Time Shifting Part 1

Hello,

We’ve been using Windows 10 in our public spaces for little over a year now with widespread use enacted over the summer. Adoption was positive. No one came out with torches and pitchforks as I had feared.

That is not to say we were not completely without issues. The strangest of which was a habit noticed by some users of the Windows clock, the one in the system tray, freezing or losing time. This became an issue when faculty were giving tests and using the PC’s clock to time the exam. Students were being shortchanged on the apparent time.

My first thought was to check the BIOS’ clock. I make sure that is right before I image the PC for the first time. There is a bunch of changes I make to a new PC before it is imaged and brought into service. The oldest machine exhibiting symptoms is just three years old. The CMOS battery should not be going yet. It’s possible, but not probable. As expected, all was fine.

The time zone is correct (EST vs. PST). Windows setup defaults to Pacific time (GMT -7:00) for Redmond, WA.

The computers can get their timing from one of several sources. By default, Windows 10 will try to sync with Microsoft’s time server (time.windows.com). Computers on a Windows active directory domain can get their time from the domain controller (DC) that holds the PDC Emulator FSMO (the first DC in the domain by default). A group policy object (GPO) can be used to control the complete operation of the Windows NTP client, including which server to use. Lastly, the option exists to inject the NTP settings directly into the registry.

I typically use a GPO to point our Windows clients to the university’s own NTP servers. Simple. To test NTP connectivity to the NTP server, execute the following in a command prompt.

w32tm /stripchart /computer:us.pool.ntp.org

The affected clients were all set to the correct time, and they were using the university’s own time servers, which I am positive are correct. What gives?

The Event logs on Windows were not showing any indicators of failure around the reported times the displays froze. Another thought was that the Crestron display systems we use in the classrooms was freezing the output to the monitor/screen as a power-saving measure of sort and thus not showing the clock’s progression. It wouldn’t be unheard of for Crestron to skew something in Windows. We’ve had numerous issues with audio output in these circumstances. I tested out the classroom Windows 10 image on identical hardware in my office sans the Crestron system and it the clock froze. Crestron cannot be the culprit, at least in this case.

So, despite my concerted attempts in every job I have ever held to not be a clockwatcher, I am in this case… To demonstrate and test for this issue, myself and others (if interested), log into a PC as a regular user and watch for the clock to not change when the time on our phones or watches does.

Is it the image of Windows 10 that we are using? Before deploying Windows and software to our classroom computers, we perform a heavy series of changes to ensure that everything works and that an instructor will get the exact same computing experience no matter which classroom from which they are teaching. Profile customizations…

I took a classroom computer (Lenovo M93/M900 “Tiny”) and installed Windows 10 on it from the Microsoft ISO. I then used our endpoint management software to install most of the software we use in the classrooms. Some titles are too big to be deployed in this manner. I’m writing about you MATLAB and you SAS. This all took about a day with little input from me. I joined the domain, placed the computer in the same OU as the rest of the classrooms and logged in as a regular user. No clock changes. The time kept up in the task bar until our auto-logoff settings took effect.

So, it is the image? The next question is what in the image is the problem? The list of customizations and changes we make is several pages long and gets smaller every year. We use a domain-based group policy to provide the overall configuration profile to classroom users. From the desktop environment to power settings and everything in-between group policy is the driver of the end result. Local GPOs are helpful, but not in examples of mass-deployment. The only thing we set in the local GPOs are those that we are certain we will never ever need. The truly onerous, useless features or settings that Microsoft includes for who knows what reason. That approach takes a great deal of work and testing to achieve a reliable and desired state configuration.

The version of Windows 10 we piloted in a couple of computing labs, initially was the first RTM version (1507). No problems aside from UI issues some users did not like. When taking Windows 10 to the next level, our 200+ classrooms, Windows 10 “Anniversary Update” (1607) was the latest available in Microsoft’s Software as a Service design (SaaS). Our pilot encompassed two labs of about sixty computers in total. If there were a time-related issue, I am sure I would have heard about it at some point.

Either way, where it stands now the problem IS with Windows 10 Enterprise x64 1607 and group policy for our domain. I’ll update with more information when it becomes available.

 

If you had to shoot yourself in the foot with a programming language…

Hello,

“Junk post” as they are sometimes called on Facebook, but here’s something on the lighter side. I don’t market myself as a coder or programmer, but to be useful in any way as an IT professional, one must learn to code at least a little bit. Here’s how one would shoot themselves in the foot, programmatically, with a programming language.

Some modern or scripting languages may not appear…

C: You simply shoot yourself in the foot. Easy…
C++: You accidentally create a dozen instances of yourself and shoot them all in the foot. Providing emergency medical assistance is impossible since you can’t tell which are bitwise copies and which are just pointing at others and saying, “That’s me, over there.”
FORTRAN (Yes. FORTRAN is still used in the 21st Century): You shoot yourself in each toe until you run out of toes, then you read in the next foot and repeat. If you run out of bullets, you continue with the attempts to shoot yourself anyway because you have no exception-handling capability.
COBOL: Using a COLT 45 HANDGUN, AIM gun at LEG.FOOT, THEN place ARM.HAND.FINGER on HANDGUN.TRIGGER and SQUEEZE. THEN return HANDGUN to HOLSTER. CHECK whether shoelace needs to be retied.
BASIC: Shoot yourself in the foot with a water pistol. On large systems, continue until the entire lower body is waterlogged.
Unix:

 

 

 

Hint: If you’re a *nix terminal aficionado, you can easily see the error in the command.
Assembler: You try to shoot yourself in the foot, only to discover you must first invent the gun, the bullet, and the trigger. And your foot.
Visual Basic: You’ll really only appear to have shot yourself in the foot, but you’ll have had so much fun doing it that you won’t care.

Pilfered from this page and edited for content.

Enjoy!

Deploying Images with MDT/WDS

The main point of MDT and WDS is to place Windows on a computer’s disk drive. To do this, MDT uses a series of steps in a task sequence that perform the necessary operations to facilitate installation. The crucial point to all of this is the network. Networking between the MDT/WDS server and the target clients must be clear and working. DHCP, DNS, and even WINS (if you’re feeling nostalgic) all must be working properly or else what could seemingly be an MDT/WDS problem, could actually be a network problem. MDT uses two ways to connect to the server over the network, USB key, and PXE. Pre-execution Environment (PXE) requires the use of a Windows Server configured with the Windows Deployment Services (WDS) role. MDT USB keys are copies of Windows PE, designed to connect to MDT and pull an image from the server. This is where the focus of this post will reside.

The good thing is that MDT has a provision for creating it’s boot sources built-in. Each time a deployment share is updated in MDT the drivers and settings contained within that share are added to a boot WIM and a boot ISO that is used to connect to the MDT server. These are located in the Boot folder of the deployment share. The WIM is used for copy to an WDS server and served-up via PXE. The ISO is meant for a CD-ROM, or the modern USB key. Simply booting a PC to that disc or key, and with DHCP working, the PC will connect to the MDT server. MDT does support the use of static IP addresses at the welcome screen, but DHCP is better and essential if PXE booting is desired.

Creating the MDT (Windows PE) boot volume…

Drivers are the biggest issue with regards to MDT’s Windows PE boot volume. Many times I have had to troubleshoot a connection to MDT that wasn’t connecting only to find out a driver was the issue. Like the target images, MDT’s PE needs network and system drivers to run on the clients to/for connecting. OEMs like Dell and Lenovo make Windows PE drivers available for their hardware, which makes it easy to organize those resources. Another place I go for network drivers is Intel’s web-site and their PRO LAN drivers.

Once I download and extract the drivers, I import them into MDT the normal way, but into their own folder within the driver store. Just like I create folders for the operating system and platform, I also create a Windows PE folder at the same level.

WinPE driver foldersOnce the drivers are added, I create a selection profile for just the PE drivers. This is so I can assign them to the MDT Windows PE boot device. Selection profiles are found under the “Advanced Configuration” folder, under task sequences. Simply, right-click the folder to create a new selection profile and drill-down the driver list to select only the Windows PE drivers. I create a separate profile for 32-bit and 64-bit platforms.

WinPE Selection ProfileNow, from the properties of the deployment share, choose the Windows PE tab and then choose the “Drivers and Patches”  sub-tab. From the drop-down list, any selection profile can be used with all or some of the drivers. This is where I choose my WinPE selection profile. With this, only the WinPE drivers will be used to connect to the MDT server. Note: there are two options on the WinPE tab, one for x86 and x64.

