WMI is WBEM-compliant and provides integrated support for the Common Information Model (CIM), the data model that describes the objects that exist in a management environment.

WMI can use information originating from diverse sources to monitor the health of an application, service, or an entire Windows 2000-based network. Thresholds and aggregate views of data can reconcile disparate information and events to diagnose problems and provide an accurate, detailed picture of the network—including potential for serious problems. When used in combination with scripting capabilities, WMI-supplied data can be used for load balancing and event-triggered alarm, backup, or system shutdown decisions. And, when combined with the other Windows management technologies, WMI can help to simplify the task of developing well-integrated management applications that provide end-to-end network and systems management.

Windows 2000 Resource Kit tools

Windows XP Professional Installation Tools Checklist

See Table 2 to locate installation tools.

Table 2 Windows XP Professional installation tools

Tool and/or information

Go to


\I386 on the Windows XP Professional operating system CD.


Support\Tools\ on the Windows XP Professional operating system CD-ROM.

Remote Installation Services

Included in current versions of Windows Server.


Systems Management Server product CD-ROM.

Setup Manager version 3.0

Support\Tools\ on the Windows XP Professional CD-ROM.

Microsoft Windows Presinstallation Reference (Ref.chm)

Support\Tools\ on the Windows XP Professional operating system CD. You can use Windows Explorer or you can run the Extract.exe command to extract and view the Ref.chm file.

Microsoft Windows Corporate Deployment Tools User's Guide (Deploy.chm).

Support\Tools\ on the Windows XP Professional CD that contains the You can use Windows Explorer or you can run the Extract.exe command to extract and view the Deploy.chm file.

Active Directory Migration Tool


Windows Installer

Windows Script Host



This paper provides a quick glance at the various available deployment tools offering different types of automation and customization. It shows the advantages and disadvantages of using each of the following methods:

  • Unattended Installation

  • Bootable CD-ROM

  • System Preparation Tool

  • Remote Installation Services

  • System Management Server (SMS)

Choosing the right tool will depend on the size and scope of your organization and the existing infrastructure. Smaller organizations may still want to use a bootable CD-ROM as a low tech solution. Larger organizations may want to consider using SMS for its rich set of tools for managing Windows-based networks made up of thousands of computers.

For details about deploying Windows XP Professional, see the documentation located in the Deploy.chm file provided in Support\Tools\ on the Windows XP Professional CD.

See also the following deployment-related papers:

For the latest information on Windows XP, check out our Web site at

Windows 2000 Resources

The following Windows 2000 resources are also useful in deploying Windows XP:


Wes Miller, Program Manager, Microsoft Corporation

John Kaiser, Technical Editor, Microsoft Corporation

Parts of this paper also appear in the Windows XP Professional Resource Kit.