Rapidly deploy Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0 with a 'silent' installation

Instead of having end users download and install the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, roll it out to them. Find out how to extract the raw MSI files from the Reader installation file and use those files to create a silent installation.

In late May 2003, Adobe released Acrobat 6 and the accompanying reader. What's new with Adobe Acrobat Reader 6? According to the Adobe Web site, Reader 6.0 touts the following new features:
  • Play back QuickTime (Macintosh and Windows) as well as Macromedia Flash, Real, and Windows Media-formatted content (Windows only) that is embedded in an Adobe PDF file.
  • Read and organize high-fidelity eBooks.
  • Extract photos from Adobe Photoshop Album slide shows and electronic cards and send them to online photo services for ordering prints, photo albums, greeting cards, and more (online photo services vary regionally).
  • View document layers in Adobe PDF files created with layers preserved.
  • Print Adobe PDF files from wireless devices at locations offering the EFI PrintMe Network.
  • Receive product updates easily using the enhanced Product Updater.

Assuming these new features are important to your organization, you'll probably want to quickly and easily distribute the new Reader throughout your organization. You could simply suggest that your users download and install the application themselves, but leaving such an action to your end users can lead to host of potential problems. To help you avoid an avalanche of support calls, I'm going to show you how to create a silent installation package that will install Adobe Acrobat Reader 6 without user input. You can then use this silent installation package with your favorite software deployment tool to roll out Reader 6.

Obtain the Adobe Acrobat Reader installation file
The first, and most obvious step, is to obtain the software from Adobe. When you visit their download site you will be asked to select your language, platform, and connection speed preferences. Adobe Acrobat Reader 6 is only available for Windows 98SE/Me/NT/2000/XP. Once you've selected options appropriate for your systems, you'll be presented two download options:
  • Full Version (15.3 MB), includes PDF search, Photoshop slide show, playback for embedded movies, animation, sound, and eBook support
  • Regular Version (8.7 MB)

I recommend the Full Version download. There's also the option to include the Adobe Download Manager, to help you manage the process of downloading Adobe Reader software and other Adobe files. If you have good Internet connectivity, I would dispense this option.

The 15.3-MB file you download, AdbeRdr60_enu_full.exe, is the installation file for Reader 6, but it's also the fully interactive file—screen prompts require responses during installation, which is probably not what you want all your end-users to experience. That's why you need a silent installation of Reader 6.

Develop the unattended installation package
The most important step in mass deployment of an application is to create a "silent" installation. This typically involves running the installation executable along with various command-line parameters. The problem with the AdbeRdr60_enu_full.exe program is it doesn't recognize any command-line arguments. It really is a wrapper around a Microsoft Installer (MSI) package.

To create the silent installation package for Reader 6 you must first gain access to the "raw" MSI files. The trick to extracting the actual MSI files is to go through virtually all of the Reader 6 installation, except actually installing the software. When you reach the installation screen, shown in Figure A, instead of clicking Install, click Cancel. Click Yes when asked if you really want to cancel the installation, and then Finish.

Figure A

This exercise will result in the MSI files being extracted into %systemroot%\Cache\Adobe Reader 6.0 folder on your hard drive. From that folder, copy all the MSI files into a shared folder on a network drive. For my example, I'll use S:\Acrobat\Reader6 for the balance of this article.

Now create an installation script to launch the Reader6 setup without any human interaction. There are a couple of ways of accomplishing this task using a batch file or a scripting tool (such as KIXtart or VBScript).

I believe batch files are less desirable because they lack the ability to initiate screen prompt messages, such as the one shown in Figure B, and because batch files have difficulty reading the Registry settings to determine the existence of a previous version of a program. They are also unreliable at determining local administrative privileges. I highly recommend a scripting tool. Without initiating an entire scripting tool review, my personal recommendation is KIXtart.

Figure B

Regardless of the tool selected, the script needs to accomplish the following:
  1. Determine that there are sufficient privileges to uninstall/install software.
  2. Determine whether a previous Acrobat Reader version exists and, if so, uninstall it "silently."
  3. Determine whether Acrobat eBook reader exists, and if so uninstall it. (This step is optional, depending on whether the Adobe eBook Reader is used in your organization or not.)
  4. Install Acrobat Reader 6 silently. The basic syntax is
    msiexec /i "Reader msi"
    In my example I recommend:
    msiexec /i "S:\Acrobat\Reader6\Adobe Reader 6.0.msi" /qb-!
    This will use the Reader MSI file to perform the installation in basic quiet mode with the Cancel button disabled.
  5. Depending on your scripting skill, you might also have your script prompt the user before reinstalling Reader 6, check for sufficient disk space, and check for Microsoft Installer 2.x prior to installing Acrobat Reader 6.

Deployment options
Once you've obtained the Reader MSI files and developed a script for silent installation, the final step is to deploy your package. There are lots of options for doing this, including via a systems management application such as Novell's ZENworks or Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS), from e-mail as a link, or even from a login script.

For those without SMS or ZENworks, I recommend using a login script. People are notorious for ignoring e-mail messages, especially mass-mailings from IT. By incorporating the package into your login script you have much more control over the results. To ensure that the process works 100 percent, I suggest limiting deployment to members of an IT group first.

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