WinPE tab optionsOther details can be set on the Windows PE tab, though the defaults are usually sufficient. For example, I change the wallpaper Windows PE uses to display a message on the screen, while the computer is imaging.

General tab optionsThe image description for the WIM file is what WDS displays to the end user when they PXE boot to that server and are prompted to select a boot volume. I rename the WIM description and the ISO file name to follow suit with the deployment share.

When everything is as-desired, the deployment share must be updated to generate/regenerate the Windows PE WIM and ISO files. This process takes a few moments to complete, so grab a drink…

Once the deployment share has been successfully updated and has generated the Windows PE volumes in the desired configurations, we need to get those onto the WDS server, or portable media. Even with extreme customization, the ISO for the deployments share’s Windows PE volume is pretty small (by today’s standards). I’ve been using a legacy 512MB USB key for my 64-bit MDT Windows PE, which has to be over ten years old by now. Of course, later USB keys can be used. Use whatever method is best suited to place the ISO on the USB key as a bootable volume. I like to use a piece of freeware, called “Rufus“, but again use whatever works for you.

For WDS, the WIM file, created by updating the MDT deployment share, and placed in the “Boot” folder, along with the Windows PE ISOs, must be copied to the WDS server (if WDS, and MDT are on different computers), and used to “replace”, or create the WDS boot volume.

Go into WDS, right-click the desired boot image, and choose “Replace Image…”

After replacing the WDS boot image, it is not a bad idea to restart WDS on that server, just in case.

Deploy Time…

Get the target computer or VM ready by making sure it can either boot to the NIC, and get a DHCP address, or boot to USB. If you’re PC is using UEFI for its BIOS/firmware, booting to the NIC will most-likely have to be enabled in the BIOS setup (at least for Dell hardware anyway). Most of the PCs shipping from OEMs today will boot to a USB drive without any configuration needed. While in the BIOS setup, you might want to check that too. Pressing F12 on both Dell and Lenovo hardware will interrupt the boot sequence, and allow one to change the boot device for this particular boot, or enter the BIOS. Either way, boot to the USB to use a WinPE USB boot drive, or to the NIC for WDS. Also, keep in mind that complete network connectivity is required throughout the whole imaging process, from start to finish. If MDT’s WinPE volume cannot get an IP address, or see the computer/VM’s hard drive, the correct drivers need to be added. I think 85% of MDT imaging problems are driver-related.

I like to do my imaging off of the production network. First reason, is to not interfere with bandwidth that other computers may need during the day. However, MDT is a good network citizen. I’ve imaged dozens of computers over the production network, at the same time, without any negative impact. Second reason is that after imaging completes, you may have an unpatched copy of Windows on the network. This depends on the steps enabled in your task sequence, whether Windows Update is enabled or not, and how old the image being deployed actually is. Keeping the newly-imaged isolated from everyone else until it has had a chance to get the latest updates from WSUS, and get the latest virus definitions from SEP is a good idea. Since I am the only one using my MDT/WDS server, I keep that behind the NAT as well. My imaging traffic never even sees the production network, usually…

If MDT will deploy an image to a PC that already has a copy of Windows installed, and is not going to be performing an upgrade, wipe the target hard drive first. I use diskpart, and its “clean” command to quickly prepare disk drives on existing installations. Backup any and all data on the target PC before cleaning. If any doubt exists as to whether or not the data might be needed later on, back it up. Adding the following text to a simple txt file, called “clean.txt” will automatically clean any disk that is listed as disk zero.

select disk 0
clean

From a Windows PE command prompt, run the script by executing:

diskpart.exe /s clean.txt > diskpart_log.txt

Boot the computer, and connect to the MDT server. If things start going wrong at this point, there are few things, which are most-likely the culprit.

Can’t boot to USB drive, or the NIC? Check the BIOS, and modify the boot sequence, if necessary. Most new PCs are not set to boot to the NIC in the BIOS, so if that is your goal, check that setting and enable it. While in the BIOS, make sure ALL USB ports are enabled, and configured to allow boot. If the PC is set to successfully boot to either option, check the USB flash drive by using it to boot a known-good PC, which has been demonstrated to boot to USB or NIC in the past. For the hell of it, try a different USB port. I’ve only ever had one USB flash drive completely die on me. If the PC will not boot to the NIC, make sure that option is enabled in the BIOS, and that DHCP is working on your network. Make sure the WDS server is available over the network through ping via IP address and host name.

Successfully booted into MDT WinPE, but cannot connect to the deployment share? Start simple, make sure the WinPE session has received an IP address from DHCP. Press F8, in WinPE, and run the usual ipconfig command from the resulting command prompt. If DHCP is not available, find out why and fix it, or enter a static IP address at BDD Welcome screen (The first MDT screen, asking what is to be done). If a static IP address doesn’t work, then the problem is probably driver related. Add the drivers for the target hardware to the MDT driver store, and update the deployment share with complete regeneration (not the default option). Then, re-copy the WinPE ISO the USB flash drive, or replace the boot WIM on WDS with the updated copy, and restart WDS services on the server.

If the deployment share is accessed through a username and password, then make sure the correct set of credentials is being used. For domain use, I create a global group in active directory, and add those users that require access to the deployment share. Test access by having those users connect to the deployment share from Windows Explorer via:

\\server.domain.com\DeploymentShare$

If they cannot do that, they’ll never get in through Windows PE. Check the permissions… If the BDD Welcome screen, or a login prompt for the deployment share are not being displayed, the BootStrap.ini file is configured to bypass the welcome screen and automatically log users into the deployment share. That has to be done intentionally, and is not a default. Whether or not this is desired is up to the administrator of the deployment share. Having these steps pre-configured is essential for automating the imaging process, but not required for every MDT scenario.

Choose the option to deploy a new operating system on the BDD Welcome page, and select the desired task sequence. The steps given will all depend on how the deployment share’s CustomSettings.ini file is configured. I have one deployment share that is completed automated, without prompts. All the tech or whomever is imaging the computer sees is the actual process of MDT imaging the computer.

If the task sequence fails before it can re-partition and format the internal disk drive, there is most-likely a driver issue with either the chipset or storage controller in Windows PE. Again, add the latest WinPE drivers for your particular hardware. Even if you updated the drivers last week, check again. There may be an even newer update waiting. If that does happen, restart the image deployment from the beginning. Reboot the computer and “clean” the disk again with diskpart, or the new deployment will produce an error stating that a deployment is already in progress, and ask if you would like to continue that deployment, or start a new one. Chances are if the internal disk drive can be accessed, from Windows PE, by diskpart, and cleaned, there will be no issues accessing that drive to re-partition and format.

Once the task sequence has started, it will run by itself until something breaks, or asks for input. This again depends on the CustomSettings.ini, and specifically how the task sequence is configured. By default, all task sequences have an “Install applications” step, which will prompt the user to select which applications should be installed during deployment. Some task sequences will prompt for user data backup and restore, and some will prompt to capture an image of the computer, after deployment has finished. It all depends on how MDT is configured. If the deployment is running, just leave it alone and wait. Do not use either the computer receiving the image, or the one providing the image. For the wallpaper I use on my MDT Windows PE boot volumes, I have a Penn logo with a detailed inscription of what the computer is currently doing, and my contact information. The wallpaper image also asks that the computer not be used while the sign is present, and that interrupting the imaging process would require it to start all over again. Depending on network speed, the speed of the hardware at both ends, and the image size, the whole deployment process could be relatively quick, or could last a few hours. Just wait, and see until something breaks. If the task sequence fails in deploying Windows to that computer, MDT will indicate that with a pink-colored window. Completion, but with errors is indicated by a yellow-colored window, and success is indicated by a white window, indicating such. The MDT error messages are completely nondescript and far from helpful. The true key to identifying and fixing problems with MDT are the copious log files it generates.

 

 

Easy Stuff – A Fresh Install of Windows 10

Hi,

Now for something completely different… Something basic, and easy, installing Windows 10. As the versions of Microsoft Windows have progressed, the steps for installation have become fewer and easier. Roughly, Windows 10 installs the very same way as Windows 8/8.1, and to a lesser extent, Windows 7. Most consumers received their copy of Windows 10 as a free upgrade to their existing computers. Other consumers obtained Windows 10 through the purchase of a new a computer from a retailer. Those two examples cover most of the consumer Windows 10 market, save for the gamers and enthusiasts who often build their own PCs. Large to medium-sized businesses and other institutions usually have some type of software agreement with Microsoft that grants them access to Windows 10 installers as ISO files. Where I work, we completely wipe any new PC we receive and install our custom image of Windows 7 or Windows 10 through MDT. Most times, we never even see the OS the OEM placed on the new computer’s hard drive.

