Deploying Vista – Part 6: Using Windows SIM

by [Published on 24 June 2008 / Last Updated on 24 June 2008]

This series of articles on automating the deployment of Windows Vista to desktop computers continues by looking at how to use the Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) tool to create and edit answer files.

If you would like to read the other articles in this series please go to:

Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) is one of the key tools included in the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK). Windows SIM can be used to:

  • Create new XML answer files and edit existing ones by adding components and packages and configuring them.
  • Create and work with distribution shares and configuration sets.

The focus of this article is on using Windows SIM to create answer files for unattended installation of Windows Vista onto bare-metal hardware. In later articles of this series, we’ll examine what configuration sets and distribution shares are used for and how to create them using Windows SIM.

Examining Windows SIM

As Figure 1 shows, the Windows SIM user interface has five separate panes:


Figure 1: The Windows SIM user interface

The five panes of Windows SIM server the following purposes:

  • Distribution Share – This pane displays the currently opened distribution share. You also use this pane to create new distribution shares, add items to the share, and close an open share.
  • Windows Image – This pane displays the currently opened Windows Image (.wim) file. As we’ll see soon, you must open a .wim file before you can create an answer file.
  • Answer File – This pane is where you create a new answer file and add components (groups of operating system settings) and packages (includes software updates, language packs, and so on) to your answer file.
  • Properties – This pane lets you assign values to the component or package that is currently selected in your Answer File pane.
  • Messages – This pane displays errors, warnings and information messages concerning the syntax and structure of your answer file when you try and validate your answer file.

The simplest way to see how to use Windows SIM is to create a small answer file using this tool, so let’s do this now. The steps we’ll follow are these:

  1. Open a Windows Image file
  2. Create a new answer file
  3.  Add a component to your answer file
  4. Configure the component you just added
  5. Validate your answer file

Opening a Windows Image file

Begin by copying the Install.wim file (the default install image) from your Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 Enterprise Edition product DVD to a folder such as W:\Sources\Vista Enterprise on a hard drive of your technician computer. Then open Windows SIM by clicking Start, All Programs (or Programs), Microsoft Windows AIK, Windows System Image Manager.

Now, in the Window Image pane, right-click on “Select a Windows image or catalog file” and choose Select Windows Image from the shortcut menu to open the Select A Windows Image dialog box. Browse to your W:\Sources\Vista Enterprise SP1 folder and double-click on the Install.wim file to open the Windows image file in Windows SIM. If a catalog file can’t be found for the image file, a dialog box will prompt you to create a new catalog file:


Figure 2: Creating a new catalog file for a Windows image (Install.wim) file

A catalog file is a binary file containing a description of all the various components and packages in a Windows image. By working directly with catalog files instead of the image files themselves, Windows SIM can display components and packages more quickly. Clicking Yes in the above dialog box will cause Windows SIM to mount the image, process its contents (this takes a few minutes) and then display configurable settings for components and packages contained within the image.

Once the catalog file has been generated, Windows SIM now looks like this:


Figure 3: Opening a Windows image (Install.wim) file in Windows SIM

Creating a new answer file

Next we’ll create a new answer file for deploying Windows Vista SP1. To do this, in the Answer File pane, right-click on “Create or open an answer file” and choose New Answer File from the shortcut menu. A new answer file is created with no components in it:


Figure 4: Creating a new answer file

Notice what you see in the Answer File pane under Components? The seven configuration passes used by Windows Setup! (Refer back to Part 3 of this series if you need to refresh your memory concerning what configuration passes are.)

It’s instructive to examine the XML syntax of this new, unconfigured answer file. To do this, let’s first save the answer file using the filename autounattend.xml. To do this, make sure the root node (“Untitled”) of your answer file is selected, and then choose Save Answer File from the File menu. Browse to somewhere on your hard drive where you want to store your answer file and save the file. Then open the autounattend.xml file you just created using Notepad, and here’s what it should look like:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
 <cpi:offlineImage cpi:source="wim:w:/sources/vista%20enterprise/install.wim#Windows Vista ENTERPRISE" xmlns:cpi="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:cpi" />
</unattend>

We’ll compare this later with our configured answer file.

Adding a component to your answer file

Now let’s add a component to our answer file. We’ll add a component that is required when performing automated installs of Windows, namely, the component that indicates that the end-user licensing agreement (EULA) has been accepted. Here’s how you do this:

First, in the Windows Image pane, expand Components to display the Microsoft-Windows-Setup component, and then expand that to display the UserData component underneath Microsoft-Windows-Setup:


Figure 5: Displaying the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData component

Note that the actual name of the component will have a prefix and suffix attached, for example x86_Microsoft-Windows-Setup_6.0.6000.16386_neutral was the actual name of this component when my Install.wim file was copied from a MSDN 32-bit Windows Vista Enterprise with SP1 DVD, but for simplicity I’ll leave off the prefix and suffix from components.

To add the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData component (which lets you accept the EULA—see the Properties pane in the above figure) to your answer file, right-click on this component to display the shortcut menu:


Figure 6: Configuration passes you can add the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData to for your answer file

You can see from the above figure that the only configuration pass this component can be added to is the windowsPE configuration pass. This makes sense since in Vista, you always accept the EULA at the beginning of the install process. What makes things interesting however, as we’ll see in the next article, is that some components can be added to more than one configuration pass, and that’s why it was important for us to talk about configuration passes before we looked at Windows SIM, so that you can have some idea of which configuration pass to add a particular component to for your answer file.

Anyways, in the above figure, select Add Settings to Pass 1 windowsPE in your shortcut menu, and the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData component will be added to your answer file—see the Answer File pane in the next figure:


Figure 7: The Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData component has been added to the windowsPE configuration pass of the answer file

Configuring the component you just added

Now let’s configure the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData component of our answer file so that the EULA will automatically be accepted during unattended installation of Vista. To do this, in the Properties pane, click in the box to the right of the AcceptEula setting. This displays a drop-down arrow. Click the arrow and select True:


Figure 8: Configuring an answer file setting that accepts the EULA

Validating your answer file

Before we save and examine our answer file, we should validate it to make sure its syntax is correct. To do this, select Validate Answer File from the Tools menu. When you do this, an informational message is displayed in the Messages pane. Double-click on this message to determine which component the message is associated with:


Figure 9: Results of validating the answer file

We can see that the Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData\ProductKey component is now selected in the Answer File pane. This particular component will not be saved in your answer file because you haven’t configured any settings for this component.

Now save your configured answer file and then open autounattend.xml using Notepad again and compare the XML to what was there before:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
<settings pass="windowsPE">
<component name="Microsoft-Windows-Setup" processorArchitecture="x86" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="http://schemas.microsoft.com/WMIConfig/2002/State" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
<UserData>
<AcceptEula>true</AcceptEula>
</UserData>
</component>
</settings>
<cpi:offlineImage cpi:source="wim:w:/sources/vista%20enterprise%20sp1/install.wim#Windows Vista ENTERPRISE" xmlns:cpi="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:cpi" />
</unattend>

And that’s basically all there is to using Windows SIM to create answer files for deploying Vista. In the next article, I’ll describe which components must be added to an answer file and configured in order to completely automate an unattended installation of Vista.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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