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Here at work we configure Windows machines to use some custom software. Is a long, tedious and error prone task, that must be done without imaging because the hardware configuration changes greatly from machine to machine, we even receive lots of computers from clients to configure them.

The configuration steps involve creating users, modifying desktop appearance, enabling and disabling things from the system and finally installing software.

Is there any way to automate these actions, or at least some?

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AutoIt seems to be the answer, but can it change register keys or modify the desktop? – Saiyine Sep 18 '11 at 21:33
Do the machines contain data when you get them? If not you could create an image using WDS on a Server. I know you said you didn;t want image but if its just because of drivers this doesn;t matter using WDS. You install the driver files into a package on the server and it pulls the ones it needs for each machine. Let me know if you want more info. – Joe Taylor Sep 18 '11 at 21:37
AutoIt can modify the registry. – MaQleod Sep 23 '11 at 22:55

You need to look at the Windows Automated Installation Kit, and if you are using Windows Server and Windows Deployment Services or System Center Configuration Manager, which would make things a lot more efficient, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit as well.

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My comment as an answer ;-) With extra details of course – Joe Taylor Sep 18 '11 at 21:42
+1 Imaging is the way to go, none of the problems described in the question are the result of using images, as devices are automatically detected and drivers are installed outside of the base image; which, makes it easy to build something up that you can apply to many computers. I don't know of any better deployment experience than what Windows AIX, WDS/SCCM and MDT bring to the table... – Tom Wijsman Sep 18 '11 at 23:15
@Tom: I assume the OP meant images as made by something like Symantec Backup Exec or Acronis Backup & Recovery, rather than .wim disc images. – paradroid Sep 19 '11 at 9:51

Creating users: this can certainly be automated. The NET USER command is one option, or if you prefer an API, NetUserAdd.

Installing software: this depends on the software. Anything packaged as an MSI can be easily installed via the msiexec command. Some non-MSI installers have their own quiet mode support. Another option is to script the installer using Windows messages; I have some code that might help with this, but it's an awkward approach so best left as a last resort.

Modifying desktop appearance: some settings can be changed by modifying the registry. Looking at group policy settings is often a good start. It really depends on exactly what you want to change.

"enabling and disabling things from the system": it depends. You're going to need to be much more specific.

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