Unattended Network Installation – Windows 2000 Server

win2k

As stated in our previous article on Microsoft Network Client, Windows 2000 allows you to install itself using a network share as the “install CD” if you will. In this guide, we will take it one step further by performing such an installation unattended. Before beginning, please make sure that you have the necessary software for connecting to a server (e.g. MS Network Client) and a blank floppy disk. We will be assuming that the required setup files have already been copied to a folder on the server and that the folder is shared. This guide is a continuation of the previous guide, “Installing Microsoft Network Client 3.0,” so you may want to read that guide before proceeding.

Preparation – The Setup Manager Wizard

The first step is to prepare an answer file using the Setup Manager tool located on the Windows 2000 Server CD. On another computer, navigate to the \Support\Tools folder, and extract the contents of the file DEPLOY.CAB to a directory of your choice. Then, run SETUPMGR.EXE to start the Windows 2000 Setup Manager Wizard.

Setup Manager Wizard
The Windows 2000 Setup Manager Wizard

The next few screens are pretty much self-explanatory. Obviously, you want to create a new answer file for an unattended installation, and the product you are installing is Windows 2000 Server. We want a fully automated installation, so choose this option when you are prompted to do so. The Setup Manager will then prompt you to accept the terms of the EULA. Check the box and proceed to enter your personal information on the next screen. Then, choose your licensing mode (see Attended Installation Guide) and choose your computer name(s). After that, select an administrator password. Then, configure your display and network settings, workgroup or domain settings, and time zone settings. At this point, you will be given the option to stop or continue with additional settings. The additional settings include telephony, regional settings, languages, browser and shell settings, installation folder, printers, and run-at-logon commands. If you do not need to modify these settings, select no. Otherwise, select yes and alter the settings to your requirements.

EULA
The License Agreement
Network Settings
Network Settings
Optional Settings - Language
Optional Settings – Language

Finally, you will be asked whether you want to create or modify a distribution folder. For this guide I have already completed this step, but if you have not already prepared a distribution folder, the wizard is a convenient way to do so. It also simplifies the addition of mass storage drivers if your computer requires them. If you choose to create a distribution folder, the wizard will ask you where you want to create it and what share name you want to use. You will also be able to specify your mass storage drivers and hardware abstraction layer, and specify additional files to copy as well as programs to run after installation. If you are an OEM setting up computers for someone else, you can also include your own logo for display during the setup process. When all of these options have been decided, the wizard will ask you where you want to place the answer file. For this guide, choose to place the answer file on the blank floppy, and name it UNATTEND.TXT. The wizard will then notify you that it has created the answer file as well as a sample batch file for starting setup. Click Finish to exit the wizard.

Distribution Folder
Creating or modifying a distribution folder
Adding Add'l Drivers
Adding additional drivers
Answer File Filename
Choosing a filename for your answer file
Finish
Finishing the Setup Manager Wizard

The Answer File

Before copying the answer file to your destination computer, you may wish to modify it manually, as I have found that the Setup Manager does not cover every aspect of the file. An easy way I like to do this is to open the answer file with a text editor, open the UNATTEND.DOC file (extracted from DEPLOY.CAB earlier), and browse through that file to make sure that the options you want have actually been added to your answer file. For example, the Setup Manager Wizard does not add or prompt you for a product ID, and you may want to add that into your answer file so that setup will not prompt you for such an ID. Also, you may want to make sure that the settings in the sample batch file match your own. In this example, I have modified the file:

@rem SetupMgrTag
@echo off
rem
rem This is a SAMPLE batch script generated by the Setup Manager Wizard.
rem If this script is moved from the location where it was generated,
rem it may have to be modified.

set AnswerFile=.\unattend.txt
set SetupFiles=D:\i386s

D:\i386s\winnt /s:%SetupFiles% /u:%AnswerFile%

The lines we are concerned with are set SetupFiles and the first part of the last line, which starts the actual setup process. For SetupFiles, we want to specify the location of the distribution folder. In this particular case, it is D:\i386s. Modify the last line so that winnt instead of winnt32 is run, and make sure that it is run from the correct path, in this case D:\i386s. Also, the parameter for specifying the answer file is different for winnt.exe. Winnt.exe uses /u, whereas winnt32.exe uses /unattend. Make sure you specify the correct switch, or else setup will ignore your answer file.