Before installing anything, consider whether or not Windows 10 is a good idea. I am a big believer in “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”, within reason. For many folks, Windows XP works great, and does what they need, but it is no longer supported by Microsoft, and many software companies. I like to stick with products that are currently supported by their manufacturers with security patches and updates. If you’re installing to new or existing computer hardware, gather a list of your existing computer’s hardware from the Windows Device Manager, and check the computer manufacturer’s website for Windows 10 drivers. Driver support for the new operating system is essential to a successful Windows install. The same goes for your applications. Visit their respective websites and see if the your release supports Windows 10, or if they have a newer version that does. If you can’t use the applications your computer was purchased for running, on the new operating system, there is no sense in moving to that new OS.

Another point which should be considered before, during, and after the Windows 10 install, and generally for the operation of any computer on the public Internet today is security… A big part of how and why Windows PCs become compromised is through poor patching or no patching being done at all. During the install process, you’ll have a fresh install of Windows 10, un-patched and without malware protection, on the public Internet. Though the probability of something going wrong is very light, not like it would be for a fresh install of Windows 7, there’s still a chance. Best to isolate the new install from the web with a NAT device or router. Most businesses and consumer homes use a wireless router for connectivity, but it is still best to make sure Windows 10 stays behind a NAT until it is fully patched, and configured with malware protection.

A nice thing about Windows 10 is that it will run on many types of computers, even those with meagre hardware specifications. Still, 32-bit (x86) versions of Windows 10 require the 32-bit installer, and the same goes for the 64-bit (x64) version of Windows 10. I struggle to find a good reason to use the 32-bit version of Windows today. The bitwise operator of your computer’s CPU and the corresponding chipset are what determines the version of Windows, which can be used. Most CPUs today are 64-bit, but can run the 32-bit OS. 64-bit platforms make available faster, multicore CPUs, and amounts of RAM greater than 4GB. 32-bit applications, like Mozilla Firefox, and VLC can still run on 64-bit versions of Windows 10. The same goes for 64-bit versions of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Unless a concrete and specific reason for using a 32-bit version of Windows is apparent, go with the 64-bit edition.

Microsoft’s hardware requirements for Windows 10 can be found here. Generally, you would be hard pressed to find a computer, worth using, that does not exceed the given hardware specifications. My suggestions are to have at least 4GB of RAM (8GB-16GB would be better), a dual-core x64 CPU (Core i5 or better), and a disk drive with at least 64GB of space. Since we’re installing from scratch, this is the time to replace or optimize any hard drive-related components. I like SSDs because of their speed, and they are no longer incredibly expensive as they used to be. NewEgg has 250GB Samsung SSDs for under $100.00. A no brainer…

Whether your installing to a virtual machine (VM), or actual computer hardware, you should do so to a clean hard drive. It is possible to just install over an old system, and have the Windows 10 installer overwrite everything, but that could be problematic. If an existing computer will be re-purposed as a Windows 10 computer, why not remove the hard drive with the existing Windows install, and replace it with a fresh, clean SSD? That way, if there are any deal-breaking problems with the Windows 10 install, you can just swap-in the original disk drive and be back at square one with no data loss. In any circumstance, if you are going to be tinkering with hard drives, make a fresh and complete backup of any crucial data before proceeding. I have seen static discharges, which were very minimal to us, destroy good hard drives.

To install from a VM, you simply need access to the original ISO for Windows 10. Installing to hardware requires placing the Windows 10 ISO on a USB flash drive as a bootable volume. I like to use a program called “Rufus” to create bootable USB drive for Windows, and Linux. Microsoft also makes a tool for converting an ISO file to a bootable USB drive, as well.

After creating a new VM, point the virtual CD/DVD drive to the Windows 10 install ISO file. In VMware Workstation, a fresh VM, with no installed OS, will boot to the virtual CD/DVD drive file automatically. If an existing VM will be used, which already has an installed OS, wipe the virtual hard drive before installing Windows 10. A basic Windows PE USB flash drive contains the diskpart utility which can quickly erase a drive, virtual or fixed, with the “clean” command. Some computers may require their BIOS to be reconfigured to allow it to boot from a USB drive. Most PCs won’t need to be re-configured this way, but if the PC does not boot to the USB drive, check the BIOS before worrying about the actual USB drive.

Once the computer or VM’s boot sequence detects and mounts the Windows 10 install drive, it will start the install sequence (setup), which is a customized version of Windows PE. When everything is ready, a welcome screen will be displayed.

Choose the appropriate options and click “Next”, or press Alt+N. The next screen allows you to opt for a Windows installation, or to repair your computer. Note that the repair option is only for that version of Windows, the one that is on the ISO. Click “Install now”, or press Alt+I, and things will proceed.

Install Windows 10, or repair your computer.

Next, accept the Microsoft EULA by selecting the check box, or pressing the Alt+A keyboard combo, and clicking “Next” (Alt+N).

Accept the EULA to continue

The Windows 10 installer will next ask where it should install Windows, and display a dialog of detected disk drives. No specific partitioning and formatting is required here. Setup will do that automatically, using the whole drive as a single partition/volume. If you have a different partitioning scheme in mind, do it here. Windows 10 has to be installed on an NTFS volume, no exceptions. If no drives are listed in the dialog box, Windows 10 setup either does not have the storage drivers to detect and mount the drive, or the drive is currently formatted with a file system Windows cannot understand. Erase the drive, and/or obtain the Windows 10 drivers for the computer’s chipset and storage hardware, then select the “Load driver” link (Alt+L).

Choose the drive, and click Next.

Once the install volume is chosen, partitioned, and formatted, setup will copy the install files over to the install drive, create/hide boot and recovery partitions, and unpack the install.wim file onto the main partition. This will take from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the speed of the target hardware. Just leave the computer alone, and let setup do its thing. If there’s a problem, setup will indicate that.

Installing… Be patient, and leave the computer alone during this part.

If the actual installation portion to the disk drive succeeds, setup will reboot the computer and start from the newly-installed image on the internal hard drive, not the USB install drive. Still, leave the install USB drive inserted into the computer, or keep the install ISO attached to the VM. When setup is ready for more user input, a Windows 10-style series of dialog windows will appear. First being whether or not to customize the setup options, or use “Express settings.” I always opt to customize every time.

Optional choice; Use Express settings, or Customize

Microsoft made Windows 10 very net-centric, and defaults to using, and/or prompting people to use their online services like the Windows Store, and OneDrive. These services are nice, but not be appropriate at this time, or for this user’s install. I really have yet to meet anyone that actually uses apps from the Windows Store, but that is me. Some people may use DropBox, or Google Drive to store their files online. I err on the side of caution, and disable every data collection service Windows 10 setup offers. These new features can be enabled at a later time, if desired.

Turn-off all personalization options that send usage data to Microsoft

Disable automatic connectivity behavior, and advanced telemetry data being sent to Microsoft.

Turn it all off. DO NOT automatically connect to open wireless hotspots

Windows SmartScreen only works for Internet Explorer (IE, and yes, it is still there), and the new Microsoft Edge web browser. It will not help with Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome, which is what most people use for everyday browsing. Turn it off. DON’T opt to send browsing data to Microsoft for better page prediction. Google does enough of that already. And absolutely, beyond any reasonable doubt, DO NOT receive Windows updates from unknown computers on the Internet. Keeping Windows is very important, but get the updates from Microsoft.

Turn it all off. There’s no need to send browsing data to Microsoft, or get Windows updates anywhere but from Microsoft

With all of that now set, Windows setup will do as instructed, which will take a little while. During this time, you’ll see the progress wheel doing its thing.

Please wait…

When done, setup will ask about how you are going to log in. This part is a little misleading. The two choices are to join an Azure Active Directory domain, or a local Active Directory domain. The time might not be right for either of these choices yet, so what’s the best option? Even if you’re not ready to join a local Active Directory domain, choose that option, and do not join the Azure domain. The process of selecting the local domain will prompt for the creation of a local administrative account. Recall, that the regular built-in Administrator account is disabled and without a password by default in Windows 8-10.

Join a local Active Directory domain for now

Next is that prompt to create a local account, which will have administrative privileges. Choose a good name, and a long, complex password to secure the account. Ideally, this account being created here should not be for every day use.

Create a local administrative account here in this step

While creating the account, and installing the new-style Windows Store apps behind the scenes, setup display what Microsoft calls “sign-in animation.” This step is repeated for a user that logs into a specific Windows 10 installation for the first time. Also, if a user decides to participate in early previews of new Windows 10 releases, existing users will go through this step again each time a new build of Windows 10 is installed.

