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Developing Disk Images

Beginning with Windows Vista and continuing with the Windows 7 operating system, the Windows operating system natively supports image-based deployment. In fact, with Windows Vista and later versions, only image-based deployment is supported- even when performing an unattended installation.

Image-based deployment is the most efficient method in high-volume deployment projects. Two factors make image-based deployment superior to other methods: time and cost. Creating a single image that you deploy to each computer is significantly faster than installing the operating system on each computer manually or using unattended installation. Image-based deployment significantly reduces costs by allowing you to better manage the computing environment: You're starting each computer with a known, standardized configuration. It also reduces deployment errors and support costs by using a standardized, stable, and repeatable process to develop and deploy operating systems.

Although the process of building and deploying images is not new, features first introduced with Windows Vista specifically address the challenges of the process. First, servicing images (adding device drivers, security updates, and so on) is easier because you don't have to rebuild and recapture an image every time you need to service it. Second, you can build hardware- and language-independent images that are not dependent on the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), which means you can build and maintain fewer images (and ideally, only one).

The Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK) 2.0 provides essential tools for building, servicing, and deploying Windows images. These tools include the Windows System Image Manager (Windows SIM) for creating Extensible Markup Language (XML) answer files for unattended installation; the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 3.0 for starting bare-metal destination computers; the new Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command-line tool for servicing images by adding drivers and packages; and the ImageX command-line tool for capturing images. The Windows AIK also includes extensive documentation about using these tools. You can download the Windows AIK 2.0, including the Windows Automated Installation Kit User's Guide and other documentation, from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads.

Although the Windows AIK 2.0 provides essential imaging tools, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010 is a complete deployment framework that provides end-to-end guidance for planning, building, and deploying Windows 7 images. MDT 2010 takes full advantage of the Windows AIK 2.0 as well as other tools, such as the User State Migration Tool (USMT) 4.0 (which is now included in the Windows AIK 2.0), the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.5, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), and so on. Microsoft recommends that you use MDT 2010 to develop and deploy Windows 7 images, so this tutorial focuses primarily on MDT 2010. For readers who prefer to use the Windows AIK directly, the Windows Automated Installation Kit User's Guide provides complete information about using the Windows AIK tools.