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	As a visually impaired individual either working as a professional in the IT field or a consumer who runs in to the issues surrounding installing Windows, this guide will be of use to you.  This guide describes the steps necessary to create an unattended installation of Windows, focusing on Windows XP, Vista and 7.  Earlier versions of Windows such as Windows 98 SE, ME and 2000 could be installed through unattended means, however as these versions of Windows are discontinued, we will focus on current editions.  Windows 8 will be added to this list once the process for installing it has been verified.

Important warnings:

	Please insure that you pay close attention to the details in this guide and read carefully as failure to observe all steps could leave your system in a state where it is not useable.  Only attempt this if you are confident in your success and have recovery plans if necessary.  This will erase your drive and re-partition it, erasing all data.  This does include manufacturer recovery partitions.  Insure that you have followed the instructions provided by your system manufacturer to create recovery media first as your recovery partition will very likely be erased.  Insure that all user data you have on your system is backed up to a drive that is not connected to the system during this process.  It is highly recommended that any data drives be completely disconnected during the installation.  If you only have one drive, back up your data to another device.  I the author of this guide, nor any entities associated with the distribution of this guide will not be held liable for loss of data or property by following the directions given here.  That being said, all possible care for attention to detail and correctness has been made so as to insure your success.

Things you will need:

  • A copy of the Windows edition you intend to install.
  • A computer suitable to build your answer file on.

Things which are recommended:

  • A technician computer separate from the system you're working on if possible, in case of research or any other issues.
  • A USB to SATA/IDE cable. Useful for using a separate computer to access hard drives if needed.
  • A USB sound card or headset, in case Windows does not automatically install your audio driver and you are left with no speech.
  • A copy of a portable screen reader, such as NVDA on a USB thumb drive.

Automating Windows XP Setup:

	Installing Windows XP via unattended means can be accomplished by the following process:

Note: This is not a Microsoft utility; however I do recommend it for driver integration. I do not use it to create an answer file, only to imbed necessary drivers, such as SATA controller drivers in to your installation so that it can find your hard drive. As you will be using an unattended method to install Windows XP, you cannot use the press F6 method to allow the installer to include third party drivers, thus they need to be present in the installation. The only driver you need to be worried about is your SATA controller driver. Most motherboard manufacturers include a floppy disk version of this driver for this purpose.

  • When you run Nlite, it will prompt you to select a Windows source to copy from, as well as a folder to copy to. Create a folder on a drive you have read and write access to and specify the necessary options. Nlite will copy several files off the XP installation disk to this folder.
  • Next you'll then be given a series of options. Uncheck everything except for driver integration and creating a bootable .iso image.
  • Download and extract the appropriate SATA controller driver from the manufacturer's website for your system. Select the SATA controller driver for your computer and allow Nlite to integrate it in to the Windows installer. When you add the driver, it will show a list of text mode drivers. After the driver is added, Nlite will tell you how much larger the installation grew by.
  • Let Nlite create you a .iso file of your image, you will also need a program such as Power ISO or 7zip to add your answer file to the image later. You can use Nlite to create an answer file for you; however I find that the answer file it creates requires editing later, so I prefer to create XP answer files by hand. If you wish to use Nlite to complete the entire process you may, however formatting drives automatically is not something I found Nlite integrates.
  • Open Notepad or some other text editor and insert the following sample answer file in to it. Please note, do not include the {begin answer file} and {end answer file} lines in the answer file, they are only there to show you where the answer file starts and ends. I realize that Microsoft does include a utility for writing out answer files on the XP installation disk, however the following sample file is one I've used many times to fully automate installing XP including erasing existing partitions with no user prompting, thus I recommend you use it. You may use the setup utility on the XP CD if you wish, located at {drive letter}\Support\Tools\ Extract the contents of to a new folder you have read/write access to with a utility capable of extracting .cab archives, such as 7zip. The setup utility will create an answer file for you and will insert the correct regional options for your country and time zone. You still may wish to compare it to the following answer file to make sure that all lines are included, as the Microsoft Setup Manager may not include necessary lines to insure that the unattended install is fully automated, or that it will definitely format hard drives without user intervention. The Setup Manager utility is straight forward with an interface much like Nlite, with back and next buttons, as well as fields for you to enter your information. You can also use the Setup Manager utility to edit pre-existing answer files.

{Begin answer file}







FullName="Windows User"









{End Answer File}

  • Make sure to change the information in this answer file, such as your name and most important your product key as needed.
  • The answer file needs to be saved to a file named winnt.sif in \i386 for the 32 bit version of XP or \AMD64 for the 64 bit version. You can use Power ISO or 7zip to manage the .iso file. Once the answer file is in your image, you can burn the .iso files with whatever preferred burning software you like, so long as that burning software supports burning .iso images.

You're now ready to install XP. Remember that

	this answer file will erase your hard drive on the computer you're installing to, so disconnect any drives you do not want affected and back up your data.

Automating Vista or 7 Setup.

	The process of creating an unattended installation of Windows Vista and 7 differs greatly from that of Windows XP.  For creating unattended setups of Windows Vista and 7 you will use a tool from Microsoft called the Windows Automated installation Kit.  You will need to download and install the Windows Automated Installation kit from Microsoft's website.

Refer to the following links:

Note: Be sure to have the latest copy of the WAIK for Vista and 2008 or you will have issues creating a catelogue file as described below. The download should be entitled "Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008" in the event you need to search for the download manually and this above link no longer works.

Again in case of problems with the link, the download is called "The Windows® Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows® 7". In addition for Windows 7 you may be interested in this download: Entitled: "The Windows® Automated Installation Kit (AIK) Supplement for Windows® 7 SP1" This is in the event that you intend to automate the installation of Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 family of operating systems.

