There are many different methods an administrator can use to
automate the installation of Windows XP. One of the most popular and efficient
methods is referred to as disk duplication where a pre-configured operating
system is cloned and copied onto another computer. This method is an ideal
choice when you need to install Windows XP on a number of systems that all
require an identical configuration.

The System Preparation tool (Sysprep), included with Windows
XP, can be used to clone a computer and automate the deployment of the
operating system. In this article, I will outline how you can use Sysprep to
perform disk duplication.

Introduction to Sysprep

One of the benefits of using disk duplication is that it
makes installing an operating system such as Windows XP on multiple computers
more efficient. It is a welcome alternative to manually installing the
operating system on multiple computers and configuring identical settings.
Instead, the operating system, any service packs, configuration settings and
applications can be included in the image and copied to the target machines.

The System Preparation Tool (Sysprep) included with Windows
XP can be used to create the initial disk image. What Sysprep does is prepare
the system running Windows XP to be duplicated. Once the image is created, you
must then use a third party utility to deploy it.

Using a utility like Sysprep offers several advantages.
Although some time must be spent preparing the image, it will obviously speed
up future installations as well as reduce the amount of user interaction
required. The main disadvantage is that the reference computer and the target
computers must have compatible Hardware Abstraction Layers (HALs) and identical
Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI). The size of the hard disk on
the destination computer must also be the same size or larger than the
reference computer. All plug and play devices are redetected after Sysprep has
run.

The general steps that must be completed when using disk
duplication to deploy an operating system include:

  1. Install
    the operating system on the reference computer.
  2. Configure
    the reference computer as required.
  3. Verify
    that the reference computer is properly configured.
  4. Prepare
    the computer for duplication using Sysprep and create an optional
    Sysprep.inf answer file.
  5. Duplicate
    the image.

Preparing the reference computer

The first step in using Sysprep to create a disk image is to
setup up the reference computer. This entails installing the operating system,
any service packs, software applications, and configuring settings that you
want applied to the target computers. Once you’ve tested the image to and
confident that it’s configured the way you want it, you are ready to being the
cloning process.

At this point you are ready to run Sysprep. In order for the
utility to function correctly, the Setupcl.exe file, the Sysprep.exe file, and
the Sysprep.inf file must all be in the same folder. So your first step will be
to create a Sysprep directory in the root folder of drive C on the reference
computer. You can create the folder using Windows Explorer or the command
prompt. With the second method, open the command prompt and change to the root
folder of drive C. Type md Sysprep as
shown in Figure A to create the new directory.

Figure A

You can create the Sysprep directory in the root folder of drive C from the
command prompt.

Your next step will be to copy the files required to run the
utility from the Windows XP CD to the Sysprep directory you just created.
Insert the Windows XP CD into the CD-ROM drive. Open the Deploy.cab file
located in the Support\Tools directory and copy the Sysprep.exe file and the
Setupcl.exe file into the Sysprep folder as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Copy the Sysprep.exe file and Setupcl.exe file into the Sysprep directory.

Running the Windows system preparation tools

After completing the steps outlined in the previous section,
you are ready to launch the Sysprep utility to clone the reference computer.
From the command prompt, change to the Sysprep directory and type in the
following command:

Sysprep /optional
parameter

Sysprep optional parameters include:

  • -quiet – Sysprep runs without
    displaying onscreen confirmation messages
  • -reboot – Forces the computer to
    automatically restart after Sysprep is complete.
  • -audit – Restarts the computer is
    Factory mode without having to generate new security IDs (SIDs).
  • factory – Restarts the computer in
    a network-enabled state without displaying the Windows Welcome or
    mini-Setup. Use the parameter to perform configuration and installation
    tasks.
  • -nosidgen – The Sysprep.exe file
    is run without generating new SIDs. Use this parameter if you are not
    cloning the system
  • -reseal – Prepares the destination
    computer after performing tasks in factory mode
  • -forceshutdown – The computer is
    shutdown after the Sysprep utility is finished.

Once you launch the utility a warning message will appear.
Click Ok to acknowledge the warning and the System Preparation Tool window appears
as shown in Figure C allowing you to configure how the utility will run. The
options available here can also be set using command line switches when Sysprep
is run from the command prompt as outlined above.

Figure C

The System Preparation Tool window allows you to configure how the utility
will run.

Once Sysprep has successfully duplicated the reference
computer and shutdown (remember the computer can be shutdown automatically by
using the -reboot optional parameter), you can remove the hard disk and clone
it using third party disk-imaging software.

When you restart a computer from a cloned disk for the first
time, two events will occur. First, the Setupcl.exe file will start and
generate a new SID for the computer. Second, the Mini-Setup Wizard will start
allowing you to customize the computer. You can also automate this event by
creating and using a Sysprep.inf answer file which is discussed in the section
below.

