# Group Policy-Managed Desktops, Part 2

Public computers require the operating system and application to be out of the user’s way. Providing the defaults for user desktop session on Windows is challenging. Here is what I do to make users can teach their classes, have their conferences, and do their work in our computer labs. The settings I use are extensive, so this post will just cover the computer configuration settings. Part 3 will be for the user configuration. The following is not an exhaustive list of what should or even could be done with a GPO. In the end, resulting policies will be shaped by the needs of the organization.

I break settings down according to GPO so that they may be applied or removed individually without affecting existing functionality that may not need to change. I have a separate GPO each for Windows, Office, Firefox, Chrome and Adobe Acrobat/Reader.

DISCLAIMER – There are a dizzying amount of settings that can be configured in a GPO. Tons. Each setting needs to be evaluated and tested in a lab environment before it is released to production. Changes made to GPOs in an effort to troubleshoot errant behavior should be done one setting at a time. Change – Test – Accept or Revert. A great thing about group policy and its variety of settings is that GPOs can be used in any type of environment.

### The Windows 10 GPO

#### Local Policies\Audit Policy

• Audit failures for both account logon events and regular
logon events

We want to get a record of failed logon attempts on both ends where successive entries
could indicate possible brute force attempts.

#### Local Policies\User Rights Assignment

• Allow log on through Terminal Services = BUILTIN\Administrators, DOMAIN\IT Support Group
• Deny access to this computer from the network = guest
• Deny log on locally = guest
• Shutdown the system = BUILTIN\Administrators, DOMAIN\IT Support Group

Anyone coming in over remote desktop should be sanctioned this way. The Windows guest user account should have zero access privileges. Any access to computer resources, local or network should be done with an actual user account. Public computers are expected to be on during stated times of operation. Power-conscious users will shut off a PC regardless of
the next person to come. The last setting here removes the shutdown option from the Start menu. To make this setting be completely effective, the setting “Allow users shut down without logging on” needs to be disabled or else they can just log off and shut down from the login screen. None of this prevents someone from holding down the power button and shutting off that way.

#### Local Policies\Security Options

• Interactive logon: Do not display last user name = Enabled
• Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL = Disabled

For obvious reasons we want to not show the last person who last logged into Windows on a public computer. Honestly, this should be configured domain-wide. Brute force attempts through remote desktop will have a better chance of succeeding if they can determine the username last used on the target PC. For familiarity’s sake with what users have been used to doing for decades, I enable CTRL+ALT+DEL. That also opens the lock screen immediately upon the
key presses instead of requiring the user to press any key.

• Network access: Do not allow anonymous enumeration of SAM accounts = Enabled
• Network access: Do not allow anonymous enumeration of SAM accounts and shares = Enabled

Anyone requesting access to resources both local and network has to have a bona-fide Windows account. No guests. This way Windows can determine the appropriate level of access from the resource’s ACL.

• Network security: LAN Manager authentication level = Send NTLMv2 response only, Refuse LM
& NTLM

We want to ensure the strongest available version of NTLM is used wherever possible, whenever needed. Older apps, not able to use NTLMv2, will not be able function in this environment. Those applications should be upgraded or reconsidered.

• Accounts: Block Microsoft accounts = Users can’t add or log on with Microsoft accounts

Windows allows users to log in with their Microsoft accounts. Such accounts cannot be managed with Group policy to an effective extent, so I disable the option to do so.

#### Event Log

• Maximum application log size 1000000 kilobytes
• Maximum security log size 1000000 kilobytes
• Maximum system log size 1000000 kilobytes

The event log can tell us a great about what’s happening on a Windows PC. I opt to make the log’s size 1 gigabyte so there’s plenty of space to record events going far back.

#### Restricted Groups

DOMAIN\IT Support Group should be added to the local computer’s administrators group (BUILTIN\Administrators) and the local “File and Print Sharing Users” group, for RDP access to PCs running Windows 10. The restricted groups function adds the select groups to the designated group and makes sure they remain members of that group. Any user/group casually added to a restricted group is removed after the GPO is refreshed on the computer. Conversely, groups can be prevented from becoming members of a designated group by using restricted groups.

#### System Services

Here, group policy can be used to control the startup configuration of Windows services. I make sure the Remote Desktop Services and Windows Update services are set to “Startup Mode: Automatic.” Windows Update should be automatic by default, but just in case someone changes that… Third-party applications that add services to Windows can also be specified here. Adobe’s update service, and Oracle’s java update service are good candidates.

