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Software Installation and Maintenance Tips and Tricks

Software Installation and Maintenance Tips and Tricks
By Jason Rush, Technical Writer, Microsoft Corp.

Here are some tips on how to use the Software Installation extension to Group Policy to assign or publish applications to those who need them. (Usually these are in the form of Windows Installer files, which are characterized by the .msi extension.)

  1. Specify application categories for your organization.

    Use categories (such as Sales Applications, Accounting Applications) to make it easier for users to find an application in Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel.

  2. Make sure Windows Installer packages are correctly transformed before they are published or assigned.

    You cannot customize software deployments after they have been deployed. Transforms, or .mst files, are customizations applied to Windows Installer packages. A transform is applied at the time of assignment or publication, not at the time of installation. In practical terms, this means that you should make sure the Modifications tab of the package properties dialog box is set up as you intend before you click OK. If you neglect to do this, and assign or publish a package before you have completely configured it by adding the transform, then you can either remove the software and republish, or reassign it or upgrade the software with a completely transformed version.

  3. Assign or publish a given application to either users or computers, but not both.

    A Windows Installer package should be assigned or published no more than once in the same Group Policy object. For example, if you assign Microsoft Office to the computers affected by a Group Policy object, then do not also assign or publish it to users who will log on to the affected machines.

  4. Take advantage of Windows Installer authoring tools.

    Developers familiar with the files, registry entries, and other requirements for an application to work properly can author native Windows Installer packages using tools available from various software vendors.

  5. Repackage existing software.

    You can use commercially available tools to create Windows Installer packages for software that does not include natively authored .msi files. These work by comparing a computer's state before and after installation. For best results, repackage on a clean install of Windows 2000.

  6. Use Dfs for software distribution points.

    Windows 2000 Distributed File System (Dfs) is helpful in managing the software distribution points (the network shares from which users install their managed software). Dfs enables you to construct a path to source files that remains constant regardless of the physical location of the source servers. This is transparent to users and it means that the servers can be changed, managed, or upgraded without adversely affecting users. Load balancing also improves and optimizes the installation experience for users.

  7. Be careful using Software Installation and SMS together.

    Don't deploy the same application with both Software Installation and SMS. You can use SMS and Software Installation together as long as you deploy different sets of applications for a given user with each of them.

  8. Assign or publish at a high level in the Active Directory hierarchy.

    Because Group Policy settings apply by default to child Active Directory containers, it is efficient to assign or publish by linking a Group Policy object to a parent organizational unit or domain. Use security descriptors (access control entries or ACEs) on the Group Policy object for finer control over who receives the software.

  9. Make sure permissions are set properly on the software distribution point.

    Authenticated Users need the Read and Apply Group Policy ACEs to be able to install from the software distribution point. Administrators need Full Control to manage software.

  10. Save time if deploying multiple applications from the same distribution point.

    In the Group Policy console, right-click Software Installation and on the context menu click Properties. You can find this in the Group Policy console under /Software Settings/Computer Configuration (or User Configuration)/Software Installation.

    This spares administrative keystrokes when assigning or publishing a large number of packages with similar properties in a single Group Policy object.

  11. Use Windows Installer package properties for fine control.

    Proceed to the Software Installation node as described previously, but right-click the package in the details pane and click Properties. Use this for assigning or publishing a single package.

  12. Don't set disk quotas too low

    If a user's disk quotas are set too low, software installation may fail. Make sure enough disk space is allocated not only for the installed applications and user data, but also for temporary files created during installation. Files needed for the installation may be manipulated in the user's context, so it is important that the user has sufficient disk space in his or her quota.

  13. Changing from unmanaged to managed.

    Avoid the situation of having an unmanaged installation of the application on the client computer by using the advanced option Remove Previous Installs of this product, if the product was not installed using Group Policy-based installation. This option is located on the advanced deployment option for the application. In this case the existing application will be removed, and the new one is advertised when the user next logs on to the machine.

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