Installing an operating system on a computer is a time consuming process. Once the operating system is installed, you still need to install the most up to date drivers. Once you have the operating system and drivers installed, you still need to install all of the programs that you plan to use. This whole process can take hours. Now, multiply this by the number of computers you have that need to be set up in the same way and you’re talking about quite a bit of time in order to deploy anything more than one computer. Having a tool that you can use to deploy an identical operating system, drivers, and applications can make this process go much faster. There are a number of third party tools that you can purchase that can help you with this, but when Microsoft has been nice enough to supply a deployment aid such as sysprep with all versions of Windows 7, you don’t need to go out and buy anything else. You just need to learn how to use the sysprep tool.
What is Sysprep?
Microsoft says that sysprep is a tool that can be used to prepare a Windows installation either for customer delivery or for imaging to ease deployment of multiple systems. What this means for you, the computer user, is that if you have more than one computer, they all have the same hardware, and you want to have the same set of applications installed on all of them, sysprep can almost automate the deployment process for you. Yes, there are other programs that can be used for this process, but all of these third party applications require a special startup disc that must be kept in the computer’s drive during the whole setup process. With sysprep, you finalize your installation (OS, drivers, apps, etc), run the tool to prepare the system for imaging and deployment, and then deploy the finalized system image to the computers you have to set up.
Install Windows and Update Drivers
Before you create an image of your computer’s operating system, no matter what tool you use, you should have a fully functional operating system with all of the most up to date drivers available for your hardware and peripherals. Sysprep and Windows 7 is no exception to this. Once you’ve fully installed your version of Windows 7 and allowed the computer to reboot umpteen times, it’s time to update the drivers. If the policies in use allow listening to music and watching videos, you may also need to download and install codecs so that your users will be able to play a variety of music and video formats. If the computers you are going to deploy were bought as complete systems, the system manufacturer’s website should be the first place you begin looking for drivers. For just about any type of hardware or peripheral that came with the computer, the manufacturer’s website should be the only place you have to look for updated drivers.
Include Your Applications
Installation of a suite of applications can be just as time-consuming as installing an operating system. If the suite of applications is rather large, this part of the system configuration and deployment process can even take longer than installing the operating system and updating all of the drivers. When you’re deploying a standard suite of applications on a number of computers, quite a bit of time can be saved by installing those applications once and creating an image of the system’s drive and installing that image on the computers being worked on.
Sysprep is a tool that needs to be run from the command line. This means that, as with just about every other command line program in Windows, there are a number of arguments, switches, and other options that can be used with the tool. For a complete listing of proper command, switch, and argument syntax, along with some helpful hints on how to combine arguments and switches, type ‘help sysprep’ (minus the quotes)from the command line. A partial list of these options can be found on the Microsoft Technet site, along with some helpful information regarding the arguments, switches, and answer files.
To run sysprep, you need to open a command prompt windows within Windows 7. Click Start and type ‘CMD (minus the quotes). You will then need to change directories to the sysprep folder. This can be done by typing ‘cd \Windows\Sysprep’ then hit enter. This will take you to the sysprep folder, from which you will type ‘sysprep’ with the proper switches and arguments.
Windows 7 requires product activation. However, you can reset the Windows 7 trial clock using the sysprep /generalize command a maximum of three times on a system. This Microsoft Technet article contains more information about resetting product activation and the switches and arguments that can be used with sysprep.
Sysprep is something that you should learn as much as possible about prior to using, because if done improperly, you can lose all of the data on the system. One of the most prevalent uses for sysprep is to reset your Windows 7 installation, plus the installed applications back to brand-new/out-of-the-box configuration. For deploying the newly created image to multiple computers, you will need to run an applet called imagex. For complete step-by-step instructions on how to use sysprep to deploy a system image across multiple computers, the best tutorial explaining the various arguments, answer files, and how to create the xml file to automate the process of rolling out a number of identical systems can be found on the ITBrothers website.
Image: wikipedia commons, WIndows 7 Starter, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Windows_7_Starter.jpg
The author has over 10 years experience in the computer industry as an IT professional and internal helpdesk technician.