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While the Internet Explorer management methods discussed in the previous parts of this series allow you to change settings on deployed Internet Explorer installations, there’s also a method to configure Internet Explorer before it’s even installed.
For this purpose we use the same technology used to customize the installation of Windows 8 itself: the unattended installation answer files.
This management method is useful when you haven’t deployed Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 yet, or want to regularly deploy Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 installation with your settings. VDI and automated RDS (re)installations can be considered prime examples.
About Unattended installation answer files
Since the Windows NT 3.5 era, it’s possible to change the behavior of the Windows installation media with an unattended Installation answer file; unattend.txt. Now, since then, Microsoft has made a lot of improvements. One notable improvement is the format of the unattended installation answer file. It is now a XML-based. Also, the tool to write the file supports syntax checking, so you don’t have to use the file to know whether it’s good or not.
When you feed the xml file to a piece of hardware that is about to be installed, it’s picked up and the information in it will be used.
Working with unattended installation answer files
To manage Internet Explorer in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, you need to create the unattended installation answer file and then feed it. To create an unattended installation answer file, we’ll use the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM), part of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) and point it to a folder where we copied the Windows installation media.
Downloading and unpacking Windows installation media
The Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) requires read/write access to Windows installation media (and then specifically an install.wim). On the Windows 8 PC where you plan to install the Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK), copy the contents of a Windows DVD or *.iso file to a folder on the hard disk.
You can use the Windows 8 Evaluation for this purpose. It’s a free download.
Mounting *.iso files is now a native capability in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. You no longer need any third party tools to gain access to the files inside an *.iso file.
Remember the location where you unpacked or copied the Windows installation media to.
Downloading and installing the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK)
You can download the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) as part of the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK). The installer for the ADK (adksetup.exe) is only 1.2 MB. During installation you’ll make the choices that will influence both the tools available to you and the size of the download.
For the purpose of managing Internet Explorer with Unattended Installation Answer Files, you only need to have Deployment Tools selected:
Selecting the features to install from the Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK)
After installation, you’ll find a new Tile on your Start Screen. It has a slightly distorted icon, but the name is clearly readable as Windows System Image Manager. This is the program, we’ll use to create our unattended installation answer files, including the Internet Explorer 10 settings.
Creating unattended installation answer files
In the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM), Click File and then New Answer File…. A message box will appear to tell you editing an answer file without opening a Windows image will result in limited functionality. It will ask you to open a Windows image, which is perfect. Yes would be a good answer.
Now, browse to the location where you upacked/copied your Windows 8 installation media to and locate install.wim in the \sources folder. Follow the on-screen instruction to create or locate a catalog file.
After these initial steps, you’ll find yourself in the Windows System Image Manager. This screen consists of a couple of panes:
The Windows System Image Manager Main Screen
In the lower left part of the main screen, you’ll find the components in the image you selected. In the context of the Windows System Image Manager these can be seen as management areas. In the center you’ll find the seven passes of Windows installation. On the right you’ll see the settings per pass.
Now, managing settings for Internet Explorer is easy in the Windows System Image Manager (WSIM):
Browse to the component name containing Microsoft-Windows-IE-InternetExplorer in the bottom left pane. Now, right-click it and select Add Setting to Pass 4 specialize from the context menu.
Now change the setting(s) you want to change, either in a subcomponent or in the properties of the Microsoft-Windows-IE-InternetExplorer component itself.
Disabling the First Run Wizard in the Windows System Image Manager
When you’re done, click on Validate Answer File from the Tools menu. Now, check the Messages pane in the bottom of the screen for errors. If there are none, you can save the Unattended Installation Answer File by clicking Save Answer File or Save Answer File As… from the File menu.
Using the unattended installation answer file
Now, you can use the newly created unattended installation answer file in a couple of ways. One of my favorites is saving it as unattend.xml on removable media, as this is the filename the Windows Setup automatically searches for on removable media.
Of course, you can also use the unattended installation answer file with Windows Deployment Services (WDS), Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) task sequences, System Center Configuration Manager task sequences, Symantec Ghost Solution Suite and many of the other deployment solutions out there.
I’m sure once you get the hang of these Unattended Installation Answer Files you’ll use them to customize many of the available components.