During our tests, however, we found that adding duplicate components to a Vista image file did not significantly increase the image file size because WinSIM uses a single-file instance. In WinSIM, we expanded the components from our Vista catalog to display available settings. Many of these settings will be familiar to experienced system managers.We added components simply by selecting them, and then right-clicked on each component to assign it to one of seven configuration passes made during the WinSIM processing. In nearly all cases, the correct pass level was the only choice presented when we selected components.Organizations should devote the bulk of planning time to getting the values right for the components that need to be installed. For example, based on hardware inventory reports we ran using third-party tools already in place on our network, we knew that all our systems had hard drives with a minimum capacity of 40GB. In the first round of tests, we were unconcerned with saving any data on the local drives. Thus, we specified in the unattend.xml file that the Vista setup disk configuration component should wipe the disk, create a 37GB primary partition (leaving a margin to ensure that the installation proceeded) and show an error message on the screen only if an error occurred. We also specified that the partitions should be formatted as NTFS (NT File System) and labeled EWKLABS, using C as the drive letter with a partition ID of 1. Many of these seemingly small details were significant in later package installations. We recommend that IT managers become intimately familiar with using WinSIM to examine answer files that are used in the organization. It also would be helpful if Microsoft included some kind of reporting mechanism so that unattend.xml files could be communicated inside the IT organization, with changes and implementation dates tracked. After selecting all components and providing settings for each, we ran the "validate answer file" utility. While WinSIM does an excellent job of ensuring that only valid answers are provided for each component setting, it is very easy for valid-but-incorrect answers to be entered by IT staff. This was reinforced for us several times during testing when installations failed on lab systems because of human error during file creation. We saved our unattend.xml file to a USB key as autounatted.xml. On the Gateway PC that functioned as our reference, or master, PC, we used the Vista DVD and the answer file on the USB key to run through Vista setupthus creating our master Vista image. We used the Microsoft Sysprep (System Preparation) tool that IT system managers are well familiar with to generalize (formerly known as "reseal") the reference PC image for distribution. WinPE After creating the Vista image on our reference system, we captured the image for deployment using a network share. For this portion of our testing we used WinPE, which is the replacement for MS-DOS in system installation. WinPE is a minimal 32-bit operating system with limited services that is built on the Vista kernel. We used WinPE to start a miniversion of Vista from the USB key and from the network to install and troubleshoot Vista. PC makers prepare to roll out Vista options. Click here to read more. On our XP system with WAIK installed, we easily created the WinPE files needed to create an ISO that we burned to DVD along with the reference Vista image file that we created for our environment. On our reference PC with Vista, we restarted the system by booting from the WinPE disk. We had copied ImageX onto the WinPE disk so that we could finish the deployment process. Once the Gateway PC was booted to WinPE, we used ImageX at the command line to capture the master Vista image. We copied the image to a network share, a process that was enabled by WinPE. We also created a wimscript.ini file that instructed ImageX to ignore certain log files, such as ntfs.log, during execution. There are well-documented instructions for creating and using this file, and we had no trouble with it in our WinPE environment. From the WinPE environment, we used the diskpart command to format the hard drive. We matched the parameters we provided during the creation of our reference system. Once the hard drive was ready, we copied the reference Vista image from the network share and applied the image to the hard drive using the ImageX tool. With the image installed, we started up our newly deployed image on a variety of equipment with no problems. Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.