Welcome! Please, wait…

When the animation finishes with the completion of the underlying tasks, a fresh Windows 10 desktop is displayed with the Start menu extended. If you’re connected to the Internet through a traditional ethernet UTP cable (Cat5/5e/6), you’ll see a prompt from the right side, asking if the computer should be discoverable on the network. This is a positive indicator of network connectivity. It is up you, but I would remain isolated until anti-malware software is installed and security settings are in place. Something similar will also appear for any available wireless networks that are detected.

Network discovery? Yes/no?

Once network connectivity is established, the next step should be to bring the new Windows 10 installation up to date with the built-in Windows Update client in the new-style Settings application, not the usual “Control Panel” as in earlier versions of Windows. The Start menu has a gear icon on the very left of the menu, above the power button, and under the user icon. The word “Settings” could also just be typed into Cortana, and found that way.

Go for the updates, and update Windows until there is no more updates needed.

One point to consider is that most computers, Windows and macOS, usually have Microsoft Office installed at some point. Businesses usually have volume licenses along with the agreements that give them access to the Windows operating system. Now, Microsoft opts to provide both Windows and the Office suite as a service, instead of a product. Microsoft Office is available in this manner through the Office 365 subscription plan. If you’re going to install Office, do it now, and then run Windows Update on Windows 10 to bring both products up to date at the same time. By default, a new install of Windows 10 will not update itself automatically, immediately after being installed. That will happen overnight, provided the computer is powered on. Click the “Check for updates” button to get the process started.

Current update status, just after install, finds no updates.

Fortunately, Windows 10 hasn’t been out too long to require a massive set of 400+ updates to bring it current like a fresh install of Windows 7. Microsoft has also decided to package individual updates together in “packs” to make updating easier and quicker. The example version I am using here is Windows 10 Education 1607 (10.0.14393.0) x64, which was released on July of 2016. There aren’t that many updates out for this version, so the process will be quick. If Microsoft Office 2016 is included, there will be more updates downloaded, and installed. If Office 2013 is being updated, there will be even more updates to process.

Updates installing. Rinse and repeat until there are no more available.

One tool that is available online, for free (donations are appreciated), is called “wsusoffline.” The idea is to take the updating capacity of a networked WSUS server, and roll it into a local package which can be run like a regular Windows executable. As of this writing, wsusoffline will download, organize, and install updates for Microsoft Windows Vista through Windows 10, and Microsoft Office versions 2007 through 2016, in x86 and x64 versions for each product. Wsusoffline also includes updates for server operating systems, Windows Server 2008 through Windows Server 2016. I’ve used this product to apply a range of updates quickly to fresh installs of Windows I thought were not patched enough to be on the public Internet.

Choose your products, create a destination folder, and download the updates.

If you’d like to use wsusoffline with Windows Vista and Office 2007 installs, don’t wait. Microsoft and eventually wsusoffline are ending support for Windows Vista and Office 2007 on April 11, 2017.

If Windows 10 was just installed in a VM, and after the updates for Windows and Office are done, now would be a good time to create a snapshot. In any situation, Windows 10 will prompt you to activate your copy of Windows. I’d hold-off on this step. Get Windows 10 to the exact spot and configuration you’d like, with all of your applications installed, run it for a few days, then activate. That way, if you need to repeat the installation on the same computer, not others, you won’t burn through your activations. The same goes for Microsoft Office.

Now comes the fun part of installing all of the applications needed on the new install. I take the sting out of this by installing applications AS I need them, and not all at once, automating the install process as much as I can. To get operational, you’re going to need a few apps to be installed immediately after the Windows 10 installation. Windows 10, by itself, is not very useful. I also go through the process of removing the Windows Store apps that come with Windows 10 through Microsoft PowerShell.

The basics for me are: Google Chrome for browsing the web, the free version of Malwarebytes for protection against web-junk, 7-zip to enhance file compression/decompression, iTunes and VLC for my media content, Notepad++ and Visual Studio Code for my text editing duties, Paint.NET for graphics editing, and Sumatra PDF for reading those types of files. On my personal Windows installs, I leave out the Adobe products and Java until they are explicitly needed. Nothing against either one of those vendors, but those products are common malware vectors. At work, they are all needed. For Adobe Reader, Flash Player, Shockwave Player, and AIR. I submit an online form to Adobe for digital distribution. In return, I get a custom URL, which allows me to download full versions of the latest Adobe products. I place the silent install commands for these applications in a script, and run it all from a network share, or virtual share.

A really cool feature about this set of applications is that I don’t have to go out and hunt down the latest versions of each, individually. A website, called Ninite, will create an install package (EXE) that will go out and download the latest versions of the applications you have selected, and install them in one go. For free too, though there a paid pro version.

That’s it! Windows 10 is installed, with updates, and applications. The next steps should be to create another local account, a non-admin, for daily use, and decide how malware protection software will be implemented and managed.

Enjoy!

 

Creating Task Sequences for MDT

Applications, operating systems, drivers are all great but do nothing without a working task sequence. Task sequences are basic XML files which call on a series of scripts to run parameters chosen by the user, when the task was created. There are a few different types of task sequences, some for capturing images, some for deploying software, but most center around deploying an operating system image to computer hardware. That is where our focus will be.

The simplest way to get started with a new task sequence is to right-click the Task Sequences folder, and choose “New Task Sequence.” Like other areas of MDT, some thought should be placed into how this is laid out. Just like we did with the Operating Systems folder, I like to arrange the Task Sequences folder according to OS, and image type. I actually create the same folders in the Task Sequences area so that they mirror the Operating systems folder.

MDT's operating system and task sequence folders are the same.

MDT’s operating system and task sequence folders are the same.

Generally, one operating system image goes along with a single task sequence. I haven’t run across the need to use the same image with multiple different task sequences. Creating folders is just as easy as starting to create a task sequence, right-click the node above and choose “New Folder.” Also, if one was to create an offline MDT deployment share, separated tasks and operating systems can make your selection profile much slimmer.

The process of creating a new task sequence is wizard driven like many things in MDT. Each task needs a unique ID for starters, and a name which can or can not be unique. The ID becomes the name of the folder for the task sequence in the deployment share’s file system hierarchy. I like to use a truncated version of what the task sequence does for the ID. Example: DEPW7EX64 for deploying an image of Windows 7 Enterprise x64, or CAPW7EX64 for capturing an image. Whatever works is fine just as long as each ID is unique. The name and description should be concise and meaningful as it is shown to the one doing the imaging on the image selection screen, from Windows PE.

Select a unique ID and meaningful a name and description.

Select a unique ID and meaningful a name and description.

Next, is the place to select the type of task sequence being created. There are several types, the one we’re looking for is “Standard Client Task Sequence.”

For our example, choose the Standard Client Task Sequence

For our example, choose the Standard Client Task Sequence

Next, we need an image to deploy. Here’s another example where a little organization can pay off down the road. In this case, making the images easier to find. We’re going to choose the basic install image of Windows 7 from the ISO.

Choose the desired OS image.

Choose the desired OS image.

Windows needs a product key to be legit. The next screen presents three options for a product key: none, a MAK key, and a retail product key. I choose to use KMS activation for my deployments, and rely upon a scripts to point Windows to the KMS server, enter the key, and activate. The script was added to MDT as an application and is run that way. However, if MAK activation is the way to go, here’s the chance.

I typically do not enter a product key at this stage.

I typically do not enter a product key at this stage.

Next, we have to enter some OS information. I use the persons or organization to whom the software is licensed. Keep in mind that the home page URL is for Internet Explorer only.

Here, I enter the registered owners and/or organization of the software license.

Here, I enter the registered owners and/or organization of the software license.

The next step asks for the password of the local administrator account, the built-in administrator. I enter a basic password here that will be changed later on. Keep in mind the password IS obfuscated in the resulting unattend.xml file, so it is safe there. I actually have a task disable the built-in administrator account from BigFix, after imaging has completed.

Enter a password for the built-in administrator account.

Enter a password for the built-in administrator account.

The following steps are a summary screen and a finish. Those can be passed through with Next and Finish. Now, we have a basic task that will deploy Windows 7 without much customization.

The completed task sequence.

The completed task sequence.

To get a bit more out of it, especially where driver insertion is performed, we’ll need to edit the task sequence and add a couple of steps. Just right-click the task sequence and choose “Properties.” The General page lists all of the settings entered before, lest they be changed now. I usually don’t mess with those all too much. I do, however, get into the Task Sequence tab. Here are the steps MDT processes, sequentially, when executing a task sequence.