#### Windows Firewall with Advanced Security

This is the area where the firewall should be configured for Windows 7 and later operating systems. There is another section for the firewall in with the network configuration settings, under administrative templates. Those were meant for 2000, XP OS’s. They’ll still work, but the options in Security Settings are more versatile. I plan on doing a post on just the firewall alone, so I won’t get into it here, but I’ll suggest that the GPO make sure the firewall is enabled (can’t be disabled), and that exceptions for RDP are added and scoped only for IP ranges that are is use only by IT, or those needing to connect that way. Do not open RDP to the whole world for want of DoS attacks through RDP. I would allow the creation of local rules, but not the ability to disable rules specified by the GPO. If the firewall’s configuration is a problem, move to a different OU and see if that helps.

#### Computer Configuration\Policies\Windows Settings\Administrative Templates

There are a ton of settings here. I’ll try to go through them as simply and concisely as possible. These settings apply to the computer, indifferent of who logs into Windows.

##### Control Panel/Personalization
• Force a specific default lock screen and logon image = \\server\share\LockScreenImage.png or C:\Windows\Web\Screen\LockScreenImage.png
• Turn off fun facts, tip, tricks, and more on lock screen = Enabled

The lock screen can be useful for displaying informational images, or a touch of corporate branding. It is also a great visual indication that a PC is in fact receiving the computer-based GPO settings from the presence of the GPO-assigned lock screen image being displayed.

##### Control Panel/User Accounts
• Apply the default account picture to all users = Enabled

I like to swap the default Windows user icon image with a custom one. I just replace the images in “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\User Account Pictures” with versions of my own for each image using the same names and file sizes/types. I think it makes the whole experience look better.

• Start Layout File = C:\Path\To\LayoutModification.xml

This setting is great. On a template install of Windows 10, you can set the Start Menu tiles as desired and export that layout to an XML file with PowerShell. The GPO setting makes sure everyone gets the same Start layout, making documentation and troubleshooting easier for IT folks.

##### System/Group Policy
• Configure user Group Policy loopback processing mode = Enabled, Mode: Replace

Given that my PCs are used in public environments, I want my GPO to provide the same settings no matter who longs into Windows. Commonly, the user accounts for my clients do not live in the same OU on which my GPO is applied. The loopback function allows the GPO’s settings to apply to users outside of the GPO’s OU. The options are merge and replace. They do as their names suggest. Merge combines the user’s overall user-based GPO settings (collectively), which can be numerous, and combines them with what’s specified in the loopback GPO. In the event of a settings conflict, the setting from the last GPO applied wins. That may not necessarily be your loopback GPO. Replace takes all of the user’s user-based GPO settings and ignores them for what’s specified in the loopback GPO. Use this setting with caution and certainly test it out before release to production.

##### System/Logon
• Always wait for the network at computer startup and logon = Enabled
• Hide Entry points for fast user switching = Enabled
• Show first sign-in animation = Disabled

Whenever Windows begins to run automated tasks which require connectivity, make sure the network is available. This might lengthen startup and login times by a couple of seconds, but that is better than troubleshooting weird network errors. Generally, my computers only need one user login session at a time. Falling short of this, processes which requires that no users be logged in at the time they run might fail because of one or more persistent session remaining. Fast user switching is fine for shared computers, not the case here. In computer labs and classrooms, user privacy is of a concern when it comes to their data. The best way to ensure this is to make sure none remains after they log off. To this end, each of my user’s profiles are removed when they log off from Windows. Even if they use the same computer several times per week, each login session is new. Watching a first-login animation sequence once is annoying, and completely unacceptable for each login. The animation also slows the login process all together. I turn it off.

##### System/Power Management/Sleep Settings
• Allow applications to prevent automatic sleep (plugged-in) = Enabled
• Allow automatic sleep with Open Network Files (plugged-in) = Disabled
• Require a password when a computer wakes (plugged-in) = Disabled
• Specify the system sleep timeout (plugged-in) = 0
• Specify the unattended sleep timeout (plugged-in) = 0
##### System/Power Management/Video and Display Settings
• Turn off the display (plugged-in) = Enabled (3600 seconds)

Most presentations involving a computer will involve some sort of multimedia content. PowerPoint and online videos have become a staple in some classes. Having Windows blank the screen and go to sleep after fifteen minutes is counter to what the instructors have to do in those rooms. I set the display to turn off after an hour of idle time. A simple mouse movement will bring it back.

##### Windows Components/File Explorer
• Set a default associations configuration file = Enabled (C:\Path\to\defaultassociations.xml)
• Start File Explorer with ribbon minimized = Enabled (Never open new File Explorer windows with the ribbon minimized)

Specifying what applications handle what types of files is usually done for everyone by customizing a default user profile the old way of copying C:\Users\CustomProfile to C:\Users\Default. That approach is no longer valid and will lead to more problems in the future. Windows has a way of setting default applications for all users with an XML file and group policy. Simply take an example installation, set the desired defaults and export them to an XML file with PowerShell. I find the new ribbon menu in Explorer quite useful. However, the default behavior to hide until an on-hover event occurs over it with a mouse is annoying. I just show it. All of our users have 22″ screens or larger in their areas. It’ll fit.

