How do I use the Windows System Image Manager to create an answer file?

A. The Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) contains a new tool, the Windows System Image Manager, which lets you create the XML answer file that stores custom settings and automates OS installations. The Windows System Image Manager lets you open a Windows Image by selecting "Select Windows Image" from the File menu, then selecting the Windows Imaging Format (WIM) file to open. (e.g., the install.wim from the Windows Vista source media). If the WIM file contains multiple images then you must select the image to open from the WIM file (e.g., Windows Vista BUSINESS).

After opening an image, you can open an answer file or create one by selecting the option from the File menu. When you open an answer file, you'll notice the Components section, which is broken up into seven configuration passes:

  • windowsPE - basic Windows Setup options such as product key and disk configuration
  • offlineServicing - allows updates to a Windows image
  • generalize - sysprep /generalize removes system specific information as part of a sysprep pass
  • specialize - Allows configuration of system-specific information such as network, international, and domain
  • auditSystem - only used in audit mode
  • auditUser - only used in audit mode
  • oobeSystem - Windows settings applied in last phase just before Windows Welcome

You'll typically use the windowsPE, specialize, and oobeSystem component areas. Each area relates to a different part of the OS installation. To add settings to a configuration pass, expand the Components section of the Windows Image and right-click the setting, which will show a list of valid passes for which the setting can be used, as the figure shows. For example, the SetupUILanguage that's part of x86_Microsoft-Windows-International-Core-WinPE is used to configure the language used during the Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) installation and so is only usable during the windowsPE pass. The Unattended Windows Setup Reference that comes with the WAIK gives details about every setting.

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