To help eliminate the cumbersome task of manually installing Windows XP Professional, Microsoft devised a method that lets you perform the installation automatically, or unattended. Organizations that have multiple shifts of employees or have remote locations will find this installation method quite helpful. This Daily Drill Down will give you an overview of the Windows XP Professional unattended installation and prepare you to perform this type of installation on your network.

Preparing for an unattended installation
Before installing Windows XP, you must make sure that your computer hardware meets the minimum hardware requirements set forth by Microsoft. You must also ensure that your hardware is compatible with Windows XP by verifying that the hardware components of your system are listed on the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL).

Once the hardware has been selected and you have verified that it’s compatible with Windows XP, you must determine how the hard drive will be partitioned and what file system you’ll use. Partitioning the hard drive is really dependent on your needs. You can create a small partition to prevent your users from installing their own software, or you can make the entire drive one single partition.

Creating an unattended installation file
The unattended installation uses a distribution folder so that you can put all of the files and device drivers used by the unattended installation into a single hierarchical structure. With this structure, you can easily add new device drivers without making major changes to the installation routine. This type of setup is ideal if you have multiple hardware configurations.

The creation of the distribution folder is much easier with the Setup Manager tool, which is located on the Windows XP installation CD-ROM in the \SUPPORT\TOOLS folder. Setup Manager is in the folder and must be extracted on your management workstation. To unpack the Setup Manager files, double-click the folder, right-click on the setupmgr application, and select Extract. You’ll be asked to select the folder to extract the program to.

After extracting the files, launch Setup Manager and click Next at the initial welcome screen. As shown in Figure A, you can create a new answer file or modify an existing one. The answer file will contain all the answers that you normally make when installing the operating system manually. For example, the Windows installation directory or time zone settings will be included in the answer file. For the purposes of this Daily Drill Down, we selected the default: Create A New Answer File.

Figure A
The Windows Setup Manager Wizard lets you choose the type of answer file to create.

As shown in Figure B, the setup wizard’s next screen lets you choose the type of answer file to create. We selected the default choice: Windows Unattended Installation.

Figure B
Select Windows Unattended Installation, Sysprep Install, or Remote Installation Services.

The next screen lets you select the Windows platform you’ll use the answer file for. We selected the default choice, Windows XP Professional, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
Choose your platform.

To make the unattended installation of Windows XP Professional run without any user intervention, we selected Fully Automated on the User Interaction Level screen, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Select the level of user interaction.

The Setup Manager will next ask if you want to create a customized distribution folder, as shown in Figure E. For this example, we elected to use this option.

Figure E
Set up a distribution folder on your network containing all the source files and additional drivers and files you specify.

Next, copy the Windows Setup files to the distribution folder either from the Windows XP CD or from a networked location (Figure F). We chose to copy the files from the Windows XP CD. As shown in Figure G, we chose to create a new distribution file and store it on a file server to make it available for network use.

Figure F
The Windows XP CD has the necessary files to complete the process.

Figure G
Name your distribution folder and set shares, if you choose.

Because the installation will run without any user intervention, you must accept the terms of the End User License Agreement. The following window will ask you to enter your name and organization. Because you’ll probably be configuring the unattended installation for an organization, you might want to use a generic name. As the setup wizard continues, you’ll be asked to select the display settings for the destination computers. You may have certain standards, such as corporate wallpaper; for the purposes of this Daily Drill Down, we selected the default settings, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H
Set your display colors, screen, and refresh rate, or leave the default values.

The next couple of screens require you to choose the time zone for your region and enter the 25-digit Windows XP product key. Once you’ve entered the appropriate data for these fields, click Next. The next screen lets you enter the computer names for each of the machines that will be configured using the answer file, as shown in Figure I. If you have a list of computer names stored in a text file, you can import them by clicking the Import button. When all of the computer names have been entered, click Next to continue.

Figure I
Add computer names for your unattended installation.

As shown in Figure J, the next screen asks you to enter and confirm the Administrator password. Refrain from checking the When The Computer Starts, Automatically Log On As Administrator box. While some of your users would like this capability, you probably don’t want them to have it.

