Deployment tools for Microsofts Windows Vista are barely out of the oven—heck, Vista itself is still cooling—but eWEEK Labs donned some fireproof mitts and used these tools to put the OS on our systems.
eWEEK Labs tests of new deployment tools from Microsoft show that most organizations should be able to upgrade to Vista with far less fuss than it took to upgrade to Windows XP.
We evaluated the Beta 3 version of Microsofts Business Desktop Deployment 2007. BDD 2007 includes WAIK (Windows Automation Installation Kit), which itself includes WinSIM (Windows System Image Manager), WinPE (Windows Preinstallation Environment) and ImageX. WinPE and ImageX are currently in their final form, while BDD 2007 and WAIK are expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2007.
This host of Microsoft tools goes hand in hand with fundamental changes that have modularized Windows and made the operating system language-neutral and independent from the HAL (hardware abstraction layer). Vista can detect which HAL is required and install it. The chief caveat to HAL independence is that 32- and 64-bit architectures require separate Vista image files.
BDD 2007 provides an overarching set of practice guides for planning and preparing for a Vista deployment. BDD 2007 also includes tools to test for application compatibility with Vista, perform hardware and software inventories of existing machines, and generally assess the readiness of an organization for Vista deployment.
BDD 2007 also works with Microsoft SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003 to provide organizations with zero-touch installation for systems deployed in the field. eWEEK Labs will evaluate deployment using SMS 2003 in future Vista deployment articles.
The fundamental building block of a Vista deployment is the WIM (Windows Imaging Format)-based image file. The WIM image format is manipulated with the ImageX command-line tool that is part of WAIK. WIM and ImageX are among the biggest changes that IT managers will encounter when preparing to deploy Vista.
In our tests, we created a reference installation of Vista on a Gateway E-6610D PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86GHz processor and 1GB of system RAM.
We started our deployment by first downloading and installing the WAIK components onto a PC running XP.
WAIK also can be run on Windows Server 2003.
After installing WAIK, we navigated to WinSIM, the tool for creating the unattended installation answer files now used by Vista. Answer files store the custom settings that are applied during Windows setup.
System managers likely will be pleased by the fact that there is now a single unattended answer file, called unattend.xml, that replaces sysprep.inf, wimborn.ini and cmdlines.txt.
While it isnt necessary to combine all configuration items in a single file, all configuration items do go into an XML-formatted file. We selected the Windows Vista Ultimate image and the corresponding catalog, a binary file that contains the state information for settings and packages in the selected Windows image.
We created new answer files many times during our testing, and we recommend that IT managers plan on spending a significant amount of time to understand all the implications of choices made during the process. Top-level system experts should be involved in designing the answers that will be used in the final version of the unattend.xml file.
The good news is that nearly all the answer file fields include validation checking. The fields that dont have drop-down lists restrict choices to valid character lists.
Deploying Vista is more than a matter of using the new tools and procedures outlined in this review.
For one thing, the minimum size of a Vista image is about 2GB (compressed)—far bigger than what will fit on a single CD, which is what we have been accustomed to using with Windows XP and Windows 2000 deployments.
And the image file will only get bigger once additional image components are added, to accommodate organization-specific languages, drivers, packages and so on.