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Windows Vista BDD: Use as Directed

What’s the biggest mistake IT pros make when they start using the Windows Vista Business Desktop Deployment Solutions Accelerator (BDD)? According to Mike Lewis and Jeremy Chapman, two members of the Microsoft team responsible for BDD’s creation, people incorrectly assume that they can apply their past experience deploying a Microsoft OS and use the same skills and tools.

Because that assumption doesn’t hold for Vista, Microsoft created BDD However, people balk when they look at the huge amount of BDD materials and BDD’s navigation cycle (i.e., Business Case, Process and Team Guidance, Application Compatibility Infrastructure Remediation, Computer Imaging System \[CIS\], Application Packaging, User State Migration, Securing the Desktop, Deployment Process, Operations Readiness, Upgrading Office

So busy IT pros skip directly to the CIS Guide and dive in at the point where they can actually do something. Unfortunately, that cut-to-the-chase approach bypasses the vast amount of Vista deployment prerequisites and leads to trouble.

“We have a big challenge,” Mike told me. “Deployment, starting with Vista and Windows Server 2008, is fundamentally different. It’s been the same for 10 or 12 years—unattend.txt and UDB \[Uniqueness Database file\]. Now it’s XML files. It’s not just a named-value pair. You have a whole structure you’ve got to be exact with: language-neutral core, offline patching, Boot Manager \[bootmgr.exe\] and BCD \[Boot Configuration Data, where boot options are stored\] instead of boot.ini and a regular boot sector.”

As a result of these Vista deployment changes, Mike continued, “It’s a little more complicated now to enable all the things you can do. In the end, our flexibility for deploying is far better, but most folks don’t know that it has changed so much to get that kind of capability. So we have a huge task in front of us to reeducate the world. As much as we try to make the tools easier to use, you still need to learn the fundamental differences” and follow the recommended approach to using them.

That’s why Mike and Jeremy stress the importance of beginning with BDD’s Getting Started Guide. “The concepts \[from the past\] transfer over at a high level, but the actual implementation is so much different. One of the biggest mistakes is that people see something about ImageX, for example, and that looks to them like their favorite imaging tool in the past, which is sector based. It’s just not the same. \[The tools\] have similar sounding purposes at a very high level, but the actual capability, the way you use it is much different. Now it’s a collection of file attributes. It’s not sector-based and doesn’t deal with disk partitioning.”

From there, Jeremy said, “Ideally you’d want to start in the middle \[of the BDD navigation cycle diagram\]. Go from app compat and work your way clockwise around the cycle. That’s assuming you’re using all the possible scenarios—that you’re doing state migration, that you’re not just provisioning new machines, that you have apps that need to be tested, and that you have infrastructure that needs to be tested. Then you’d go on to CIS and start looking at creating images, making sure that your applications are packaged in a way that allows them to be automatically, or silently, installed. Then you’re going to make sure all of your apps will be able to be installed automatically. After that you need a means of sucking the user state out of the machine and applying it to the new OS or the new hardware.”

That’s the ideal way to use BDD. But the fact remains that people don’t always have time for all that, and Microsoft’s Web statistics show that the great majority of users go directly to the CIS guide, then to deployment, then to user state migration, and next to application compatibility. Jeremy acknowledged, “It’s the sequence of most favored guides, and that’s kind of how people work. In theory all of those guides should be equally used, but the data is pretty dramatically skewed to the CIS and deployment guides and the other two are about 10 percentage points below that in terms of their favored level.”

So the question is why doesn’t Microsoft just make BDD easier to use? The company is attempting to address the real way people work by offering a new Quick Start Guide. Jeremy said, “If you make the conscious decision not to read the Getting Started Guide, at least follow the 19-page Quick Start Guide to get a very simple single configuration up and running and tested and working. It’s been available since July.”

Mike added, “The Quick Start Guide is so new that it’s not a node inside the deployment workbench. It’s actually on the \[BDD\] download page. It’ll bring up the topics of getting in a copy of Vista so it pulls in all the setup files with it. People don’t necessarily think about that. They’ve got the OS, but there are also the setup files we depend on, the boot manager code, and stuff like that is important. The \[Windows Automated Installation Kit\] WAIK has to get installed. MMC 3.0 may not be on the older versions of the OS, so you have to download that. We need XML 6.0, which is a requirement of the WAIK. There are various pieces we need to be fully functional.”

Use as Directed?

In typical Microsoft fashion, the company has gone to great extremes to improve the deployment process with Vista and to provide a massive toolkit, which was even available before Vista’s launch. The problem is that Microsoft hasn’t taken into account how people work in the real world and hasn’t made the toolkit easily navigable for those who don’t want to read more than 1,000 pages of documentation. Of course, the bigger question is why Vista deployment is still so complex that it requires this much documentation in the first place.

Let me know what your experiences with BDD have been and how you approach it. To help you get through BDD, we’re publishing a series of articles in Windows IT Pro magazine, starting in October with Rhonda Layfield’s “Planning Your Vista Deployment with BDD,” which you’ll be able to find by entering InstantDoc ID number 96906, after October 1.

A Quick Tip from Michael Otey on Enabling the Administrator Account under Vista

One big change in Vista is that by default the Administrator account is disabled. To enable Vista's Administrator account, open the Start menu and right-click Computer and select Manage. On the computer Management dialog box, open the Local Users and Groups node, then select Users. Next, right-click the Administrator account and select Properties. Under Properties clear the property “Account is disabled.”

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