Figure J
Enter the Administrator password. You shouldn’t enable automatic logon.

If you would like to use the default network settings for a Windows installation, select Typical Settings on the Networking Components screen (Figure K). Because networks are configured differently, though, you’ll probably want to manually configure the settings by selecting Customize Settings.

Figure K
Choose a typical or custom network installation.

The Customize Settings choice also lets you configure the default components of the network setup. We accepted the default setting for the Client For Microsoft Networks and removed File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks. We also clicked the Properties button, selected the default settings for Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), and configured the workstation to use DHCP and DNS services, as shown in Figure L. The Advanced button in Figure L lets you configure the workstation’s IP, DNS, and WINS settings, as shown in Figure M.

Figure L
Configure TCP/IP. Most likely, you’ll use DHCP and DNS.

Figure M
Click the Advanced button to complete network configuration.

After you configure the workstation’s network settings, the setup wizard will ask whether the computer will be part of a workgroup or domain. For this example, we selected the default choice, Workgroup, as shown in Figure N.

Figure N
Select a workgroup or domain.

At this point, you will have created the basic answer file. You can accept this configuration without making additional settings. We chose to edit the additional settings. The initial screen of Additional Settings lets you configure the telephony settings for the workstation, as shown in Figure O.

Figure O
Additional settings include Telephony properties.

The subsequent screen will ask you to select the regional settings for the workstation. Most of you living in the United States can accept the default settings. The next screen allows you to select an additional language group. We didn’t elect to use an additional language group and clicked Next to continue the installation.

The setup wizard will continue by asking you to configure your Browser And Shell Settings. We chose to use the default settings; you might want to make some special settings that are appropriate for your network. Figure P illustrates some of the options available.

Figure P
Browser And Shell Settings contains options for configuring Internet Explorer.

You can specify the folder where Windows will be installed on the Installation Folder screen (Figure Q). We elected to use the default Windows folder to eliminate confusion and to be consistent with other Windows installations.

Figure Q
Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, don’t select any folder other than the default Windows folder.

The Install Printers screen (Figure R) lets you install a printer on the workstation that will allow users to print the first time they log in. If you work in a smaller organization or support a small department or area in an organization, you may want to take advantage of this ability. However, if customers in many departments will use this configuration, manually installing printers on each computer may be less confusing. After entering the printer name, click Add. To remove a printer, highlight the printer and click Remove.

Figure R
Enter any printers you wish to install.

If you have a batch file or other program that must be run the first time a user logs in, the Run Once screen, shown in Figure S, will take care of this for you. Again, whether you use this depends on your environment.

Figure S
The Setup Manager Wizard even lets you set programs that run once.

You can add commands on the Additional Commands screen that will be executed after the Windows XP installation has completed. This can be useful for performing functions unique to your network or for launching an application setup program. We chose not to add anything for this example.

After you click Finish, the Setup Manager lets you select the location and name of the answer file that you’re creating. We used the default name Unattend.txt, which will be stored in the network folder selected earlier. After you specify the location and click Next, the Setup Manager will build a list of files to copy and then copy them to the appropriate location in the distribution folder.

Performing the unattended installation
After you’ve created an answer file, you might start champing at the bit for a chance to try it out. Once you’ve established a network connection with the file server that is storing the answer file, you’ll be ready to run the Windows XP Setup program. Two Windows XP commands can initiate an installation at the command-line prompt. You can use Winnt.exe to set up Windows XP on MS-DOS and Windows 3.x workstations, like so:
WINNT /U:[answer_file] /s:source path

Or you can use Winnt32.exe to set up Windows XP on Windows 9x/Me and NT/2000 workstations, like so:
WINNT32 /UNATTEND [num]: [answer_file] /s:source path

Use the num option when you want to specify a delay after the Setup program completes copying the files and when the system setup begins. The /s specifies the location of the Windows XP source files.

Ready to install
Creating the answer file can be a tedious chore, but once it’s created, you’ll enjoy the easiest method of installing Windows XP, especially when you install the operating system on a computer located in a remote location. The time that you save will more than outweigh the time spent configuring the unattended installation.