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Tech Tip: Hand out applications over the network

One of the tasks all Windows 9x administrators face in a networked environment is distributing applications to users. You can set up a series of installation shares from a central point, but you need to keep your users up to date on where to find these applications. To do so, create and maintain a central list of applications on the network.

Users can access this list from the Add/Remove Programs applet in Control Panel, and it allows them access to the setup programs you dictate, wherever you put them. You only need to maintain one list, and users will access the updated file when they open the applet.

First, you need to make the installation set for the applications available either by sharing the CD drive where the installation set resides or by copying the files to a network share. If you ever move these files, you'll only need to make one change for your users to access the files again.

For this example, let's say the share name is \\distributionserver\netapp1.

Create a text file in your favorite editor (e.g., Notepad), and save it as Apps.ini in a share your users will have read-only access to (e.g., \\distributionserver\c$\apps.ini).

The contents of this file should be in the following format.

[AppInstallList]
Application Name=*\\distributionserver\netapp1\setup.exe
Application Name=*\\anotherserver\netapp2\setup.exe
Application Name=*\\distributionserver\netapp3\install.exe

The asterisk [*] is only necessary if the setup program won't run from a UNC share name properly. If you need to move the installation media, a single change to the Apps.ini file will be all you need to point the clients to the new media.

After creating the central list, you need to make a registry change so client PCs can access the list.

Follow these steps:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (Regedit.exe).
  2. Navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion
  3. Select Edit | New | String Value.
  4. Name the new value appinstallpath.
  5. Double-click the new value. In the Value Data field, enter the network path to Apps.ini (e.g., \\distributionserver\c$\apps.ini).
  6. Close the Registry Editor.

When you open the Add/Remove Programs applet from Control Panel, you'll find a new tab named Network Install and a list of the applications listed in Apps.ini. Highlight the application to install, and click Install to begin the setup application.

Making this change to all the PCs on the network would be a fairly laborious task, but with the use of Reg.exe, you can automate the task with the following line in a batch file.

reg add "hklm\software\microsoft\windows\currentversion\
appinstallpath=\\distributionserver\c$\apps.ini"

You can even add this command to a login script to distribute the additional values painlessly. If the path to the Apps.ini file changes, you can change the registry value in the same way, modifying the command to the following.

reg update "hklm\software\microsoft\windows\currentversion\
appinstallpath=\\distributionserver\c$\apps.ini"

Note: Remember that editing the registry is risky, so make sure you have a verified backup before you begin.

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