The Sysprep.inf answer file

The first time a computer reboots after being cloned by
Sysprep, a Mini-Setup wizard starts. The Mini-Setup wizard prompts the user for
information to customize the installation on the target computer. However, if
you want to automate the Mini-Setup wizard you can use a Sysprep.inf file.

The Sysprep.inf file is similar to an answer file in that it
contains configuration information that would normally be supplied by a user
during the mini setup program. In order to use the sysprep.inf, it must be
placed in the Sysprep folder or on a floppy disk. The first time the computer
is restarted, it will automatically look for the sysprep.inf file.

Creating the answer file

Creating the Sysprep.inf answer file is not that difficult
because a wizard will walk you through the entire process. The utility used to
create the answer file is called Setup Manager. Conversely, if you are skilled
in the area of answer files you can also create one using a text editor such as
Notepad.

Before you can use Setup Manager to create the answer file,
it must first be installed on your computer. On the Windows XP CD, locate the
Support\Tools directory. Open the Deploy.cab file and copy the entire contents
to a folder on your computer. Once the files have been copied, you can follow
the steps outlined below to create an answer file.

  1. Open
    the folder on your computer that contains the contents of the deploy.cab
    file and double click Setupmgr.exe. The Windows Setup Manager Wizard will
    appear. Click Next.
  2. Specify
    whether to create a new answer file or modify an existing one. If you want
    to modify one, you must enter the path to the file. Click Next.
  3. From
    the Product to Install dialog box shown in Figure D, select Sysprep
    Install. Click Next.

Figure D

Select Sysprep Install to create a Sysprep.inf answer file.

  1. Select
    the platform that you will be using the answer file to deploy. You can
    select from Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional, and Windows
    2000 Server, Advanced Server, or Data Center.
    Click Next.
  2. Select
    the level of automation you want to use and click Next.
  3. The
    next dialog box allows you to customize General Settings, Network
    Settings, and Advanced Settings as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The Windows Setup Manager allows you to customize various settings.

  1. Once
    you have configured all the settings, click Finish.
  2. Setup
    Manager creates the answer file and prompts you to choose a location to
    save the file. The file can be placed on a floppy disk or in the
    %systemdrive%\Sysprep directory.
  3. Exit
    the Setup Manager application.

Once the Sysprep.inf answer file is created, you can open it
using a text editor such as Notepad. The file may look something like the one
shown below.

[Unattended]

; Prompt the user to
accept the EULA.

OemSkipEula = No

;Use Sysprep's default
and regenerate the page file for the system

;to accommodate
potential differences in available RAM.

KeepPageFile = 0

;Provide the location
for additional language support files that

;might be required in a
global organization.

InstallFilesPath = c:\Sysprep\i386

 

[GuiUnattended]

;Set the time zone.

TimesZone = 20

;Skip the Welcome
screen when the system starts.

OemSkipWelcome = 1

;Do not skip the
Regional and Language Options dialog box so that users can

;indicate which options
apply to them.

OemSkipRegional = 0

 

[UserData]

ComputerName =
XYZ_Computer1

 

[Display]

BitsPerPel = 16

XResolution = 800

YResolution = 600

VRefresh = 60

 

[GuiRunOnce]

"%systemdrive%\sysprep\file
name.bat" = "path-1\Command-1.exe""path-n\Command-n.exe""%systemdrive%\sysprep\sysprep.exe
-quiet"[Identification]

;Join the computer to
the domain ITDOMAIN.

JoinDomain = ITDOMAIN

 

[Networking]

When creating the Sysprep.inf file, there are a few things
you need to keep in mind. After a Windows XP computer cloned using Sysprep
restarts, the Mini-Setup program begins. It will automatically look for an
answer file on a floppy disk or in the Sysprep directory.

The answer file must be named Sysprep.inf otherwise the
Mini-setup program will ignore the file. If an answer file is present, it is
copied to the %windir%\System32 directory as $winnt$.inf. If no answer file is
present, the Mini-Setup program will run interactively, prompting you for
configuration information. Also, if any required sections are missing in the
answer file, the program will switch to interactive mode and prompt you for the
information.

That’s all there is to it!

Disk duplication is a great way to reduce the amount of time
it takes to install an operating system on multiple computers. The System
Preparation Tool included with Windows XP can be used to prepare a reference
computer to be cloned. To further automate the installation of Windows XP, you
can use Setup Manager to create an answer file to be used with Sysprep. The
answer file named Sysprep.inf contains the configuration information that would
normally require user input during the Mini-Setup program.