I like to have firm control over which drivers are used on the imaged PC, so I tell the task sequence exactly where to look, and leave little for MDT to figure out. The first step to this is to add a Task Sequence Variable which will identify which drivers to use. Choose “Add” from the top menu, and track down to “Task Sequence Variable.” Place it in the “Preinstall” section, right above the inject drivers step.

Variable above the Inject Drivers step.

Variable above the Inject Drivers step.

Set the variable name to “DriverGroup001”, and the value to “Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%” (without quotes). This convention follows a previous post I have about driver management. If you followed the steps there, these will compliment them.

DriverGroup001 \ Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%

DriverGroup001 \ Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%

Next, we have to modify the Inject Drivers step from allowing all of the drivers on the deployment share to only the ones found at “Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%.” To do this, change the selection profile to “Nothing”, and choose the radio button titled “Choose all drivers from this selection profile.” This will turn off automatic driver detection and just use the drivers found in “Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%.”

Selection Profile = Nothing / Choose all drivers...

Selection Profile = Nothing / Choose all drivers…

In a very basic sense, we’re done. MDT will install Windows 7 and only use drivers detected by WMI for the installed hardware. This is a quick way to get up and running with a basic Windows install. However, additional steps can be added to sweeten the task sequence.

In the “State Restore” section, one step we really don’t have to touch is “Install Applications.” In its default state, the MDT wizard will prompt the end user to install any or all applications listed on the deployment server. This is good for versatility, but can get a bit repetitive if done many times. To get around the prompt and have MDT install the necessary applications, I create an app bundle, add my desired apps to the bundle and have the Install Applications step just run that. For example, my bundle is called “Windows 10 Classroom Software.” It contains Symantec Endpoint Protection (SEP), the BigFix client (IEM), and the Sassafras K2 client. The main reason why I do not build these into the image is that their values need to be unique on every installed instance. I could install them on a template computer, and remove their unique components, but it is just as easy to install them during deployment. Even though the name says “Windows 10 Classroom Software” it will run on Windows 7.

Create an application bundle and have MDT install that.

Create an application bundle and have MDT install that.

Now, our virgin Windows 7 install will have antivirus software, and endpoint management software, which is pretty much everything we need for our working environment. I could use MDT to install Microsoft Office and anything else, but BigFix will do so too.

 

MDT and Drivers

Drivers are a big part of getting Windows to work properly. Anyone who has ever had to troubleshoot a piece of hardware on Windows knows this. When generalizing an installation of Windows for capture with sysprep, all but the most basic drivers are removed. This makes the captured image applicable to many different types of hardware. During a task sequence, MDT runs a plug and play check, for hardware at a couple of different points to determine what drivers, if any, are needed. When a matching driver is found, it is injected into the image before it is applied to the computer’s hard drive. To do this, MDT has a folder/section in the deployment share that is dedicated to organizing and storing drivers. It is called “Out-of-Box-Drivers” (OOBD).

The basic INF files are what MDT needs for driver injection. Many drivers are distributed as packages, which come in the form of an executable. This is not what we need. If an executable is the only way a driver is available, it must be imported as an application into MDT, and installed via task sequence. Fortunately, OEMs like Dell, Lenovo, HP, and even Microsoft make bulk downloads of model-specific drivers available from their sites. Dell hardware drivers come in the form of a CAB file, which can be opened with the expand command, or with a compression/decompression utility like 7-zip.

Bulk-driver Download Sites for Dell, Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft (Surface)

I create a folder structure on the MDT server similar to “Drivers\Windows ##\Vendor\Model.” For example: D:\Drivers\Windows 7\Dell\OptiPlex 990

I do not delineate between x86 and x64 versions of drivers in my folder path because nearly all of my OS deployments are 64-bit. Dell combines x86 and x64 drivers in the same download. Many Dell drivers can be used on both platforms. Lenovo drivers will try to extract to their own, specified path, but that can be changed at runtime. Complete, downloaded driver packs can be between 300MB and 1,000MB in size, except for WinPE driver packs which are very small.

Using the expand command, I’ll extract the drivers to my folder structure.

expand C:\Users\jasonrw\Downloads\990-OptiPlex-ABCDE.cab -f:* “D:\Drivers\Windows 7\Dell\OptiPlex 990”

The command prompt window will scroll really quickly and end with the prompt returning. Now, we can import them into MDT. MDT is able to handle drivers in different manners. The basic default option is to throw all drivers into the same folder at the root OOBD directory. With that, a deployment task will search the entire OOBD store for the right drivers. This increases the chance of the wrong driver being selected. WMI is great, but it is not perfect. Another option is to break down the OOBD store by manufacturer/vendor or by operating system version. Creating folders for Windows 7 and Windows 10, respectively can help minimize the chance of a wrong driver being installed. I take it one step further, actually a couple of steps further. I still use MDT’s WMI hardware-querying capabilities, but I tell it exactly where to look.

I create a specific folder structure under OOBD that matches a specific WMI query I pass on to the deployment task. For example, Windows 7: Out-of-box-drivers\Windows 7\Dell Inc.\OptiPlex 990

OOBD Folder Hierarchy

The bottom two folder tiers each correspond to variable in a WMI query, Make and Model. To find the make or manufacturer of an OEM PC, run the following command from a command prompt.

wmic computersystem get manufacturer

The returns for Dell and Lenovo are “Dell Inc.” and “Lenovo

To get the model, run the same command as above, but replace “manufacturer” with “model” Top that off with a folder for OS version and platform, and you have something to use. In the task sequence, a task variable can be inserted into the PreInstall phase, before the inject drivers step to tell the task sequence exactly where to look. The variable is “DriverGroup001”, and the value is “Windows 7 x64\%Make%\%Model%” This will allow a task sequence to correctly use a WMI query to find the drivers for the exact make and model being imaged.

Task Sequence Variable

The Inject Drivers step has its own settings that needs to be configured. For our purpose, the selection profile has to be set to “Nothing” with all drivers from the selection profile being used.

Selection Profile

Selection profiles are the ultimate step toward driver control. They are a pre-defined selection of drivers that may encompass and individual model, or manufacturer. MDT ships with a few pre-defined selection profiles, but more can be created to suit any need. Given the exact control this approach provides, there is one detraction, it limits task versatility. Since a selection profile tells a task sequence exactly which drivers to use, MDT doesn’t query for them. The default setting for Inject Drivers is to query the entire OOBD store, but when “Nothing” is set, they querying is off. If it is desired that a task sequence only serve one or two makes of computers, this might be a good approach. I support about a dozen different models from two manufacturers, and I’d like my task sequences to be applicable to all.

I do use a selection profile to organize the drivers I use for my MDT Windows PE ISO/WIM files. Dell and Lenovo make drivers just for Windows PE available as a download too. I use the same approach as above to download, extract, and import the Windows PE drivers into MDT. Then, I create a selection profile for the Windows PE drivers and use that for my ISO/WIM file drivers.

Selection Profiles

To import drivers into OOBD, make your folders as desired, right-click the folder for the computer model, and choose “Import drivers.” A wizard will open, walking you through the process of importing the drivers from where they were extracted. It is real easy.

Import Drivers Wizard

After the driver import, the deployment share must be updated. By default, MDT uses the all network and system drivers it has in the OOBD store for the Windows PE ISO/WIM file. This can be changed, as I described above, with a custom selection profile, but it is not mandatory. Still, note, that each time drivers are added and removed, the deployment share should be updated for those new drivers to be used. Some drivers are clearly depicted whether or not they are x86 or x64. In reality, many single drivers can be used on both platforms, but the descriptor files do not always indicate that to MDT. Thus, MDT will import the driver and override the specified platform. This is noted after all of the drivers have been imported for that operation.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-15-06-54

I, personally, write down the name of each driver with a warning, and disable them after the wizard ends. Disabling/deleting a driver is easy, just right-click it in the MDT workbench and choose the appropriate option. Drivers must be disabled from their property sheet. Disabling a driver is a safe approach before it is determined that deletion is necessary. Only ever delete a driver from the MDT workbench. DO NOT go into the driver store via the file system and delete it that way.

Disable Driver

Again, when disabling or deleting a driver, you must update the deployment share to take it out of Windows PE.

Finding, downloading, extracting, and importing drivers into MDT is a big part of MDT configuration, which takes a great deal of time. If it is done with forethought and planning, it can minimize the driver problems a deployment share might have, and need only be done once. I note the name and date of the driver files that I download and import into MDT. Then, I can periodically check for updates from the vendor’s web-sites. The older a model is with the manufacturer, the less-frequent they tend to update the drivers packs for that model. If the manufacturer does not make a driver pack available for your model, it is possible, though very tedious, to download each driver, and extract them individually. I try to avoid doing that.

