The perfect unattended Windows install

Let me just start by saying that I don’t read licenses on different things that much so I want you to be forewarned that you should check on the legality of doing this but it’s worked for me.

My issue is that I encounter a lot of computers that I need to reinstall Windows on. The thing is, I have this down to a science (almost) with Linux (read my blog post on PXE) but I end up having a lot of people that need it for Windows. I totally HATE installing Windows. It’s the most boring thing that I ever have to do. I have to wait a long time and have to keep going back to see if it’s asking me a question. I really hate that because I’m a serious multitasker. I want to go through as much configuration as possible before hand and come back and it’s done. Ready to use. Well, here’s my ideas for a Windows computer install.

I’ve found a cool idea call Slipstreaming. The program I use for this is call Nlite. Trust me when I say this. It seems like it should be an absolute slam dunk from the start. The program seems to run great and the first time I used it it seemed to have great results so I added more. I found from a friend of mine that also runs the program that he had the same results as me. Each progressive time that I used the software it tended to get more and more buggy. In all honesty at the time of this writing my unattended install does stop once to ask me to say the basic “Continue” during the middle of the install. My friend just told me that he finally got it to totally work and we’ve been playing with this off and on for months.

Here’s the cool thing about it. There are little plugin modules that let you install other software once it’s finished. I love this because I like to install Firefox, Winrar, and a Windows activation crack once it’s done (I’ll elaborate on that in a second). You can finish the install and have a fully functional system with these programs installed.

Now, for the legal stuff. I have a bunch of Windows XP licenses here that I bought a while back for all my computers but in the initial setup of the Nlite system you need to have a license key number. If I used the correct key for each person according to the XP CD that they have already then that would be more times I have to stop. They have the Home Edition or Professional version that I make and if Microsoft knocked at their door they could show their legit license.

Now you may like more programs than this on your system. So do I. I like to have Winzip, Adobe Acrobat, VLC media player, Anti-virus/spyware (AVG), utorrent, OpenOffice, and the newest Flash player installed. With these you’ll never have a person ask you for anything. They’ve got a fully functional walk out the door ready to go system. For this I am adding to the last part of the setup a program that will run after the install is done. A simple batch file that will copy the program Win-get down and copy it to the windows folder. This is a program that works on Windows like the Debian Linux standard “Apt-get” program that goes out to a software repository and downloads and silently installs software.

The one question I’m getting asked seems to be a small hurdle that I’ve got to fix but after that I plan on figuring out how to make this all an install from a PXE netboot server so I can do all this even easier by just entering the new machine’s MAC address of the network card. This would be a great option for those who need this for corporate use. You could install a system with all the settings you want on your network just by plugging it in and turning it on.

Note to sysadmins: Do the research. There are ways to install Microsoft Office and Lotus Domino etc silently. There are config files and registry entries that could be done to do those. Also, if you’re running a Dell or similar system Windows never seems to have the right drivers installed right off the bat so you’ll have to download the current ones of the web and put them on a USB stick to finish the install and put sound, video, network drivers, and bios stuff.

By the way, there are some sites that have plugins for Nlite that will let you download all service updates. I’ll look into that.

Give me your ideas if you come up with some other cool ideas.

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