In this post, I am going to introduce some important concepts of Windows Vista's imaging technology. Every Windows system administrator has to learn about this sooner or later since imaging is the only way to install Windows Vista.
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File-based: There are imaging tools which are sector-based. Usually they are faster than file-based cloning tools. The advantage of file-based tools is that you don't have to overwrite the complete hard disk or partition since the OS is copied file by file and not sector by sector. Windows Vista uses file-based imaging.
WIM-format: All Windows image files use Windows Imaging format. If you used the OS Deployment Feature Pack for SMS 2003, you know this format already.
Multiple images: A WIM file can contain multiple images. A file that is contained in several images is only stored once in the WIM. This saves space. With this feature, you can store different editions of Windows Vista in one image file.
Image injection: Another nice feature of WIM images is that they can be mounted to inject device drivers or files. You can copy files to the image using Windows Explorer or you use the drvload tool which automatically copies device drivers to the correct location in the image.
install.wim: This file is the WIM image that comes with the Windows Vista DVD.
boot.wim: This is WIM file for Windows PE 2.0 .
Compression: There are two compression levels for WIM images. The default level XPress. LZX is a higher compression level, but capturing and applying the image takes longer.
HAL-independent: This is probably the most important feature of Vista's imaging technology. You can apply a Vista image on PCs with different Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). If you deploy Windows XP using a third party imaging tool, you always have to create a new image with new hardware. Now, you only need different images for computers having a 32 bit or 64 bit CPU.
ImageX: This is the tool you use to capture, apply and mount images. It is a command line tool which enables you to script it.
Creating Images: If you only want to add some device drivers or files to the original image of the Windows Vista DVD, you can just mount it with ImageX. However, if you want to install applications before you capture the image, you have to work with Windows PE. First, prepare your master PC, then boot WinPE from a DVD to use ImageX to capture the Image.
Applying Images: You can create your own boot DVD with the image you captured. The other option is to use Windows Deployment Services (WDS) to deploy Windows Vista. You boot the machines using PXE, load WinPE and then apply the image. I am sure that all vendors offering deployment tools will also support Vista's imaging technology. Of course you can also use Microsoft's Systems Management Server to deploy Windows Vista.
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Windows System Image Manager (WSIM): You use WSIM to create unattended installation answer files. You can also use WSIM to add Windows components or packages, for example, language packages to an answer file. It is also possible to add commands which can be executed during the installation process. This way you can install device drivers which come as EXE files or you can install applications during the setup process.