Install Windows Server 2003 silently

Forget about wasting time customizing and installing software after you load a server from a CD. This tip tells you how to create CDs that automatically load systems.

Part 1 of a 3-part series.
Part 2: Files hold key for 'silent' Windows Server install
Part 3: Create a bootable Windows Server 2003 CD

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One of your daily time-wasters may be loading a server from a CD and then going through a day's worth of customizations and software installations afterward. If you want to avoid all that -- and have the added benefit of gaining a baseline for what software and settings exist on your servers -- then I have a solution for you. The method below creates CDs that automatically load systems before putting them on the network. The setup time for one of these CDs is usually about an hour. When you finish, you'll have a system complete with necessary updates, managed antivirus program and ready for the production network.

I'll begin by describing how to create your installation source file structure. Remember to keep the total file size small enough to fit on a CD. When you create a Windows Server 2003 CD following the example here, setup will automatically go to work when you press a key to boot from the CD. Here are the main installation actions:

During Setup:
The server will read the data stored in the winnt.sif file for unattended installation options. The first partition of the first hard drive WILL BE FORMATTED with NTFS.

At 12 minutes before Windows setup completes, the following will occur:
Registry edits are imported -- desktop wallpaper, logon screensaver, quick-launch toolbar and Internet Explorer homepage settings are modified. Additional software such as the Windows 2003 Server resource kit and antivirus program is installed. System updates are installed -- updated to the time of CD creation. The i386 folder from the CD is copied to C:\Windows\i386 -- the registry is edited to point to this folder from now on instead of looking for the CD. Certain files are then deleted so the i386 folder cannot be copied and used to load unauthorized systems (winnt.exe, winnt.sif, etc.). The system properties OEM information will be changed to reflect your organization.

When the server starts the first time, it will auto logon and the following will occur:

The setadmpw.bat file will run. This allows you to reset the local administrator password from the default Password00 set by the winnt.sif file. The antivirus file will be updated to the latest definition file as of the time the CD was created. Temporary files used during installation are deleted.

Below is a quick overview of the basic folder structure. After that, I've broken it down for you folder by folder, and in some cases, file by file.

D:.
+---$OEM$
¦ +---$$
¦ ¦ +---System32
¦ ¦ ¦ +---ss
¦ ¦ ¦ [Screen saver .bmp files (800x600)] 
¦ ¦ ¦ oeminfo.ini 
¦ ¦ ¦ oemlogo.bmp 
¦ ¦ +---Temp
¦ ¦ ¦ AV Definition Update File 
¦ ¦ ¦ AVUPDATE.BAT 
¦ ¦ ¦ DEL.BAT 
¦ ¦ ¦ SCR.BAT
¦ ¦ ¦ SCR.REG
¦ ¦ ¦ SETADMPW.BAT
¦ ¦ +---Web
¦ ¦ +---Wallpaper
¦ ¦ Desktop.jpg [Desktop wallpaper picture file]
¦ +---$1
¦ +---update
¦ +---SAV [Symantec Antivirus Installation files]
¦ REGIMPORTS.REG 
¦ rktools.msi 
¦ rktools_p.cab 
¦ rktools_s.cab 
¦ WindowsServer2003-KB828741-x86-ENU.exe 
¦ [Other Server 2003 updates….]
+---DOCS [Default DOCS folder]
+---I386 [Default I386 Folder and WINNT.SIF file]
¦ +---ADMT [Default ADMT folder]
¦ +---COMPDATA [Default COMPDATA folder]
¦ +---DRW [Default DRW folder]
¦ +---LANG [Default LANG folder]
¦ +---SYSTEM32 [Default SYSTEM32 folder]
¦ +---WINNTMIG [Default WINNTMIG folder]
¦ +---WINNTUPG [Default WINNTUPG folder]
+---PRINTERS [Default PRINTERS folder]
+---SUPPORT
¦ +--- SETUP 
¦ ¦ +--- Instructions pptview.exe 
¦ ¦ PLAYLIST.TXT 
¦ ¦ AUTORUN.INF
¦ ¦ Instructions.pps
¦ ¦ PLAY.BAT
¦ ¦ PLAYLIST.TXT
¦ ¦ pptview.exe 
¦ ¦ [remaining PowerPoint Viewer files--install the viewer and copy the files from Program files directory]
¦ +---TOOLS [Default TOOLS folder]
+---VALUEADD [Default VALUEADD folder]
AUTORUN.INF
README.HTM
SETUP.EXE
WIN51
WIN5IIS

Folder Structure Breakdown and Explanation:
(Unless otherwise noted, all files are default Server 2003 installation files.)

D:.
Files in the CD Root
The autorun.inf file tells setup what to do when the CD is loaded while Windows is running. The default autorun.inf will cause setup.exe to run and display the Server 2003 installation options. I've added the label and shell commands to the default autorun.inf file. The label command will cause the CD drive label to be Windows Server 2003 when viewed from Windows explorer. The shell commands give you a context menu option (right click) to view Windows Server 2003 documentation. Create a PowerPoint slide show and save it as a presentation (.pps), and save it in the . \support\setup\instructions folder. When you right click on the CD, you will have the option to view your presentation (the presentation opens with PowerPoint viewer).