##### Windows Components/Internet Explorer
• Automatically activate newly installed add-ons = Enabled
• Prevent participation in the Customer Experience Improvement Program = Enabled
• Prevent running First Run wizard = Go directly to home page
• Turn off add-on performance notifications = Enabled
• Turn on menu bar by default = Enabled

With the introduction of Windows 10, Internet Explorer was superseded by the Edge web browser, which will itself be superseded by a Chromium derivative in the near future. IE11 is still installed on all versions of Windows 10 with the LTSB/LTSC versions only shipping with IE (No Edge). I still set defaults for IE’s configuration despite its near zero-level of use outside of Byzantine web apps which require IE for their functionality. While security is always a foremost priority, I’m aiming to get the user running with IE by reducing the first run prompts. The settings pretty much explain themselves, and are few among a large amount of possible IE GPO settings.

##### Windows Components/Internet Explorer/Accelerators
• Turn off Accelerators = Enabled

IE has the capability to use accelerator plugins to enhance its browsing experience. I disable those on the reason that I don’t want unsanctioned code/plugins running or prompting users to run.

##### Windows Components/Microsoft Edge
• Configure Start pages = Homepage URL
• Prevent Microsoft Edge from starting and loading the Start and New Tab page at Windows startup and each time Microsoft Edge is closed = Enabled (Prevent tab loading)
• Prevent the First Run webpage from opening on Microsoft Edge = Enabled

Now, I have two browsers to configure via GPO. Like IE, Edge’s GPO section is pretty expansive and I only set a few defaults. I set the homepage URL as the start page. I disable the first run webpage from opening as well. I really wish software developers did not do stuff like this.

##### Windows Components/OneDrive
• Prevent the usage of OneDrive for file storage = Enabled.

I have nothing against OneDrive or cloud storage. What I’m trying to do here is disable OneDrive’s tendency to download and update the OneDrive application for each new user whenever they log on to Windows. File syncing to online storage is great, just not here.

##### Windows Components/Remote Desktop Services/Remote Desktop Connection Client
• Do not allow passwords to be saved = Enabled
##### Windows Components/Remote Desktop Services/Remote Desktop Session Host/Connections
• Allow users to connect remotely by using Remote Desktop Services = Enabled
##### Windows Components/Remote Desktop Services/Remote Desktop Session Host/Security
• Always prompt for password upon connection = Enabled

RDP is a tremendous help when comes to the fight against having to run around and visit machines for administration. Not everyone should be able to do this, just the PCs used by the IT folks. Scoping access is done in the firewall settings. I don’t want anyone saving passwords for these connections either. I want every remote connection attempt to be individually authenticated each time it is made.

##### Windows Components/Store
• Turn off Automatic Download and install of updates = Enabled
• Turn off the offer to update to the latest version of Windows = Enabled

The Microsoft Store and the way it is implemented on Windows has become a real challenge to administrators. No user has ever asked me for a store app. Ever… I avoid the whole mess. The second option pauses the option to upgrade Windows to the latest point release, another muddy pond of a system. I don’t want point releases going on during the semester, so I turn it off with this and WSUS.

##### Windows Components/Windows Media Center
• Do not allow Windows Media Center to run = Enabled

This particularly affects Windows PCs with Windows Media Center (XP, Vista, and 7). My concern here is fielding support calls for people trying to play a video and finding themselves in WMC. Use VLC, or Windows Media Player instead.

##### Windows Components/Windows Media Player
• Do Not Show First Use Dialog Boxes = Enabled

Getting rid of the first run prompts for WMP. They’re not a big deal, but never assume the level of experience and end user might have.

# Remove the Lock Screen Menu Option in macOS 10.13 High Sierra

Hello,

I consider privacy and security on one’s computer to be very important. In an age where corporations and organizations seek to enhance their data collection methods from people’s computers through “telemetry”, cookies and targeted advertising, it is still important to stick to the basics. Physical security. It is amazing how many times I see people in all places just walk away from their desktops, with everything open, in full view of someone else. I have long since developed the personal habit of locking my computer’s desktop whenever I walk away from it.

In the Microsoft Windows operating system, the desktop will lock automatically when the screensaver is activated. Microsoft provides numerous ways to manage this particular setting. Then, there is the trusted Windows key + L keyboard command to lock things up immediately.

The not-so-enterprise-friendly folks at Apple did not go through that much to give admins or users too many options like their Windows counterparts. I’ve always added the Keychain access shortcut to my menu bar, which allowed me to immediately lock the desktop from its context menu.

