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How to deploy an application based on Group Policy in one relatively easy lesson

When it comes to guidelines for deploying Group Policy-based applications, file this tip under 'S' for straightforward.

In a recent article on SearchWinComputing.com, titled Deploying apps via Group Policy -- cost-effective but risky,...

I discuss the planning which is essential to a successful deployment of an application based on Group Policy. This article will relate the actual process for deploying that application.

Let's start by looking at the process for publishing applications (since that is usually easier than assigning applications). I am assuming that you have copied an application that includes an MSI-based package file to a network-based software distribution point and that you are familiar with Group Policy Editor and are comfortable working with Group Policies in general.

Open the Group Policy you want to edit and navigate through the console tree to User Configuration | Software Settings | Software Installation. Right-click on the Software Installation container and select New | Package commands from the resulting shortcut menus. You'll be asked to select the MSI file or ZAP file you want to install. Select the MSI file from your software distribution point, and click the Open button.

Next, you might see a warning message (depending on how your software distribution point is set up) telling you that the network location you've chosen cannot be verified. Assuming that your domain controllers and the recipients of the software all have rights to the software distribution point, click Yes to use the path you have selected.

At this point, you will see a dialog box asking you if you want to publish or assign the application. Choose the Publish option and click OK. The application you have selected will now be listed in the details pane whenever the Software Installation container is selected.

Technically, this is all you have to do to publish an application. But there are a few more options. Right-click on the listing for the application you have just published and you will see a shortcut menu that allows you to do several things with the application. The All Tasks sub-menu lets you remove or redeploy the application. The primary shortcut menu also lists options that allow you to assign the currently published application (should you ever be inclined to do so).

In addition, the shortcut menu provides an Auto Install option. As discussed in part one, published applications are not automatically installed; publishing merely gives the user the opportunity to install the application through the Add / Remove Programs Control Panel applet. That being the case, it might seem strange to have an Auto Install option.

But there's a reason for offering this option. If you enable automatic installation, then just enough of the application will be installed to give it the illusion of being installed. Just as with assigned applications, the first time the user attempts to open the app, or a file associated with the app, the remainder of the app will be installed.

Assigning applications

Now let's look at the process for assigning applications. From an administrator's standpoint, the biggest difference between publishing and assigning applications is that you can assign applications at either the user or the computer level. I have already discussed how you can right-click on the Software Installation container in the User Configuration | Software Settings of the Group Policy editor, select the New | Package commands from the shortcut menu and then choose whether you want to publish or assign an application. But this isn't the only place where you can assign an application. You can also make assignments by going to Computer Settings | Software Settings | Software Installation.

The process of assigning an application is similar to that of publishing an application. For demonstration purposes, right-click on the Software Installation container found at User Configuration | Software Settings | Software Installation, and select the New Package commands from the ensuing shortcut menus. As before, you will be prompted to select the Windows Installer file associated with your application. After selecting the MSI or ZAP file, click the Open button. If you see the warning message, click Yes to use your selected path.

Next, a screen will ask if you would prefer to publish or assign the application. Select the Assigned option (big surprise, right?) and click OK. Just as before, now the application will be listed in the Software Installation container's Details pane. As with a published application, right-clicking on the app gives you the choice of removing or redeploying it. This shortcut menu also lets you change an assigned application to a published application.

As you can see, the actual deployment process is straightforward. The real trick is planning the deployment so that the correct users or computers receive the application.

The next article in this series will discuss how to create your own MSI file to deploy applications.

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 SearchWinComputing.com and other TechTarget sites.

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