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Fine-tuning the deployment process for apps published via Group Policy

These tips will help you fine-tune the deployment process for applications that have been assigned or published via Group Policy.

Once you've assigned or published applications via Group Policy, you'll want to fine-tune the deployment process. You can start by customizing or adjusting a number of settings.

To access these settings, open the Group Policy editor and navigate to the application you want to tweak. The policy setting is usually located at Computer Configuration (or User Configuration) | Software Settings | Software Installation.

When you select this container, the deployment package will be listed in the pane on the right. Right-click on the application whose deployment you want to fine-tune and select the Properties command from the shortcut menu. You'll see the application's properties sheet, and its General tab will be selected by default. (You can't really do anything on the General tab other than change the support URL.)

The properties sheet's Deployment tab lets you control whether the application is published or assigned. (You can only assign applications to computers, but you can publish or assign applications to users). There are also some check boxes, which may or may not be available, depending on whether the application was published or assigned as well as whether it has already been deployed.

The first check box is Auto Install This Application by File Extension Activation. When a user attempts to open a file associated with the application, the application will be installed (if it hasn't been already). The next two boxes are self-explanatory: 1) Uninstall This Application When It Falls Out of the Scope of Management and 2) Do Not Display This Package in the Add/Remove Programs Control Panel.

The last check box is Install This Application at Logon. Enable this box and the application will be installed (assuming the application is assigned, not published) when the user logs on to the system. Note: This option can make for a long login. On the other hand, getting the installation out of the way up-front means the user won't have to wait for the application to install the first time they try to use it.

Click the Advanced button on the Deployment tab and Windows will display the Advanced Deployment Options dialog box, which offers two check boxes. The first is an option to ignore language when deploying the package. It is disabled by default, but could come in handy if you only have the English version of an application and need to deploy it onto systems that are configured to use another language.

The second box lets you choose whether to deploy 32-bit applications to machines that are running 64-bit versions of Windows. This option is enabled by default, so unless you make a change, the application will be deployed regardless of whether the target machine is running a 32-bit or a 64-bit operating system.

Click OK to close the Advanced Deployment Options box and you'll be returned to the app's properties sheet. The next thing here is the Upgrades tab, which is there because you don't always want a fresh installation of an application. Sometimes there might be an older version of the application in place, and you'd like to upgrade the existing application to the new version rather than having parallel installations.

You can force an upgrade of the application by clicking the Add button and specifying the name of the application you want to upgrade. But there's a catch. For the upgrades feature to work, the old version of the application had to be deployed using a Group Policy setting that's still in place.

When you click the Add button, you'll be asked which Group Policy Object contains the setting to deploy the previous version of the application. You must then select the application you want to upgrade. Lastly, you'll have to choose whether you want Windows to install the new version of the application on top of the old version, or if you'd prefer that Windows uninstall the old version before deploying the new one.

The next tab on the properties sheet, the Categories tab, lets you control the category for the application in the Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs applet. By default, the list of available categories is blank and there is no obvious way to add categories to the list. The trick is that the list of categories is not controlled in this properties sheet.

To create a list of categories, you must close the application's properties sheet, right-click on the Software Installation container and select the Properties command from the shortcut menu. This will cause Windows to display the Software Installation Properties sheet. This properties sheet also has a Categories tab, but the purpose of this tab is to let you create a list of categories in the application's properties sheet.

The last tab on the application's properties sheet is the Modifications tab. You can create a transform file (an MST file) that allows you to specify the particulars of how the installation package (the MSI file) should be installed. The actual MST file creation process is beyond the scope of this article, but if you do have one or more MST files for the application, you can use the Modifications tab to tell Windows to use them when Windows deploys the application.

There are two catches to using this tab.

  • You must specify MST files before the application is deployed.
  • More importantly, assigning MST files is a one-shot deal. Before you click OK, make sure you have assigned the correct MST files. Once you click OK, there are no second chances.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. He writes regularly for SearchWinSystems.com as well as other TechTarget sites.

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