D:.
+---$OEM$

Files/Folders in the $OEM$ Folder

The $OEM$ folder contains all the extra files that you want to install or run other than the default Server 2003 installation files. The $$ and $1 folders correspond to the %systemroot% and C:, respectively. If you want anything extra placed in either of those two folders, just add it to the $$ and $1 folders. If you would like to add additional drivers to this installation, you could create a drivers folder in the $1 folder and add them there. You will need to add additional lines to the winnt.sif file for that to work.

D:.
+---$OEM$
¦ +---$$
¦ ¦ +---System32
¦ ¦ ¦ +---ss
¦ ¦ ¦ [Screen saver .bmp files (800x600)] 

This ss (screensaver) folder will be placed in the C: \Windows\System32 folder. Later in the process, I use the Windows slideshow screensaver to create a logon screensaver displaying the pictures in this folder.
¦ ¦ ¦ oeminfo.ini oemlogo.bmp

The oeminfo.ini file is the text displayed for support information when you right click on the My Computer icon on the desktop and select properties from the context menu. The oemlogo.bmp file is the picture displayed on that same tab.

¦ ¦ +---Temp
¦ ¦ ¦ AV Definition Update File 
¦ ¦ ¦ AVUPDATE.BAT 
¦ ¦ ¦ DEL.BAT 
¦ ¦ ¦ SCR.BAT
¦ ¦ ¦ SCR.REG
¦ ¦ ¦ SETADMPW.BAT

These files are placed in the Temp folder C:\Windows\ and are needed to run after the system boots to Windows for the first time, and then will be deleted.

¦ ¦ +---Web
¦ ¦ +---Wallpaper
¦ ¦ Desktop.jpg [Desktop wallpaper picture file]

This file is the desktop wallpaper to be displayed as the desktop when the system boots (800 x 600 pixels seems to work pretty well).

¦ +---$1
¦ +---update
¦ +---SAV [Symantec Antivirus Installation files]
¦ REGIMPORTS.REG 
¦ rktools.msi 
¦ rktools_p.cab 
¦ rktools_s.cab 
¦ WindowsServer2003-KB828741-x86-ENU.exe 
¦ [Other Server 2003 updates….]

The C:\update folder is the real workhorse for customizing Windows setup. At 12 minutes from setup completing the Windows portion of setup, the cmdlines.txt file is called. This file causes the update.bat file to go into action accessing and running the files in the update folder. Place anything in here that you want to run during Windows setup. I generally put things like the resource kit tools, antivirus installation files and updates here. On my regular Server 2003 CD, there are 13 Server 2003 updates that are installed from here. This way, when the server loads Windows the first time, it already has the extra tools I want, including managed antivirus, and it is up to date on required system patches.

+---DOCS [Default DOCS folder]
+---I386 [Default I386 Folder and WINNT.SIF file]

The winnt.sif file is the unattended answer file that setup uses to answer all the questions you are normally asked during setup. The winnt.sif file can also be created by using setupmgr.exe located in the folder .\SUPPORT\TOOLS\ on the CD -- you must go into the DEPLOY.CAB folder and extract it. You can put the winnt.sif file on a floppy disk instead of embedding it in the I386 folder. I put it in the I386 folder so I don't need any floppies or to remember to take it out before the server restarts!

+---PRINTERS [Default PRINTERS folder]
+---SUPPORT
¦ +--- SETUP 
¦ ¦ +--- Instructions 
¦ ¦ PLAYLIST.TXT 
¦ ¦ AUTORUN.INF
¦ ¦ Instructions.pps
¦ ¦ PLAY.BAT
¦ ¦ PLAYLIST.TXT
¦ ¦ pptview.exe 
¦ ¦ [remaining PowerPoint Viewer files]

The .\SUPPORT\SETUP\Instructions folder is where the documentation you created with PowerPoint and the PowerPoint viewer files are stored. You will need to install the PowerPoint viewer and then copy the files from the .\Program Files\Microsoft Office\PowerPoint Viewer folder here. These files launch PowerPoint viewer to display the documentation -- or instructions for loading the server -- from the context menu at the root of the CD drive in Windows Explorer. I use this presentation to let people know that this CD will format their hard drives, for example.

¦ +---TOOLS [Default TOOLS folder]
+---VALUEADD [Default VALUEADD folder]

Part 2: File Details: what they look like, how they work


The top 10 tips of 2005

  Introduction
  Tip #1: How to change the Windows XP Product Activation Key Code
  Tip #2: Create a bootable USB flash drive -- in a flash!
  Tip #3: Create a bootable Windows Server 2003 CD
  Tip #4: 8 common causes for 'delayed write failed' errors
  Tip #5: Ultimate boot CD packs in recovery, repair utilities
  Tip #6: Install Windows Server 2003 silently
  Tip #7: Uninstall 'stubborn' programs
  Tip #8: What to do when your hard drive fails
  Tip #9: Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 volume shadow copy service
  Tip #10: 'Unlocker' reveals processes that lock files


Jeff Gilbert is a Systems Management Server and software administrator with the Army at Fort Benning, Ga. He holds the Windows 2000 MCSE, MSCA and Network+ certifications. He can be reached at jeff.gilbert@us.army.mil.
This was first published in March 2005

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