Thanks!

 

 

UEFI and a Dell OptiPlex 990

Hello,

I do a great deal of work with virtual machines and perform all of my operating system development on virtual platforms. My desktop PC came with a 500GB hard drive. Using a virtualization program and creating a couple of production sized virtual machines will take up a great deal of that space very quickly.

A larger hard drive is one of the easiest upgrades one can make to a computer. I ordered a 3TB drive for my Dell OptiPlex 990 and had hoped to just plug and chug, but it didn’t work out that way. What I had found out that the default traditional method of BIOS hardware management on the PC only allowed it to see partitions or drives no larger than 2TB. BIOS-based computers use hard drives that are partitioned in the Master Boot Record or “MBR” format. To use the new crop of large drives with more than 2TB of space, one needs to format the drive as a GUID Partition Table or GPT device. There, the largest of drives can be partitioned and formatted as one single volume, which is what I was after.

I should have just done my homework and just ordered a 2TB drive. Under BIOS/MBR, Windows setup would only see 2TB, leaving around 768GB unavailable. GPT disks cannot use the BIOS system. They rely on a newer system called the Universal Extensible Firmware Interface, or “UEFI.” The OptiPlex 990 has the ability to use a BIOS-based system or UEFI, but not both. Each are mutually exclusive to the OptiPlex 990. Newer computers have the ability to use UEFI with support for legacy BIOS system (UEFI-CSM), but not the 990.

I initially tried to get the 3TB HDD to be recognized by booting to a Windows PE boot drive and use DISKPART to partition and format the HDD as a GPT disk. Still, Windows setup would not use the drive. Windows 10 setup would indicate that setup could not use any available partition as they were in GPT format. The problem wasn’t the drive, which was set up correctly, it was the install media. I use an 8GB USB key drive to install Windows from an ISO file. A great piece of freeware called “Rufus” is what I use to make the boot-able USB key from the Windows ISO file. Rufus defaults to creating a Windows PE volume, which is what Windows setup is, that supports both MBR and UEFI with backwards compatibility. I though that would work, and it should have, but the OptiPlex 990 was BIOS or UEFI, not both. One option to create the USB boot key was pure UEFI.

While I was sorting this out, I noticed that when I switched the 990’s BIOS to UEFI mode, there were no more boot-able drives like the HDD, CD/DVD, or USB listed. This was accurate because none had been made available. The 3TB drive was GPT but did not contain any boot-able volumes at that point. I had yet to make a pure-UEFI USB key, and there was no disc in the DVD-RW drive, so no there were no UEFI boot options. Any and all BIOS/MBR, and UEFI/GPT boot devices are shown when the PC POSTs. As soon as I partitioned and formatted the 3TB drive as GPT, and inserted the all-UEFI USB boot drive, the OptiPlex 990 saw the USB drive as a UEFI boot device and Windows setup accepted the partitioned 3TB drive for install. After that, Windows 10 installed and I had ALL of the available space, which came in around 2.78TB.

To do…

Partition/format the drive as a GPT device.

Create a boot-able Windows PE USB drive and boot the target computer to it, with the larger-than-2TB-HDD installed.

Run DISKPART from the Windows PE prompt and enter the following commands to partition and format the drive as a GPT disk, minus the REM statements.

select disk 0
clean
convert gpt
rem == 1. Windows RE tools partition ===============
create partition primary size=300
format quick fs=ntfs label="Windows RE tools"
assign letter="T"
set id="de94bba4-06d1-4d40-a16a-bfd50179d6ac"
gpt attributes=0x8000000000000001
rem == 2. System partition =========================
create partition efi size=100
rem    ** NOTE: For Advanced Format 4Kn drives,
rem               change this value to size = 260 ** 
format quick fs=fat32 label="System"
assign letter="S"
rem == 3. Microsoft Reserved (MSR) partition =======
create partition msr size=128
rem == 4. Windows partition ========================
rem ==    a. Create the Windows partition ==========
create partition primary 
rem ==    b. Create space for the recovery image ===
shrink minimum=15000
rem       ** NOTE: Update this size to match the size
rem                of the recovery image           **
rem ==    c. Prepare the Windows partition ========= 
format quick fs=ntfs label="Windows"
assign letter="W"
rem === 5. Recovery image partition ================
create partition primary
format quick fs=ntfs label="Recovery image"
assign letter="R"
set id="de94bba4-06d1-4d40-a16a-bfd50179d6ac"
gpt attributes=0x8000000000000001
list volume
exit

Script from Microsoft

Create the all-UEFI Windows install USB drive…

Go into the computer’s BIOS by pressing F2 during the boot sequence (Dell), before Windows even starts to load. NOTE: BIOS/MBR disks will not boot in a UEFI/GPT configuration. Any change from BIOS/MBR to UEFI/GPT WILL REQUIRE a Windows reinstall. No way around it, so Back up your data.

On a separate computer, insert the USB key, and open Rufus as an admin.

The USB key should be listed in the top dialog box, make sure you’re formatting the right drive if there are multiple USB drives currently inserted into the PC. From the bottom part, near where it says “Create boot-able disk using [ ISO Image]”, click the small button with the disc and drive icon and choose your Windows install ISO.

Next, select the drop-down menu option under “Partition scheme and target system type”, choose “GPT partition scheme for UEFI.” If the source ISO file changes, the partition scheme changes also, so watch that.

RufusCreate the drive and insert it into the computer that has the large HDD and boot to it by pressing F12 (Dell/Lenovo). If the USB key was created properly as a UEFI device, it will show up as a UEFI boot option under the BIOS boot options which will still be the CD/DVD drive and the HDD (possibly).

Install Windows and relish in the large space now available!

 

How to Create a Windows Image for Mass Deployment

Requirements: Windows install media (7 or 10. 8.x?), desired apps for the image (Office, PDF viewer, web browsers, plugins), virtual machine software (VMware Workstation, Microsoft Hyper-V, or Oracle Virtual Box), and image creation and deployment software (ImageX.exe, MDT, SCCM).

Almost every place I have ever worked, IT had or needed a method to clone and deploy a specific Windows configuration and application set. From a few PCs, to hundreds, the requirements were the same, to deploy the same configuration with as little, repetitive work as possible. The ideal target being what Microsoft calls “zero-touch” deployments that require no interaction on the target computer whatsoever. This is offered by Microsoft System Center (SCCM) along with the Deployment Toolkit (MDT). Many shops do not operate that way, and have some level of interaction required during the imaging process. This piece will discuss creating a Windows install for distribution.

 

What you’ll need…

Windows and software install media (obviously)

Virtual machine software for the creation workspace. Why? Two reasons. First, virtual machines provide the option to create hardware-neutral images which can be applied anywhere, regardless of what is actually in the target computer. One image becomes possible for multiple hardware configurations. This also involves less work in mainatining the image as any work only needs to be done once and not x-times per different type of hardware. Second, most virtual machine software (I’m not sure about Virtual Box) have the ability to save a VM’s state, and revert back to that state, should it become necessary. VMware calls these “snapshots”, and Microsoft uses the term “checkpoint” in Hyper-V. Should a screw-up occur, it can be undone without loosing work or have to re-do everything. These are two facets that are simply not available with building images on real hardware. Test on real hardware, but build in a virtual environment.

  • VMware Workstation is pricey, but well worth the cost IMHO.
  • Hyper-V comes with Windows Server 2008 and later, Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 8, 8.1, and 10 as “Client Hyper-V.”. The build computer’s CPU must support hardware assisted virtualization for Windows to install the Hyper-V role. Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad CPUs won’t muster.
  • Virtual Box, now owned by Oracle, is a freebie. I haven’t used Virtual Box very much outside of general curiosity.

The build workstation has to have some power to it. Nothing extravagant like an Alienware, or Falcon Northwest gaming rig, but above average. Try to avoid using a laptop as a VM build station. Laptops are great for testing, but a desktop PC is optimal. Don’t use a Mac. I love my MacBook Pro, but it isn’t meant for making Windows images. A quad-core CPU (Intel Core i5/i7, or AMD Phenom series) will work for starters. The more powerful, the better. RAM is the key. The more the better. I routinely work with 16GB of RAM on my workstation (the most it’ll take), and it can handle three running VMs and the host OS before going wacky. 32GB of RAM is not ridiculously expensive today, and well-worth the couple-hundred extra bucks. VMs take up storage space quickly. Working on several VMs, it is not difficult to fill a 2TB HDD (I’ve done it). Those are not that expensive either, and 2TB is the starting point I’d go with for a virtualization rig. Anything more, and you have to make sure your PC supports UEFI vs. BIOS, or else all of the drive’s space will not be recognized by the firmware, and Windows. Working from USB storage might fly, but the throughput won’t match that of internal storage, and you’ll have a bottleneck. My VM creation setup, however, is backed-up every night to my trusty 4TB WD USB HDD. If you can get large-capacity SSDs instead of traditional rotational drives, do it, but don’t sacrifice space for speed. An SSD for the boot volume with Windows and apps along with a large 2TB+ traditional HDD for VM storage is a nice setup, and not fiscally unrealistic.

