Deploying Vista – Part 9: Automating the Machine OOBE

by [Published on 12 Aug. 2008 / Last Updated on 12 Aug. 2008]

Finishing the walkthrough begun in the previous two articles for creating a basic answer file for unattended deployment of Vista.

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

In the previous two article of this series, we used Windows SIM to create and configure a basic answer file for unattended installation of Windows Vista onto bare-metal hardware using the Unattended Install From DVD deployment method. This method is useful if you have only a few Vista computers to deploy and/or if your destination computers are not connected to a network. As we saw in article eight, you pop your Vista DVD into the machine, plug in a USB flash drive with your answer file on it, reboot the system, and installation proceeds up to the beginning of Windows Welcome (also known as the machine out-of-box-experience or machine OOBE). At that point, if we’re using the autounattend.xml answer file we created in article seven of this series, the user has to perform the final configuration of his computer by himself, which includes creating a local user account on the computer, setting the time zone, choosing whether to install updates automatically, and so on.

The question we posed at the end of the last article was, is it possible to automate the Windows Welcome phase of Setup so that the user won’t have to perform these final steps? Yes it is, and you do this by configuring settings in your answer file to automate the machineOOBE configuration pass of Setup. Let’s do this now.

Opening your Minimal Answer File

On your technician computer, start Windows SIM, open your Vista SP1 Enterprise install image in the Image Pane, and then in the Answer File pane open the autounattend.xml file you created in article seven previously (see Figure 1):


Figure 1:  Minimal answer file created in article seven earlier

Specifying a User Name and Password

In the Windows Image pane, expand the Components node to display the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup node beneath it. Then expand Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup node to display the UserAccounts, then LocalAccounts, then LocalAccount. Right-click on LocalAccount and select Add Setting to pass 7 oobeSystem as shown in Figure 2:


Figure 2: Adding the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup\UserAccounts\LocalAccounts\LocalAccounts component to the oobeSystem configuration pass of your answer file.

In the Answer File pane you should now have the LocalAccounts component selected under the oobeSystem pass.

Now in the Properties pane, type the user’s name (logon and display names), Administrators for the user’s local group, and an optional description (Figure 3):


Figure 3: Specifying a local user account and password

Note that we’re only creating a local user account here on the computer. If the computer will belong to a domain, you would typically create the domain user account ahead of time in Active Directory. You still have to create a local computer account as a fallback however, and it should belong to the local Administrators group on the machine since the default Administrator account is disabled in Vista.

In the Answer File, select the Password component beneath LocalAccount. Then in the Properties pane type a password for the user account you’re creating on the computer (Figure 4):


Figure 4: Assigning a password to the local user account you are creating on the computer

Specifying a Computer Name and Default Theme

Back in the Windows Image pane, right-click on the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup node and select Add Setting to pass 4 specialize as shown in Figure 5:


Figure 5: Adding the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup component to the specialize configuration pass of your answer file

In the Answer File pane you should now have the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup component selected under the specialize pass.

Now in the Properties pane, type a name for the computer in the value box to the right of the ComputerName setting (Figure 6):


Figure 6: Specifying a name for the computer

Now wait just a minute. Why do we have to add the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup component to our answer file when we did this in the previous section above where we added a local user account for the computer? Because (a) you can add many answer file components to more than one configuration pass and (b) the computer name can only be specified using an answer file in the specialize configuration pass and not during the oobeSystem configuration pass (see Figure 7):


Figure 7: There is no ComputerName setting under Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup for the oobeSystem configuration pass!

Now let’s specify the default Aero theme. In the Answer File pane, select Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup\Themes. Then in the Properties pane type the path to the default Aero theme as shown in Figure 8:


Figure 8: Specifying the default Aero theme

Specifying the Protect Your PC and Network Location Settings

Now let’s configure the Protect Your PC setting, which determines whether Vista will automatically download and install updates or not. In the Windows Image pane, right-click on OOBE under Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup and select Add Setting to pass 7 oobeSystem (Figure 9)


Figure 9: Adding the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup\OOBE component to the oobeSystem configuration pass of your answer file

In the Answer File pane you should now have the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup\OOBE component selected under the oobeSystem pass.

In the Properties pane, click in the value box to the right of the ProtectYourPC setting and type 1 to specify that Vista should automatically download and install updates when they become available.

Then in the Properties pane again, click the value box to the right of the NetworkLocation setting until a drop-down arrow appears. Click the arrow and select Work to indicate that the computer will be used at work (Figure 10):


Figure 10: The computer will automatically download and install updates when they become available on Windows Update, and the network location is configured as Work

Specifying the Time Zone

We’re almost done. In the Answer File pane, under oobeSystem, select the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup component. Then in the Properties pane, I would type Canada Central Standard Time in the value box to the right of the TimeZone setting, but you would probably type something different—see this page on TechNet for what you can type here. The result is shown in Figure 11:


Figure 11: Specifying your time zone

Validating and Testing the Answer File

Now from Windows SIM’s menu, select Tools, then Validate Answer File. You should only see a series of Information messages in the Messages pane, and these you can ignore. If you see any Error or Warning messages, double-click on them and correct any errors you find in your answer file until validation succeeds.

Save your modified answer file using the same file name (autounattend.xml) as before. Then copy it to a USB flash drive and try using it together with your Vista SP1 Enterprise product DVD to perform an Unattended Install From DVD installation of Vista on a bare-metal system. Your installation should proceed in a completely unattended fashion, after which Vista will run is performance check (this can’t be prevented) and then you’ll be presented with a logon screen for Bob Smith. Bob can then type his password, log on, and start working on his computer.

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

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