Vista Sysprep and Altiris: create an image

This article covers the first stage of using Altiris Deployment Solution to deploy Vista: creating the image with a default sysprep process.

Sysprep is the tool provided with Vista to enable you to prepare a new computer for deployment. It is the only supported way of doing this. Altiris Deployment Solution uses Sysprep. However it does it behind the scenes. If you want to change the process, you need to understand a bit about what Altiris is doing, and a bit about how Sysprep works.

On the Altiris Deployment Server, you specify your Vista volume license keys in the Global Options. Then, when you come to create an image, you check the box to use Sysprep and you have to select the OS and the product key. This is interesting. When you install Vista you do not need to supply a product key. The install DVD has a generic key that can be used for the build, or you can use none. However Altiris requires a key in order to create (not deploy) an image of the computer that is already running with a key.

When you run the Create Disk Image job, an unattend.xml file is copied to the computer and Sysprep is run, very quickly. Then the disk image is copied up to the server. The computer itself restarts and performs a silent Vista setup. So you now have two things: an image on the server and a re-setup imaging computer.

To see what has happened, you need to look first in %windir%system32sysprep at the unattend.xml file used to Generalize. In the Generalize pass there is only one option specified, PersistAllDeviceInstalls=false. This is the default setting anyway. This means that the driver selections are removed, and a new Plug and Play will be done in the Specialize pass when you deploy the image. In 6.8 SP2 Altiris flirted with an option to Persist the drivers, but this option has been removed in the current version 6.9.

In %windir%Panther you will see the unattend.xml file used to re-setup Vista on the imaging computer after being Generalized. It is the same as the unattend file in the sysprep folder. Altiris has hard coded into the xml the properties of the imaging computer: the name; network card MAC address and networking properties; registered organization and registered owner. This puts the imaging computer back to what it was, but is obviously going to have to be changed before you deploy the image to a different computer.

There is a new option in the Altiris Create Disk Image job, under Sysprep, to add drivers and to specify a path. When you check this box Altiris first copies the specified files into c:drivers on the imaging computer. Then it runs Sysrep but in Audit mode to install the drivers. Then it shuts down again to create the image with the new drivers.

Audit mode runs setup again, but without Windows Welcome, to enable you to add drivers and install software. There are two phases of Audit mode. In auditSystem the Administrator account is enabled and the system can run tasks. In auditUser the Administrator account is disabled again, and a user can log on to run tasks. The logic is that a deployment shop will create a generic image of Vista. They can then run it in Audit mode to add drivers for a specific model or for additional hardware. They can shut it down again and specify that the next restart will open in Windows Welcome for the end user.

The parameters for the Audit pass are in the unattend.xml file. Sysprep will add the path c:drivers as a Plug and Play path for the auditSystem pass. It has also asked the system to create an account called %RANDOMUSER% and set it to autologon once to do the work.

In the %windir%Panther setupact.log you can see what happened in Audit mode. First the random account. Next PnPUnattend.exe runs and installs the drivers that are in c:drivers. Then the system reboots for an auditUser pass, but there is nothing to do so Audit is complete. Sysprep runs again to shut the system down and Altiris creates an image.

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