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I have to install Windows 7 on a couple of computers around me, and im wondering the best way to do it. I also need to install several apps on the OS that will be on every computer.

Each computer is different, so they require different drivers.

I was thinking of installing Windows on a VM, then installing the apps and Windows Updates, then making an image of the hard drive.

Will windows be able to run on different computers if it hasnt been set up on them?

What imaging software would you recommend for someone with a Mac laptop, ethernet connection to the computers, a stack of CDs & DVD's, and two 8 gig flash drives?

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There is no guarantee that a particular windows installation from one computer will run on any other hardware. There are several core components of windows, such as the kernel, key I/O drivers, etc. that must match the hardware to function.

A couple particular examples of this. The most common is the core kernel, which differs between 32bit and 64bit installations. A 64bit kernel will not work on 32bit hardware. Another example, although less common, has to do with the ACPI configuration in BIOS. If full ACPI capabilities are enabled (particularly those for hard drives), such an installation will be unable to work on a system that does not have full ACPI capabilities enables.

To answer your particular question, it is possible to create custom windows installations. Microsoft offers several toolkits that allow you to create custom Windows 7 installation DVD's which include software installation. You might try looking into the following:

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Look into SYSPREP, which is part of the WAIK mentioned by jrista. It allows you to create a generic installation image with whatever software you want, then package it for installation on any hardware. SYSPREP will take care of installing the right drivers, kernel, etc. Most large IT departments use this in one form or another when deploying images.

The other solution is to create your own post-install script. If certain settings and apps must be on all computers, and you can automate those installers and settings, you can create a batch file to do all that for you. Stick all the installers on a flash drive, run your setup batch file, and voila it does the rest automatically. Most installers have a silent install mode. Anything using Microsoft MSI you can run installer.mis /passive /noreboot and it will do a default install and not reboot after. Try googling software name silent install for your other software. Most popular software - MS office, Firefox, Chrome, 7-zip, adobe flash player, adobe reader, and tons of others support it. I created a system like that for my school's science department. It just goes down a list of software to install and registry settings to add, then reboots the system at the end of it.

Example batch file:

@echo off
echo Preparing to install software and customize settings
echo Installing Mozilla Firefox...
start /wait "Firefox" "..\installers\firefox_3.6.6_installer.exe" -ms
echo Done installing Mozilla Firefox
echo Installing Adobe Flash Player...
start /wait "Flash" "..\installers\adobe_flash_player" /S
echo Done installing Adobe Flash Player
echo Applying registry settings...
regedit /S ..\regsettings\windows_settings.reg
regedit /S ..\regsettings\app_settings.reg
echo Done applying registry settings...
echo Restarting... please wait
shutdown -r

By using the start command, you can make the batch file wait until the installer is finished running. Type start /? into the command line for more details.

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There are several good answers, but you might want to consider writing the installation image to a USB flash drive instead of a DVD. This article describes how to do that with UNetBootin.

I tried installing Linux Mint from USB this way and the installation was done in under 5 minutes.

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Don't think UNetBootin works for Windows. – Svish Jul 14 '10 at 10:29

I found 7Customizer to be fantastic.

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