Unattended installations really do remove the pain from installing an operating system simply because they will answer all the routine questions of user names, serial numbers, country codes and can configure a fair chunk of the operating system.
Windows Vista, like operating system before it, will come with a tool to enable the creation of unattended installation files.
Vista is doing things slightly differently though. Whilst it's possible to create an unattend.xml file there is a whole lot more you can do in a new tool called Business Desktop Deployment
I'm on the BETA for this so armed with the latest BETA of BDD and the current release candidate version of Vista I set about creating a fully unattended install... Well, that was the plan at least. The reality was rather disappointing.
First of all, I created a Windows XP workstation as BDD won't install onto Windows 2000 Professional. Once XP is installed you need to install a couple of pre-requisites, namely .Net Framework 2.0 and MSXML 6. So these go onto the machine and finally I'm ready for BDD itself. This software installed very easily and very soon I was ready to go.
The first time I fired up the MMC snap in for BDD (called the deployment workbench) BDD crashed on me. A quick trip to Microsoft's page showed that installing MMC 3.0 should fix this and so another download later and BDD is running.
Windows Vista's installation is contained in a single .WIM (Windows IMage) file. You can really think of this as a giant zip archive containing the actual software - No more thousands of separate files - just one 4GB image file that contains all the versions of Vista.
To configure this there is another tool called the 'Microsoft Windows AIK' (Automated Installation Kit) - yes, even MORE acronyms to remember.
WAIK contains the Windows SIM (Sim Image Manager) and it's THIS that can make tweaks to the Vista WIM files and generate the answer files.
Unfortunately, Microsoft have made one small flaw. When using the current builds of Vista against the current builds of Windows System Image Manager the Image Manager crashes out with a very nasty error message. It seems that the WIM format has changed in any builds higher than 5800 and that the Windows System Image Manager cannot cope with it.
After this comedy of errors I've given up on unattended Vista builds for the moment but will take another look at them soon along with the entire BDD environment.