David D'Souza, the Director of Development in the Windows Core OS Division, wrote an article about the reasons why Microsoft used imaging technology for the setup process of Windows Vista. It is interesting to note that installation speed seems to be the main advantage in his view. We use imaging technology since we deploy Windows NT, and performance was never the reason why we preferred it over unattended installations.
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I know that many vendors of cloning tools advertise the installation performance of their products. Of course, it is better to install Windows within 15 minutes instead of an hour. However, if you're working with unattended setups, installation time isn't an issue since it doesn't cost extra time for an administrator.
The real advantage of imaging in general is that is much faster to configure the desktop. You don't have to prepare installation scripts and worry about the error-prone deployment process. All you have to do is to install the OS and all applications and then just copy the whole thing to the PC. This is much easier and therefore less time consuming.
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However, the biggest advantage of Vista's imaging technology is that it is hardware independent. I wrote an article about this recently: No more HAL-hell, the implications of Windows Vista's hardware independent imaging technology