Once you have downloaded the WAIK for the platform you intend to automate, proceed with installing the WAIK. You may need a program which can virtually mount .iso images, a program which can extract .iso images or a program capable of burning .iso images. This guide will assume that you are familiar with this process. Install the WAIK before proceeding to the next steps.

  • Create a folder with read/write access on a drive or network share.
  • With the Windows installation disk in your drive or appropriate access to the .iso or similar file, copy the file

install.wim from {DriveLetter}\Sources to the folder you created in step 1.

  • To create an answer file, we will be using the Microsoft tool called the Windows System Image Manager. If you have installed the WAIK, this program should be available in your start menu, under the program group "Microsoft Windows AIK".

Open this program.

  • You will see a screen prompting you to select a Windows image or catalogue file. Open your file menu and go down to

"Select Windows Image", select this open and browse to the "install.wim" file you copied to your folder you created previously.

  • A dialog will appear with a list of available Windows versions to automate, select the appropriate version of Windows you

intend to install such as Windows Home Premium. You will be told that a catalogue file cannot be opened because it cannot be found and asked if you want to create a catalogue file, say yes.

  • You will land in a tree view with the name of the Windows edition you're customizing. If you tab you'll find another

tree view that will have "create or open an answer file". Again open you file menu and select "new answer file". You'll then have this same tree view with "untitled" at the top.

  • You are now ready to begin setting up your answer file. Microsoft's recommended settings for an unattended setup can be

found at: Windows Vista: Windows Vista Deployment Step-by-Step Guide: Windows 7: Step-by-step basic windows deployment for IT Professionals: Follow the directions in this list to insure you enter all required information for your particular version of Windows. Remember that there are two tree views, one that has available items to add to your answer file depending on the needs of your situation and the other tree view that has the contents of your answer file. You can tab and shift-tab between the available options. When you find an item you need to add by moving through the tree view you can either use your context menu key and move down to the appropriate pass (such as pass 1 Windows PE), or use your edit menu and "add to answer file". The tool will only allow you to add the item to the appropriate part of the answer file, other options will be unavailable. Continue through this process until all items have been added.

  • Once the items have been added to the answer file, you can tab to the properties screen where you can enter settings as

needed for each. Move through the answer file tree view, tabbing over to see if a properties screen is presented for the item. A sample autounattend file will be included here for both Windows Vista and Seven so as to give you ideas about what your unattend file will look like. Note that you will still need to create your own answer file, as each is unique to the version of Windows it was intended to install (A Windows 7 Home Premium answer file will not work for Professional) Etc.

  • Once everything is entered, open your tools menu and select "Validate Answer File". This will check over your answers

and locate possible errors. You can tab to the list of errors and press enter on them to be taken to the part of the tree view where the error is or, hopefully you will see "No warnings or errors."

  • Lastly, you'll want to save your answer file. The answer file needs to be saved as "autounattend.xml" for Windows setup

to recognize it, though if you're like me, you'll keep copies of the files you make for each version of Windows you install, so that you don't need to create a new file each time. That way you can edit the file in Notepad or a similar text editor, change the product key or other settings such as the user name and not need the WAIK every time. You can place the answer file on to the Windows setup disk in the root of the disk itself or you may copy it to a USB flash drive and plug the flash drive in to the system you're installing at the time of installation.

	You can click on the following links to download sample answer files for each Windows Vista and 7.  Remember to rename these to “autounattend.xml” before use.  These are each for Windows Vista Home Premium X86 and Windows 7 Home Premium X64.  The process for creating an answer file for another version of Windows, such as Windows Ultimate is exactly the same, but the answer files are tagged by the Windows System Image Manager for the version they are meant for.  Finally one major difference between creating answer files for Vista and 7 is in Vista you must specify a partition size in create partition, then extend that partition in modify partition.  Failure to do this will cause the installer to halt and not continue.  In Windows 7 this is not necessary.  Here are the links to the sample answer files:  WindowsVistaHomePremiumX86.xml and Windows7HomePremiumX64.xml

Installing Windows:

	Now that you've created your answer file and are ready to install Windows, you may boot the system you're installing on with  

the disk in the drive and in the case of Vista or 7, plug in the USB flash drive with your answer file. Depending on how the system is configured hopefully the optical drive will be the first bootable device in the boot order. Start pressing space repeatedly as you hear the system access the disk to start the installation. You will hear the drive spin up the disk and begin loading files off it. If the optical drive is not the first boot device on the system you may need to use a boot menu (some systems use repeated presses of f10 or some other key) to bring up a list of boot devices and select the optical drive, or the BIOS may need to be configured to allow the optical drive to be the first boot device. If this is the case, options like an OCR solution or the PC Weasel may be of help, or it may be easier and faster to consult with a sighted person to make the changes you need. If getting sighted help is not possible, you might consider removing all partitions from the drive you intend to install to if it is not blank already, thus only giving the computer the option of booting off the optical drive. I recommend the use of a USB to SATA/IDE cable for this purpose if you have a second machine to work with. You would remove the drive from the machine, attach it to the USB to SATA/IDE cable and access it with your technician machine. Use Windows Disk Manager or some other preferred disk management tool to completely remove all partitions from the drive, then insert it back in to the machine you're installing Windows on. The system only needs to boot off the optical media once, at which point Windows should install itself with no other interaction from you. Congratulations! You have just installed Windows clean on your own!


	In addition to the above links I've already provided, I did find Ashly Cox's guide very helpful with coming to terms with the process of performing an unattended installation.  The following link contains a guide in audio format, as well as a sample answer file.'

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Page last modified on July 05, 2012, at 11:06 AM