Walk through a basic Windows XP Professional attended installation

While Windows XP's installation is similar to NT or 2000, it's significantly different than Windows 98 and Me. Here's what to expect when installing it on a clean system.

There are many different ways to install Windows XP; you can do a clean install on a brand new system, a clean install from another version of Windows, or upgrade from another version of Windows. In this article, I’ll be performing a clean install on a new system. Although I’m using the Windows XP Pro Edition for the article, from an installation standpoint, there is no difference between the professional edition and the home edition other than some of the network settings.

The XP setup process is fairly different from what Windows 98 and Windows Me users may be used to; however, it’s almost identical to the setup process used in Windows NT and 2000 environments. The installation process usually takes around 45 minutes, but time will vary depending on the computer's hardware configuration.

Let's start with DOS
You'll begin the installation process in DOS mode. Shortly after running Setup, you’ll be prompted to press [F6] to load any special mass storage device drivers, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The DOS portion of Setup allows you to load mass storage devices.

Usually, you won’t have to worry about this unless you have some strange hardware for which Windows XP doesn’t have built-in drivers. The prompt to press [F6] will clear automatically, and the Setup program will begin detecting your hardware by attempting to load a number of device drivers.

After all of the necessary device drivers have loaded, you’ll see the Welcome to Setup screen shown in Figure B. This screen gives you the opportunity to repair damaged copies of Windows XP using Recovery Console. Press Enter to continue.

Figure B

At this point, you’ll see the Windows XP End User License Agreement (EULA). Press [F8] to continue the installation. You’ll then be prompted as to which partition Windows XP should be installed on. As you can see in Figure C, Setup contains a program that allows you to create and delete partitions. If necessary, create a partition, select the partition, and then press [Enter] to install Windows XP onto that partition.

Figure C
You must select the partition onto which you will install Windows XP.

When you’ve created a new partition, the next screen will ask you which file system the partition should be formatted with, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Use the NTFS file system unless you'll be dual booting to another operating system.

If you aren’t planning on dual booting to any other operating systems or reverting back to a previous OS, I recommend formatting as NTFS. If you’re upgrading from a previous OS, you may see a similar screen, but it will instead ask if you want to leave the current file system intact or convert to NTFS.

Setup will then begin copying all of the Windows XP system files to your machine, which can take quite a while. When the process is complete, the computer will reboot. Setup will then run in graphical mode. The reason it changes to graphical mode is because although Setup copies all of the lower-level files in DOS mode, which is 16-bit, the file copy process works faster in 32-bit mode. So the Setup program waits to copy most of the files until the system has switched to 32-bit mode. You can see a sample of what the graphical mode looks like in Figure E.

Figure E
A large portion of the Setup program runs in GUI mode.

On to the GUI
As the process progresses, Setup will also detect and install the necessary device drivers. This is an automated process, and no end-user interaction is required. When the file copying process is complete, you’ll see the Regional and Language options. If you’re using English, just click Next to continue; otherwise, select the appropriate region and language for your setup.

Setup will then ask for your name and organization. Enter this information and click Next. You’ll also be prompted to enter your product key. If this is a new PC, the product key will be located on a sticker on your PC’s case. For all other computers, you'll find the key somewhere inside the Windows XP CD folder.

You’ll next be prompted to enter a name for the computer. The computer name must be unique if the system will be connected to a network. If your IT department doesn't have a computer-naming standard, check out Mike Walton's article "Naming conventions ease the burden on support."

Setup will next ask you for the modem dialing information. This information includes things like your area code and what number you dial to access an outside line. Then, you’ll be prompted to enter the current date, time, and the time zone you’re in. It’s best use the same time as another networked PC if you're on a Windows 2000 network, because any time discrepancies greater than five minutes can cause complications with Active Directory.

Network settings
The Setup program will ask whether you want to use typical network settings or custom settings. Select Custom Settings if you'll be connecting the machine to a domain. You’ll then see the Networking Components dialog box. At first, you may be tempted to begin assigning settings, but be sure to pay close attention to which adapter you’re assigning the settings to. Click Next until the correct network adapter is selected.

You'll then verify the existence of the following components: Client for Microsoft Networks, QoS Packet Scheduler, and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). If your network uses a DHCP server to assign IP addresses, you're ready to move on to the next step. Otherwise, select Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), click the Properties button, and assign the system an IP address.

The next screen will ask if you want the system to be a part of a workgroup or a domain. Select the Yes, Make This Computer A Member Of The Following Domain radio button and then enter the domain name in the space provided. Click Next, and the system will prompt you for the username and password of a user with the authority to join the system to a domain. Enter the information and click OK. You should now be welcomed to the domain. If the process fails, it's usually because the DNS server's IP address has been omitted from the TCP/IP configuration. Go back and review your network information and make sure the server's IP address is included.

At this point, the Setup program will spend about 15 minutes copying more files and cleaning up the temporary files that it created during the Setup process. When these housekeeping chores are complete, the system will reboot. The installation process will be complete, and your new Windows XP machine will be ready to go.

Is Windows XP worth it?
Is your organization migrating to Windows XP or sticking with an earlier version? Do you think Windows XP is worth migrating to? Why or why not? Post a comment to this article and share your thoughts.


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