The routine is the same, on every Windows computer we have ever had:

  1. Use computer
  2. Get some sort of recurring problem. A buggy HP printer driver which causes an error dialog to pop up. A virus or malware. A new device which gives blue screens. Something nagging and permanent and keeps us from using the computer.
  3. Solution: reinstall. Use the recovery partition or recovery CDs or bust out the old copy of XP Pro a friend gave me. This entails:
  4. Backing up/restoring all our data.
  5. Reinstalling our software. Not just downloadable stuff (Firefox, etc) but also quicken, quickbooks, photoshop, Office - software that we have paid for and need CDs for installation
  6. Reset user data - reload thunderbird folders, reset firefox preferences, etc.
  7. Goto 1

This happens with my father's personal computer, his work computer, my sister's school computer, my mom's entertainment PC; its like maintaining a small office.

My question, in specific, is related to step 5 from above. There are software to automatically install software from the web, but they don't apply because my software comes from CDs.

What I want is to create my own "OEM" version of windows. I want an automated way to create an image, or routine, which I can run, and it will install each of my packages. It can automatically ask me for the CD, or it could store the CD ISOs of the software and then install from that.

I don't just want to create a Windows ISO - because I'd like to be able to make this generic for any computer I maintain.

I could write a program which does this, but I am asking: is there software out there that allows me to accomplish this? How can I rebuild quickly? A google search found this package, though it is my preference not to drop $100 on this (unless people think it is worthwhile.)

What are my options?

  • Due to the context this question doesn't really belong here but as the situation is similar for a lot of newcomers, especially in small shops, it should be answered anyway. – John Gardeniers Aug 13 '09 at 1:43

There are plenty of imaging software options. The venerated Symantec Ghost for instance. Or the newer MS ImageX. You could get the machine all setup then make a clean image then just drop the image back onto it as needed.

From another SF question I will throw in Clonezilla as another option.

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  • 2
    Is there a solution that doesn't require making an image for every computer that isn't the same model? – Clinton Blackmore Aug 13 '09 at 1:02
  • @ Clinton - the intent is that this issue is resolved with Win7 (though I haven't had a chance to verify this in practice yet) - and no, I'm not including Vista. – Kara Marfia Aug 13 '09 at 18:27

I recently began doing this on a few machines at work: Partition the drive. Leave everything on the C partition except for the users Documents and Settings folder and maybe a few others depending on what software you use. Run Windows SteadyState Disk Protection on the C drive. I run it without any restrictions, just the disk protection. If the user gets a virus, a restart should eliminate it. Worst case scenario is the user loses his files on the D drive.

Another option is to setup the machine exactly like you want it. Make an image of it like EBGreen stated. If the machine becomes infected with a virus or whatever, roll out the image. I would maybe recommend making a new image every month or quarter or whatever.

Another option is to download nlite and make your own custom Windows install. You can slipstream drivers, updates, etc. This most closely allow you to 'make your own OEM.'

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  • nlite is free btw – user5195 Aug 13 '09 at 0:20
  • I have not used steady state but from my reading it looks like a reasonable solution as well. – EBGreen Aug 13 '09 at 0:20

There are a number of ways to simplify the reinstall. One is sysprep but as I've never liked it I won't elaborate. Another is to do what I do, which is to do a clean install and get the machine to the point where it has all the normally required software and is ready for use. I then use imaging software (plenty around, use Google) to capture tha state of the machine at that point. This allows a machine to be restored in about 10 minutes. This method is targeted specifically at doing each machine separately, not reinstalling on different hardware.

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  • I am extremely painfully unaware of Windows sysadmin tools; do you have some particular imaging software that you recommend and that have worked for you? (free and non-free?) – rascher Aug 13 '09 at 2:18
  • Ok, my personal favourites are: Ghost - commercial - I still use version 8 Drive Image - commercial - I don't think you can buy it any more G4L (Ghost for Linux) - free. Works perfectly for Windows as well as Linux. g4l.sourceforge.net – John Gardeniers Aug 13 '09 at 8:01
  • i use ghost several times per month and love it, but it doesnt sound like you will need all of its features. I have found that the linux versions are very intuitive and work just as well for just 'plain ole' imaging. – user5195 Aug 13 '09 at 16:42

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