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In my last article I introduced those free Microsoft's deployment tools that help you plan Windows 7 deployment. Today, I will give you an overview of the tools that you can use to prepare the image of your Windows 7 master installation. The most important tool collection certainly is the Windows Automated Installation Kit. This kit is usually abbreviated as WAIK, but in Microsoft's documentation it is called Windows AIK. The first four tools described in this article are most essential. The WAIK contains a few additional useful command line tools, such as BCDboot (set up a system partition) and DrvLoad (adds out-of-box drivers to a booted Windows PE image), but I don't discuss them here. I will discuss the WAIK's installation tools in part 3.
Windows System Image Manager (WSIM) ^
WSIM is a GUI tool that allows you to create answer files for unattended Windows setups. Installing Windows unattended means that typical setup configurations—such as applications, additional device drivers or updates that have to be added during the installation, Windows settings, and system partition settings—are stored in an answer file and loaded from there during the installation process. This allows you to fully automate Windows 7 deployment.
ImageX is an important command line tool for creating, modifying, and deploying Windows images (.wim files). Windows deployment without it is hardly imaginable. If you are a Vista geek, you already know this tool inside out. I blogged about the new features in Windows 7 and the tool's new command line options a while back. If you prefer using GUIs, you should also check out GImageX.
Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) ^
As a Vista expert, you might not yet be familiar with DISM. This tool replaced three other tools in the WAIK: Package Manager, PEimg, and Intlcfg. You can use DISM to add OS updates and drivers and to change language-related settings in .wim files. It is also for creating and modifying Windows PE images. I blogged about DISM in more detail before: Introduction to DISM, Managing .wim files with DISM
Sysprep will also be well-known to anyone familiar with Windows cloning. It is used to remove unique elements of a Windows installation such as the computer name and the Security Identifier (SID). You have to run this tool before you create a master image that you want to deploy client computers. Since Windows Vista Sysprep is already included in every installation and can be found under C:\Windows\System32\sysprep\.
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Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) ^
If you used third-party cloning tools to deploy Windows XP, you probably had to work with DOS to create and deploy Windows images. When Microsoft finally embraced OS imaging they introduced Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) for this purpose. It is a limited Windows OS that also comes into play when you boot up from a Windows setup DVD.
In Part 3 of this series, I will show you those free Microsoft tools that allow you to deliver the Windows 7 master image to your PCs.