Virtual Machine Setup…

Create a new VM that will become your Windows image. For Windows 7 and later, I recommend 4GB of RAM, 1 CPU with 2 virtual cores (if possible), and a virtual hard drive the size of the smallest drive that will ever receive the image. We have some 128GB SSDs out there, so 128GB is my vHDD size. That’ll assure the image will fit everywhere you intend to deploy it. Now, it is easy to see how fast space will go on your drives. Everything else is fine with the defaults. Bridged vs. NAT network adapter? It doesn’t really matter even for network-based capture/deployment. I’ve used both and have noticed no speed differential.

Install and Configure Windows…

Install Windows onto the VM with all of the default settings. If you’re lazy like me, you can use an unattend file to answer all of those pesky setup questions. This site, the Windows Answer File Generator, has a GREAT web UI for creating unattend.xml files that WORK. Place the unattend file at the root of your install media and let Windows install itself. The whole process for Windows 7-10 should be 20-30 minutes. Don’t bother with the product key and activation. Sysprep will just strip that out in the end. If your build process takes longer than a month, you might need the key and activation. I’ve never run into that problem. Don’t join any active directory domains. Sysprep will quit if it is run on a domain-joined PC.

Next, power-down (not sleep, hibernate, or pause) the VM and create a snapshot or checkpoint. This will save you 20-30 minutes of re-installing should a foul-up occur. Power back on and go into Programs and Features (Windows 7) and add/remove all of the stuff that is not needed. I get rid of the tablet components, XPS printer/viewer, Windows Media Center, Windows Fax and Scan. All of the stuff I know the end users will not touch.

Update Windows/Office…

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of configuration, completely update Windows through Microsoft Update. The older your version of Windows, the more updates it will need, and the longer the update process will take. A fresh install of Windows 7 Enterprise SP1 x64 from MS VLC ISO required 296 updates before no  more were required (as of February 2016). This will take about a day (8+ hours) to complete. One might think about adding MS Office into this process to allow it to join in the update process, but there is a reason not. Take this opportunity of having a clean install of Windows, updated, and use it as a template for other VMs. VMware Workstation allows VMs to be cloned and copied, so a patched copy of Windows can serve as a starting point for other virtual machine projects. A MAJOR time saver. Completely update Windows until it screams “no more” and shut down, then take a snapshot.

Clone or continue? That’s up to you, but whatever is chosen, the next part is installing MS Office (if needed. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t), and completely updating that through Microsoft Update. I do a custom install of Office to not include the programs users won’t need, like Infopath, and Lync, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business. YMMV. Microsoft Office 2013 Pro Plus needed 151 updates to be complete from a fresh install of the MS VLC ISO. Again, I wouldn’t bother with product keys or activation for Office. Shut down and take a snapshot when that part is done.

Application Installs…

Add all of the applications that need to be deployed with the image. Here is where the question of thin image vs. thick image is contemplated. A thin image contains just the bare essentials needed to get started with many other apps installed at distribution. Programs that change often, and would require updating/re-capturing the image are best left to installation at deployment. Candidates for this include Adobe Flash Player, Shockwave, AIR, and antivirus software. Software that has first-run settings which must be answered for the end user should be placed into the image, and not installed at deploy time. We install many apps with our image, so this process takes us about as long as it does to update Windows and Office. A good example set to start would be: Mozilla Firefox ESR, Google Chrome Enterprise, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Quicktime Player, VLC Media Player, Microsoft Silverlight, Visual C++ Redistributables 2005-2015, Skype and 7-zip. Run each and every newly-installed application to make sure they work as intended, and then delete the downloaded installers. The plugins, and antivirus (SEP) will be installed when the image is deployed. Power-down the VM and take another snapshot.

By this point, we have a basic working install of Windows which is moderately useful and could probably be distributed to end users. One question does arise which is substantial in nature, and determines how next to proceed. Does a custom default user profile need to be created and configured? If yes, we need to do that before capture.

Customizing a default user profile…

Windows, by itself, works pretty well out of the box, but comes with a myriad of first-run dialogs and prompts which can be confusing. My target audience is public computing, classrooms, kiosks and labs. For privacy reasons, user profiles are not kept on the computers. As soon as a user logs off from Windows, their profile is removed. Each time someone logs into one of the computers I am responsible for administering, they are logging in for the first time. Any and all first-run dialogs/prompts that can appear will. The option to spend 10-15 minutes of a 60 minute class, getting the software to work as desired, and out of the way is just not an option. To prevent this, I try to configure as much for the end user in advance as possible. Group policy is my hero in this effort. Almost anything can be set for the computer or a user through a GPO. The exceptions being non-Microsoft software like MATLAB, Maple, and Stata that all have first-run issues which often require administrative intervention. I don’t let users run as admins.

Sysprep is the utility Microsoft has made available for generalizing an installation of Windows since Windows 2000. Starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft changed to an image-based installation and mmaintenance process. Sysprep changed too, and became much more difficult to use (for me anyway). It is at this time that copying a customized user profile to the default required the use of an unattend.xml file. With Windows 2000 and XP, you could actually just copy it and everything would be fine. In the specialize pass (No. 4) of the unattend.xml file there is an option to add a pass called “CopyProfile” to the “Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup” setting that will copy the built-in administrator account’s profile to the default. The trick is when to apply this, during capture, or during deployment? That depends on how you’re capturing and deploying, but either way the built-in administrator account is what I use as a template for my custom default user profile.

Enable the built-in administrator account and give a password you’ll be comfortable with entering dozens of times. Log in as the admin, and immediately delete the profile for the other account setup asked you to make after installing Windows. The reason for this is that CopyProfile will not copy the admin’s profile if another profile exists on the file system at the time the copy takes place (experience speaking here). Delete the profile from the advanced system properties window, and not by just deleting the folder under C:\Users. Other accounts can remain, they just cannot have profiles.

As the built-in admin, configure the Windows environment they way you want the end users to have it. Again, most of these tasks can be accomplished with a domain-based GPO. Run each and every program the end users are likely to use and answer any first-run dialogs and prompts. DO NOT surf the web as the built-in administrator on a Windows PC without antivirus software for obvious reasons, but an important another is profile size. Surfing with Chrome or Firefox even on just a couple of sites and will add megabytes of data to the profile. You could probably get away with not even running any of the browsers at all with a good GPO in place. Google, Mozilla, and of course Microsoft make GPO settings available to completely configure each piece of software and eliminate any first-runs. Adobe recently made an admx template for configuring Acrobat Pro and Reader via GPO. GPO templates exist for Microsoft Office 2007-2016, with a dizzying array of possible configuration options. Those and the settings for Windows will get 95% of end user configuration done in a customized profile.

Things that are easily set include the desktop wallpaper and icons, the start menu, screensaver, power options, and remote desktop settings. Take your time and run through each usage scenario, if possible, without puffing up the profile’s size. Large user profiles take a while to create at log in, and lengthen the log in time required to get started. In my case, every is logging in for the first time, so their profile will be created when the need to use the PC. A 500MB profile will slow that entire process down. Once things are as desired, power the VM down and take a snapshot. This snapshot is a failsafe point for return after the image has been captured.

Capturing the Image…

There are several different ways to get an image of Windows. Traditionally, Norton (Symantec) Ghost was the standard for deploying Windows operating system images. After acquisition, Symantec let the product stagnate over a period of years as Microsoft developed successive versions Windows, and it became necessary for us to switch to a solution that would natively support later versions of Windows PE. We adopted MDT a couple of years ago for a few reasons, and that allowed us to change the way we made operating system images. Driver support in Ghost is not real versatile. The option to create one image for multiple hardware configurations required substantial tweaks and endless trial and error testing Ghost was designed to have one image per hardware type, with all of the drivers included in the image. This is not that big of a deal since many large IT outfits only support a few different types of hardware models and configurations. For us, that was six different images for a single type of Windows install (Windows 7 Pro x64). Needless to say the images did not get updated too often due to the amount of work involved.