It pays to spend a little time making sure your answer file is perfect, because the process of creating the answer file is the hardest and longest part of the unattended installation, and you only have to do it once. Once you have an answer file that matches the configurations of all your servers or workstations, all you have to do is edit the product ID before you copy the file to each of those computers, and then spend a few seconds at each computer starting the setup process, instead of sitting at each computer waiting to input options during setup. Obviously, this is a great timesaver. Now, let us highlight the steps we will take in those few seconds to begin unattended setup.

Starting Unattended Setup

Recall that we connected to a network share as one of the final steps in our previous guide:

Disk Connections
Connecting to a distribution folder

Here, I have connected to the administrative share of the D: drive on the computer named “Kitchen” and mapped that share as D: on the computer that will have Windows 2000 Server installed. Insert the answer-file floppy into the computer’s floppy drive, and then copy the answer file and sample batch file to the root of the C: drive. Run SMARTDRV.EXE if you have not already done so. Finally, type UNATTEND.BAT, and hit enter. If everything was set up correctly, Windows 2000 Server Setup will begin copying files and proceed with the setup. That’s it! Now, you can sit back and relax, grab a cup of coffee, or proceed to the next computer and repeat the 3 step process: map network drive, copy files, run batch file. As I mentioned earlier, it only takes a few seconds. Of course, I recommend that you sit through the first installation to make sure that you did indeed setup the answer file correctly and that setup does complete automatically. If it does, congratulations! You’re done with the hard part.

Conclusion

One of the better features of Windows 2000/XP is that you can install the operating system unattended. In this guide, we have focused on performing such an installation using the network as our source drive. This guide has shown that with a small amount of preparation, deploying Windows 2000 to many computers requires only that you carry a floppy disk with you and spend a few seconds on each computer to begin setup. If you place the answer files in the distribution share as well, you do not even need a floppy. Another application would be if you are constantly tweaking your system and re-installing your OS all the time and you do not want to input the same settings every time. Just create an answer file and you are set, as this works with a CD installation as well. No need to sit at the computer and wait for setup to prompt you for answers, since you have already provided the answers in a file. In the coming days, I will detail the steps necessary for automating Windows 2000 Professional and XP setup as well. For now, thank you for reading this guide.

Click here to see a sample answer file.

Update

I have discovered that the processes for installing both Windows 2000 and XP Professional unattended is basically the same as that of Windows 2000 Server, therefore I will not be writing additional guides for these processes. As a general guideline, here are the steps necessary to perform an unattended installation:

  1. Create an answer file with Setup Manager or do so manually. Windows 2000 Server and Professional share the same Setup Manager, and XP Professional’s Setup Manager is located in the same directory as Windows 2000’s (\Support\Tools\Deploy.cab).
  2. Create a distribution folder and share it. If you use Setup Manager, this will be done for you automatically. Of course, if you are performing an unattended installation on only one machine, you may use the CD as well.
  3. Run either winnt.exe or winnt32.exe with the correct parameters.
  4. Sit back and wait for installation to complete.

I must note that unattended installations vary with each situation, and that my guide is just an example to show you how it is done. For example, one of my computers has a separate hard drive controller, and when I perform an unattended installation on a drive connected to that controller, not only do I have to modify the answer file, but I also have to modify the txtsetup.oem file of the controller’s drivers because those drivers were not specifically written for an unattended install. My hope is that by reading this guide, you will acquire enough knowledge to perform an unattended installation on your own. I am sure that if you followed this guide precisely and used the exact same answer file, you would not get the results you expect. If you do need help, feel free to email me. There are also various sources on the World Wide Web that can help you find what you need. Good luck!

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