Enter macOS 10.13 “High Sierra”… Among the new additions to macOS was an entry on the Apple menu to lock the screen. Great! Just what I wanted…

Except in public computing environments. Computer labs or classrooms that feature a multiuser setup are not appropriate for locking the desktop. The main reason why is because once the desktop is locked, the only one who can unlock it is the one who locked it in the first place. With classrooms and labs that person is long gone by the time the locked desktop becomes a problem.

Ideally, the fix for this would entail editing a plist somewhere or the application of a configuration policy. Unfortunately, neither of those will work. Configuration policies can remove Shutdown, Restart and Sleep, but not the Lock Computer (yet). I think macOS Server hasn’t caught up with the client yet. While Apple is removing features from Server, maybe they could add a provision to remove the Lock option. Then, we would not have to do the following.

Making this change is not easy or simple for two reasons. The first is System Integrity Protection (SIP) which prevents changes to system files no matter whom you are (root included). The second is that the file we need to edit is buried within the System folder, under a path that will fill a whole line of your terminal window. We’re also going to need a decent text editor. Don’t use TextEdit.app which ships with macOS.

SIP can be disabled from Recovery mode. Reboot the Mac while holding down Command + R. From the recovery environment, open the terminal and enter:

csrutil disable

Reboot the Mac normally and all will be the same, just without SIP obstructing our work.
Next, is to open the Finder or the Terminal, whichever is preferred and naviage to:

Copy objects.xib to your desktop or some other place outside of where the original is located. Don’t edit the original! We’ll make a backup copy of the original and edit that, then copy our hacked version into where it belongs.

Objects.xib is an XML file with a ton of entries. Open up the text editor on the copy of objects.xib and search for “Lock Screen”. Remove the whole block of code encompassing the Lock Screen menu item. It will be a few lines. NOTE that there is an id tag within that block of code that is to be removed, tag 311. This also has a separate entry which has to be removed as well. If it is not removed, macOS will still think the Lock Screen entry is within the objects.xib and freeze, breaking the Finder (experience talking). Make sure no more entries for “Lock Screen” and “311” are in the file. Then, save and close.

Rename the original objects.xib file and paste in the modified version under the original name. File ownership needs to be fixed to equal that of the original objects.xib file. Run chmod root:wheel objects.xib from a root session in the terminal (sudo su). The actual permissions should be fine.

Reboot the Mac back into Recovery Mode and re-enable SIP by executing csrutil enable from the terminal, followed by another reboot.

Drum roll… Log in and Lock Screen will be gone. Now, no one will be able to lock the screen from the Apple menu. This procedure does not prevent someone from locking with the keyboard combo. I suspect a fraction of a percent of Mac users actually know that combo from regular use.

Enjoy!

# Building an image of Windows 10 for mass-distribution

Hello,

This post is a follow-up or compliment to creating an image of Windows for mass-distribution (Windows 7). On that note as well, the folks over at Deployment Research have a great post on creating an updated Windows 7 master image with MDT, very helpful.

This summer, Windows 10 is upon us, and we have already begun slowly transitioning some areas to Microsoft’s ultimate operating system. Largely, the process of making an image for Windows 10 is the same that is was for Windows 7 with a few twists.

Tools…

I like to build my images in a virtual machine. This approach allows me to create an image that is truly hardware-neutral. Using actual hardware could work, but there still may be remnants of that hardware that sysprep does not generalize, and could potentially make it into production. The actual hardware approach worked for Ghost, but it is not necessary anymore with MDT. Choose whatever virtualization tool out there, they all work very well, some are even free. Here’s the best of what’s around:

• VMware Workstation/Player – Not free, but feature-rich and integrates into vSphere.
• Microsoft Hyper-V – Comes with x64 server versions of Windows (2008 and later), and x64 desktop versions of Windows 8 and later. Despite all of the “server” nomenclature, client operating systems will work just fine.
• Oracle VirtualBox – Free, and available for Windows, macOS, and Linux as both the host OS and the client OS.

I am aware that there are virtualization products for macOS, and Linux, but we’re working with Windows. I think it is best to just stick with that for the whole process. I’m sure everything would be fine if Windows was not the host operating system.

Given that, you’re going to want to do this work on a moderately beefy PC. Not all of us have Dell Precision workstations, or even access to a server with Hyper-V or vSphere installed, but using an under powered PC will make building images, and just using virtualization a slow and miserable experience. The key is storage. Creating images, multiple images with snapshots, and testing uses up a great deal of space on the disk drive(s). I would not bother using a drive smaller than 1TB. It’ll work on something smaller, but in that case, you are limiting the whole process. Even 1TB SSDs are reasonably priced now. SSDs are king, but still not equal to spinning disks in price per gigabyte. A combination of something like a 256GB SSD for the host operating system and applications with a 4TB spinning HDD for storage would work well. RAM is also very important because, when using VMs, RAM is being used by both the host and guest operating systems, at the same time. Try to max-out what your PC will take. 32GB, 64GB of RAM is not unreasonable for this type of work.