Removing the hardware dependence and creating hardware-neutral images was a requirement for our new imaging software. An install in a virtual machine allows that type of neutrality.

Boot the VM to be captured an log on as the built-in administrator, the one that was pre-configured before. From the advanced system properties, delete every other user profile on Windows. The accounts can stay, but the profiles cannot. If there are any VM-dependent software like VMware Tools, or Hyper-V Integration services installed, uninstall them. If there are mapped drives between the host and guest OS, power-down the VM, remove them, and restart.

I like to clean Windows before capture by running a few command prompt executables.

Go to %TEMP% from the Run dialog and delete everything there that can be deleted.

Open an administrative command prompt and run the following commands.

Delete any and all shadow copies.

vssadmin delete shadows /All /Quiet

Get rid of any downloaded software updates.

del c:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download\*.* /f /s /q

Delete any hidden Windows install files. Chances are there are none, but it cannot hurt to check.

del %windir%\$NT* /f /s /q /a:h

Delete the Windows prefetch files. There also probably none of those either.

del c:\Windows\Prefetch\*.* /f /s /q

Run disk cleanup.

c:\windows\system32\cleanmgr /sagerun:1

Defragment the C:\ drive (It shouldn’t be that fragmented).

defrag c: /U /V

Clear the Event Logs. Execute one command on each line.

wevtutil el 1>cleaneventlog.txt
for /f %%x in (cleaneventlog.txt) do wevtutil cl %%x
del cleaneventlog.txt

Flush the DNS cache.

ipconfig /flushdns

NOW! We’re ready to capture. The question is how?

We use MDT for imaging. MDT has a special type of task sequence called “Sysprep and Capture.” To kick this off, from the install of Windows to be captured, navigate to \\mdtserver.domain.com\DeploymentShare$\Scripts and run LightTouch.vbs. This will connect to the deployment share, and start the process. Enter any credentials required, select the appropriate task sequence, and give the image a name, then begin. Capturing from a VM to an actual MDT server, over the network, will take a while. Even for small images, it is best to just let the task run and not use the build computer for anything else until it is finished. I do this at the end of the day, when I’m not going to be needing to use the computer.

Once the image has been captured, the VM will restart and wait for further action. At that point, power-down the VM, and roll back to the last snapshot taken before the VM was captured. Back to not-so-square-one, and ready to re-capture, update, or whatever when necessary.

Outside of MDT, it is possible to capture with just a Windows PE boot disk with ImageX.exe. This process is not a clean and automatic as MDT, but it works. Going that way, the pre-capture setup process goes a little differently. In its most basic form, you need to only run sysprep from the VM about to be captured, and shut down, then restart to the WinPE boot disk and run ImageX.exe. To copy the default user profile this way, an unattend.xml file needs to be used with sysprep and the CopyProfile option must be set to “True.” The unattend file is only needed if there are any customizations that need to be applied when the image is applied to a computer. Large capacity USB flash drives are very affordable. I have a 128GB USB drive, that I purchased for $29.99, configured as a WinPE boot drive, and can be used to capture images directly to the drive instead of over the network, as it is usually done.

Enjoy!

If Operating Systems Were Airlines

A shorter version of an old favorite

MS-DOS Airlines (not that many of us use MS-DOS in the 21st Century)

Everybody pushes the airplane until it glides, then they jump on and let the plane coast until it hits the ground again, then they push again jump on again, and so on.

Windows Air

The terminal is pretty and colorful, with friendly stewards, easy baggage check and boarding, and a smooth take-off.  After about 10 minutes in the air, the plane explodes with no warning whatsoever.

Windows NT Air

Just like Windows Air, but costs more, uses much bigger planes, and takes out all the other aircraft within a 40-mile radius when it explodes.

Mac Airlines

All the stewards, stewardesses, captains, baggage handlers, and ticket agents look the same, act the same, and talk the same. Every time you ask questions about details, you are told you don’t need to know, don’t want to know, and would you please return to your seat and watch the movie.

Unix Airlines

Each passenger brings a piece of the airplane and a box of tools to the airport. They gather on the tarmac, arguing constantly about what kind of plane they want to build and how to put it together. Eventually, they build several different aircraft, but give them all the same name. Some passengers actually reach their destinations. All passengers believe they got there.

Linux Airlines

Disgruntled employees of all the other OS airlines decide to start their own airline. They build the planes, ticket counters, and pave the runways themselves. They charge a small fee to cover the cost of printing the ticket, but you can also download and print the ticket yourself. When you board the plane, you are given a seat, four bolts, a wrench and a copy of the seat-HOWTO.html. Once settled, the fully adjustable seat is very comfortable, the plane leaves and arrives on time without a single problem, the in-flight meal is wonderful. You try to tell customers of the other airlines about the great trip, but all they can say is, “You had to do what with the seat?”

Original Source

Jason Watkins, 12/28/15

 

Automate the Install of Microsoft Office 2016 with an MSP File

Microsoft Office is probably the flagship product for Microsoft, aside from Windows itself. There are more installs of Office out there than there are installs of Windows (all versions). Microsoft Office is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. Enterprises use Office to such an extent that a computer isn’t really useful without Office installed.

Deploying Office to multiple computers over the network, at the time of imaging, or after, is a made simple with the use of an unattended install file (MSP). These files are created using a tool built in to enterprise releases of Microsoft Office. Consumer builds of Office, Office 365, do not include this tool, the “Office Customization Tool.”

To run the tool, execute the Office setup.exe command with the “/admin” modifier/switch.

setup.exe /admin

If Office has been imported into MDT, the application’s property sheet contains an “Office Products” tab where the customization tool can be launched. The tool contains no wizards, just an explorer-style interface with categories to the left and individual settings to the right.

Welcome

The welcome page for the Office Customization Tool, which comes with Office 2016.

There are a dizzying array of settings that could be configured with the tool, but only a few stand out to make deployment easier across the enterprise. During any Office deployment, the product key, registered user and organization, and product activation must be considered into the process to prevent prompts for end users, and reduced product functionality.

First is the “Install location and organization name” setting under “Setup.” The default install location is fine, just enter the appropriate organization name.

Next, is the “Licensing and user interface” settings a couple of lines down. Select the appropriate licensing scheme for your organization, accept the licensing agreement, and choose the display level of “None” with the “Suppress modal” check box selected.

Licensing

Choose the correct licensing and make sure to suppress any dialog boxes that may appear during the install.

Go to the “Modify setup properties” a couple of lines down. Here, we need to add two settings that will allow Office to auto-activate and prevent setup from rebooting the computer. The two properties are called “AUTO_ACTIVATE” and “SETUP_REBOOT.” SETUP_REBOOT is simply set to “Never”, and the AUTO_ACTIVATE option is set to 1.

Modify Setup Properties

Add the two settings illustrated and their prescribed values.

Under the “Features” section, choose “Modify user settings.” This will change things for the end user experience in Office applications. The settings we’re focusing on are the “Microsoft Office 2016 \ Privacy \ Trust Center \ Disable Opt-in Wizard on First Run“, and “Microsoft Office 2016 \ First Run \ Disable First Run Movie/Disable Office First Run on application boot.” these will get rid of the annoying first-run prompts a user sees whenever they open Office for the first time. Who actually a thought a movie would be what a user wants to see the first time they run Word?

Disable First Run Settings

Turn off all of the annoying first-run things that Office throws at the user.

Next, choose the option underneath “Set feature installation states.” This is where Office would ask what components should be installed. The computers I administer are in public locations, like classrooms, so Microsoft Outlook is not needed.

Office Features

Choose what you do not want installed with Office.

The last thing I do is create desktop shortcuts for Office applications. Choose the “Configure shortcuts” option under the “Additional options” section. Click the “Add” button to create a new shortcut. Choose the desired application for the “Target:” value. Choose the value “[DesktopFolder]” for the “Location:” property. One thing that must be done or this will not work is to add an open bracket “[” to the “Start in:” field. If this is not done, an error stating the start in folder is invalid will appear.

Desktop Shortcut

Create new desktop shortcuts the users should have for their Office applications.

We’re done! Now, the settings must be saved into an MSP file and placed in the “updates” directory of the Office installer. Choose “File” \ “Save as” from the menu at the top and choose a name for the MSP file. Microsoft recommends placing the numeral “0” at the front of the file’s name to guarantee it is the first to be read when Office is installed. Save the file in the updates folder of the Office installation directory. Now, each time setup.exe is run from that Office media, the setup parameters selected will be applied.

Enjoy!

Jason Watkins

11/3/15