Modern CPUs are plenty powerful for many tasks, virtualization too. Intel CPUs have extensions specifically for virtualization. Quad-core CPUs should be a pre-requisite for a host PC that will do virtualization. You could use a dual-core CPU, but recall the part from above about under powered PCs and virtualization. If you can get a CPU with more cores, 6, 8, great! Xeon CPUs are really nice. I wouldn’t bother with anything under a quad-core i7. Another thing to also consider, that is sometimes overlooked, is bus speed. You could have the fastest CPU with many cores, a ton of RAM, working off a sweet 2TB SSD, but if the bus that connects all of these devices together is small, all you are creating is a digital traffic jam. NVMe, and M.2 SSDs are slowly replacing SATA-based SSDs and spinning HDDs in consumer and business PCs. They offer a significant increase in throughput and speed for data storage. DDR4 memory is the latest and greatest in RAM technology, until 2020, when DDR5 is expected. It is not the cheapest, but DDR4 outperforms all of its predecessors. Obviously, you want to get the best set up you can, but I understand budgets have limits.

Virtual Machine Settings…

This can vary from place to place, but I would use at least 4GB of RAM, one vCPU with 2 cores, and a 128GB VHD. That has worked well for me with Windows 7 and 10. If you can give the VM 8GB of RAM, do it. The smallest disk drive we have out there is a 128GB SSD in some Dell OptiPlex 9020s we purchased in 2014. When finished, my image has a disk footprint of around 70GB (35GB compressed by dism). If the new image will be small, then a 64GB VHD is fine. That is as small as I would go. It is possible to squeeze an image of Windows 10 (plus updates), Office 2016, Adobe Reader, Chrome, VLC, and AV software onto a 32GB drive, it is a tight squeeze. Windows grows in size over time, and 32GB will be gone long before you even realize it. I’m starting to think 32GB is too small for an iPhone… The virtual NIC should be configured for NAT, and not bridged to the production network. We’ll have a fresh install of Windows, straight from the ISO, and temporarily unpatched. The image should not see the production LAN until it is ready for testing (patched), or ready for use.

OS Installation…

After the guest VM is created for the new image, connect its virtual CD/DVD-ROM drive to the ISO file for Windows 10. In VMware Workstation, new VMs, with no OS installed, automatically boot to the virtual CD/DVD-ROM by default.

Follow the on-screen prompts to install Windows into the VM, but STOP after the first reboot from install/file copy to OEM/Windows setup. Setup will stop at that point, and wait for user input. There, we’ll use audit mode to finish setting Windows up the way we would like it. I have more information about installing Windows 10 in a separate post.

STOP at this screen!

To get into audit mode, press control + shift + F3 all at the same time, like the three-finger salute (control + alt + delete). Windows will reboot, and automatically log in as the built-in administrator account, and will continue to do so, no matter how many times you reboot, until sysprep is run. Here, we’ll customize Windows 10 as desired, then run sysprep with an unattend.xml file that copies our profile over to the default (CopyProfile).

From within your virtual machine software, take a snapshot of the VM, at this point.

Most corporate or “work” PCs have Microsoft Office installed along with Windows and other common programs. Microsoft/Windows Update is used to update both Office and Windows. At this point, I install Office (silently with a MSP file), and enable Windows to update other products in addition to itself. This is done from the new Settings application \ “Updates & Security” \ “Advanced options” \  “Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows.”

The above setting has to be enabled for Windows to update Office too.

Once that is set, run updates on the new VM until there are no more left. The later the build of Windows 10, the fewer updates will be required. Microsoft Office 2016 has been available for some time, and has a decent amount of available updates online. Once the updates are finished, shut down the VM, and take another snapshot.

Some basic applications, which are not included with a regular install of Windows, are utilities that other applications use. Applications like the various Visual C++ Redistributables (VCPP), Microsoft Silverlight, and Updated .NET Frameworks (4.5/4.6). These are easily found online, and can be installed silently. The Deployment Research site has a script that gathers all of the C++ Redistributables together, and installs them, silently, in one script.

Download the VCPPs from the Microsoft website (both x86 and x64), and move them to a folder structure named as follows: (#### = the date for the VCPP application, 2005-2015)

Source \ VC#### \ vcredist_x64.EXE

Download all of the VCPP apps for x86 and x64 versions 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015 and arrange them like above.

The script to install all of these can be found here.

Silverlight is also freely available from Microsoft’s website.

Next, is to install all of the regular applications that people use every day. Web browsers like Google Chrome, or Mozilla Firefox, PDF readers like Adobe Reader, or SumatraPDF, communications application such as Skype or Zoom, and multimedia apps like VLC, or iTunes. I download, and store the applications I intend to use on a server share, then use silent install scripts to install them on Windows 10, which is still in audit mode.

Some basic silent install commands for common applications. If you’re in for more details, check out ITNinja.com. They have a compendium of unattended and deployment-related information for many applications.

• Google Chrome Enterprise: msiexec /qn /norestart /i “GoogleChromeStandaloneEnterprise.msi”
• Mozilla Firefox: FirefoxSetup.exe -ms
• VLC: vlc-2.2.1-win32.exe /L=1033 /S /NCRC
• Java (if you must): jre-8u66-windows-x64.exe” /s JAVAUPDATE=0 AUTOUPDATECHECK=0
• Notepad++: npp.6.8.7.Installer.exe /S
• 7-Zip: msiexec /q /I 7z920-x64.msi

Ninite.com has a site that will create a wrapper as an executable that will download whatever freeware is chosen and install them. All in one go.

Keep in mind that the fewer applications that are placed into the image, the longer that image will stay relevant. MDT/SCCM can deploy applications in addition to the OS itself. Products like Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe AIR change so often that I just install them when the image is deployed.

Run each of the newly-installed applications and configure them as desired. Shut down, take a snapshot, then reboot and let Windows 10 continue in audit mode.

To save time and effort in configuring Windows the way I need it, I try to automate as much as possible. Scripting the basics and eliminating the redundant and repetitive tasks can save a lot of time and prevent unnecessary mistakes.

Creating user accounts – I typically make a local user account for administrative use and for general use in case the domain is somehow unavailable.

First, I create a local folder to contain log files and other goodies, then hide it. “C:\Stuff” in this example.

mkdir C:\Stuff

attrib +h C:\Stuff

echo Creating local user accounts

net user pcuser * /add /comment:”Local user account” /passwordchg:NO
wmic useraccount where “name=’pcuser'” set passwordexpires=FALSE
net localgroup “Guests” pcuser /add

echo Local user accounts created on %date% at %time%>>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-Config-Script.txt

The asterisk (*) after the username will prompt for the new user’s password instead of coding it into the script and leaving it for prying eyes. The last command (echo…) will create a text file and add the text between echo and the first >. The double >> will just add the text to an existing file should that be the case.

To keep from surprising users with new builds or versions of Windows 10 through Microsoft Windows Update, I set a registry key to disables Windows upgrades through updates.

reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate” /v DisableOSUpgrade /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

echo Windows 10 version upgrade disabled on %date% %time%>>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-Config-Script.txt

The next thing I want up and running right off of the bat is remote desktop.

echo Enabling RDP with SASC alternate port
reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server” /v fDenyTSConnections /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\WinStations\RDP-Tcp” /v “PortNumber” /t REG_DWORD /d “0xdesired_port_number_in_hex” /f
netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name=”Alternate RDP Port” dir=in action=allow protocol=TCP localport=desiredportnumberinbase10

echo RDP enabled with SASC alternate port on %date% at %time%>>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-Config-Script.txt

A facet of Windows’ default configuration is to hide file extensions. I can guess the designers at Microsoft figured doing so might be helpful to end users, but in practice I have found it to be anything but for most people. I inject a quick registry change to show those pesky extensions .

reg add HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced /v HideFileExt /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
echo Windows file extensions shown on %date% %time%>>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-Config-Script.txt

This next part of the script is entirely optional. I don’t recommend activating Windows or Office until it is ready for the end user. A caveat in configuring a default user profile, even using Windows in audit mode, is that Windows cannot be personalized until it is activated. That means you will not be able to configure a wallpaper, screensaver, desktop icons, or color theme. I don’t find that to be a big deal as most of those items can be configured through a post-deployment registry tweak or with Group Policy. However, if those items are to be included with a custom default user profile during sysprep, activate and make the necessary changes. Then, add this to the script.

REM Try KMS activation first. If that doesn’t work, try MAK activation.
cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs /skms kmsserver.company.com:port
cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs /ipk THEWI-NDOWS-10KMS-PRODU-CTKEY
cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs /ato
if %ERRORLEVEL% == 0 echo Windows activated by KMS on %date% %time%>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-KMS-Act.txt
EXIT
else
REM If KMS is not available, use an MAK to activate.
cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs /ipk THEWI-NDOWS-10MAK-PRODU-CTKEY
cscript C:\Windows\System32\slmgr.vbs /ato
echo Windows activated by MAK on %date% %time%>C:\Stuff\Windows-10-MAK-Act.txt
EXIT

If Windows was just activated, shut down, take a snapshot, then reboot and let Windows 10 continue in audit mode.

Custom Default User Profile…

Prepare the default user profile, the built in Administrator account, in the way the end user should have it. I would be cautious when running applications under this account to answer any first run prompts. Windows 10 does more during a user’s first login process than it did with Windows 7. These changes lengthen the amount of time it takes a new user to log in for the first time. As applications are run and settings configured, the user profile grows in size, quickly, going from 2MB to 500MB without doing much. This default profile is copied over from C:\Users\default each time a new user is brought on to Windows. The larger the profile, the longer the copy process will take and lengthen an already long login process. More and more I have sought ways to provide default user settings through group policy and our endpoint management platform, BigFix.

If a VM snapshot hasn’t been taken in a while, take one now and certainly before sysprep is run in any fashion.

In order for sysprep to copy the customized user profile we have configured to the default, replacing what Windows provides, there can only be one profile on Windows at the time sysprep is run. If there’s more than one profile, sysprep won’t copy anything. Delete any profile from Windows, through the System applet, except for the customized profile. This also ensures that everyone who logs into a PC with this image of Windows installed will get the customized profile.

Next, create an unattend.xml file with the Copy Profile option set to true. Unattend file creation needs to be done on another, separate install of Windows 10 that is running the exact same version of Windows 10 for which the unattend.xml is being made. Copy the unattend.xml file over to the VM (C:\Windows\System32\sysprep) which is about to be sysprepped and run:

sysprep.exe /oobe /generalize /shutdown /unattend:C:\File\Path\To\unattend.xml

Sysprep will take its time and do its thing to generalize Windows and shut down. Take another VM snapshot at this time and power-on the VM again. Windows OOBE will run as if it were a new PC obtained from an OEM or a vendor. Create a bogus user account to complete the OOBE process and get to the Windows desktop. Log off of the new user account and log in as the BUILTIN Administrator (It should be listed at the bottom-left portion of the login screen). Delete the new user account, created through OOBE, and confirm that the resultant user profile being given is what the end user should have. Take yet another snapshot of the VM. Once it is, capture the image with the imaging tool of choice. We use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). To capture an installation of Windows into MDT, connect to the deployment share with the Run dialog from the installation of Windows that is to be captured. No need to reboot into an MDT Windows PE USB drive.

\\mdtserver.company.com\deploymentshare\Scripts\LightTouch.vbs

Select the Sysprep and Capture task that was made to create an image of Windows 10. The task will also sysprep Windows and reboot into Windows PE and perform a capture, creating a WIM file in the deployment share’s “Captures” folder. Leave the VM alone, and let things take their time. Depending on the size of the install on the VHD, it could take an hour or more. A behavior specific to the 1709 builds of Windows 10 is the tendency for Windows, after being sysprepped in an MDT capture task, will not reboot into Windows PE. It would just go back into Windows again, skipping the capture entirely. To fix this, I’ve had to make sure that the VM’s virtual CD/DVD drive, mapped to the MDT Windows PE ISO file, is the first item on the VM’s boot sequence. Hyper-V will remove the virtual CD/DVD drive from the top of the boot order, and replace it with the Windows Boot volume from the VHD. In VMware Workstation, I have to edit the VM’s VMX file to include a boot delay, which give me time to interrupt the boot sequence and redirect it as desired. Just add:

bios.bootdelay = 20000

to the VM’s VMX file and it will wait 20 seconds before completing the default order in the boot sequence, which is more than enough time to stop it, get into the virtual BIOS, and switch boot devices. Providing one is paying attention…

Enjoy and happy imaging!

# 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.

Once 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.

Now, 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.

Other 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.

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

# 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.

Create 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.

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!

# 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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

# MDT, Getting Ready for Deployments

As stated before, MDT needs an operating system before it can start deploying Windows. In addition to that, deployment tasks are needed to coordinate the deployment activities. One tenet put forth by Microsoft is to use MDT to create a “reference image” to be customized and captured as a custom image (WIM) later.

Having MDT create the reference image as much as possible will save a great deal of working updating Windows and installing applications. If it is preferred that all of the work for creating a reference image be done manually, that is possible too. A virtual machine is the best choice for creating a reference image for mass deployment. Virtual machines allow the creation of a true hardware-neutral installation of Windows. No hardware-specific driver or applications are installed, with the exception of things like VMware tools and the Hyper-V client software. Those can be removed prior to capture.

No install of Windows is very useful, out of the box, without additional software. In businesses, software such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, and antivirus software are used to provide functionality. MDT can install applications as part of a deployment task in addition to connecting to a WSUS server for updates. WSUS offers a closer point for updates rather than going all the way to Microsoft Update over the Internet.

To add applications to MDT for installation with a deployment task…

Open the MDT Deployment Workbench and go to the Applications folder. Like the operating systems folder, I like to organize the Applications folder by manufacturer, product, and version. This approach is completely optional and not required. To create folders, just right-click the Applications folder and choose “New Folder.” Folders can be nested inside of one another.

Software folders created under the larger Applications folder.

To import applications into their respective folders, right-click that for and choose “New Application.” A wizard will start, prompting for information. For example, Microsoft Office 2016 Pro Plus.

The first step is to choose the type of application source files, though other options exist to use application files on a network share, and to create an application bundle (more on that later).

Select the appropriate application type.

Next, the wizard asks for the application’s details. Only the application name is required. It is best to be as descriptive as possible.

Enter in the appropriate information.

Where the source files are located on the file system is the next question. Provide the correct location and choose “Next.”

Browse to the source for the application’s files.

The next step is to choose the name for the application’s destination directory in the deployment share. The application name and version from the details page are provided as a default. If that should be changed, now is the time to do it, not later.

The “Command Details” page asks for the silent install command for the application and provides the working directory in the deployment share. Microsoft Office’s silent install command is simple, “setup.exe.” However, Office has a customization tool, which is available by running “setup.exe /admin”, that allows an MSP modification package to be created with installation settings and customizations. MDT is aware of this and provides an option to run this customization tool from the application’s property sheet. Placing the final product of the customization tool, an MSP file, in the Updates folder of the Office install directory will have it used each time Office is installed from that location.

Microsoft Office uses setup.exe for it’s silent install command, but other applications may vary.

Finish the rest of the wizard with the Summary and Progress screens and Office will be imported into the Applications folder on MDT. After that, further customization can be made to the application. Microsoft Office has the unique “Office Products” tab which is specific to that application.

The Microsoft Office 2016 property sheet in MDT. Note the Office Customization Tool button.

Many other applications can be added to MDT this way. I’ve had the best results with the MSI version of applications, but those are not always available. To get started with a fully functional install of Windows for my users, I include the following applications. Download link in the name and the silent install commands are in parenthesis.

Microsoft Office (setup.exe)

Microsoft Visual C++ 2005-2012 Redistributable x86 and x64 (vcredist_x64.exe /Q)

Mozilla Firefox (FirefoxSetup.exe -ms)

Google Chrome Enterprise (msiexec /q /I googlechromestandaloneenterprise.msi)

Adobe Reader (msiexec /qb /i AcroRdrDC1500720033_en_US.msi TRANSFORMS=AcroRdrDC1500720033_en_US.mst)

Other applications like Flash-player, Shockwave, Java, and Adobe AIR change often. I do not usually include those in the reference image unless an installed application specifically require it. There is a good question around whether or not Flash-player should be included given its common security vulnerabilities. Those applications I choose deploy with the finished image along with the antivirus software. It is not that much of a task to add/update the install packages for Flash-player and such as they become available.

With this all in place, deployment tasks can be created to create a reference image of Windows 10 and Office 2016.

Jason Watkins

11/3/15

# MDT, Importing an Operating System

In order for MDT to do anything, it needs an operating system to capture or to deploy. MDT 2013 Update 1 will use operating system file from the Windows installation ISO, or captured from a custom installation. Either way, the file format for the operating system must be in Windows Image (WIM) format. Starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft switched to WIM format for the files on the original installation media (DVD or ISO). Windows 10 is no different.

To get started, the original installation image for the version of Windows to be deployed must be imported into MDT. For example, we’ll import Windows 10 Enterprise into MDT with the “Import Operating System wizard.” I like to organize the operating systems and other files by category.

Mount the operating system ISO, or insert the operating system DVD into the MDT server.

Open MDT, and navigate to the Operating Systems folder.

Right-click the operating systems folder and choose “New Folder.” Call it “Windows 10.” At this point you could create a sub-folder to Windows 10 after the bit strength of the operating system, x64 or x86, but since I only plan on dealing with 64-bit Windows 10 there is no need.

The new Windows folder under the operating systems folder in MDT.

Right-click the new Windows 10 folder and choose “Import Operating System.” A wizard will appear, guiding the process.The first place determines what kind of image is being imported. Our example will import “Full set of source files.” The “Custom image files” is for a customized install of Windows captured as a WIM file.

Full set of source files is needed to start with MDT.

Next, navigate to the drive that contains the source files that are to be imported into MDT. here, it is drive “E:\”

Navigate to the source directory where the operating system files are.

The next step asks for an operating system directory. The default is to take it from the title of the ISO. I added the word “ISO” to the end of the name, so it can be distinguished from other operating system files. This name is the name of the folder the operating system files will go into in the deployment share, under “Operating Systems.”

Give the target directory for the OS a descriptive name.

Continue through the summary, and finish importing the operating system into MDT. The import will take a few moments to complete. After the import is done, the new OS will be in the deployment console, under the name it was given.

The imported OS WIM in the deployment workbench.

With Windows 10 into MDT, we can create deployment tasks to install Windows 10 on computers and even capture it back after customization. That will be next.