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Unattended XP with a “Default User” profile How-To

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#1
visaversa

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Unattended XP with a “Default User” profile How-To

The goal:
Installing a Windows XP unattended without the need for all these registry files & tweaks.

I hope with this thread/guide to bring up a discussion.
Should we prefer the use a “default user” profile or is the way we create an unattended until now enough and does it offers/have the best options to a perfect unattended.

Recently I stumbled on a few threats lead or answered by `Felix` and jrzycrim and many others that discussed entering some tweaks to the default user profile and use that as a base for unattended installations. I know that there are other ways to create an unattended CD than the one we are creating, I mean the MSFN Unattende guide.
I am never afraid to explore new possibilities so that’s why I then started to play with the idea why are we not creating a default user profile and use that not only as the base but also as the final “user profile” for our unattended cd/dvd.

The theory:
Whenever a user logs on (the first time), Windows copies the settings from the Default User profile (located at Documents and Settings\Default User) to the newly created user profile. In other words, the Default User profile is as a template which Windows uses in order to initialize new profiles/logins.
After logging in the first time, the user customizes the settings as required. In my case, some of the settings include the following:
• Turning off the Windows Tour
• Disabling the balloon tips
• Enabling the Quick Launch
• Adding/Removing icons to Quick Launch bar
• Settings for Wallpaper, Display and Appearance and Themes
• Internet Options - Settings in the Advanced & Security tabs, SearchURL preferences, TIF to 40MB, Zonemap Domains list for Restricted, Trusted sites.
• Creating shortcuts on the Desktop for various applications
• Search companion settings (I prefer the classic search)
• Adding or removing the icons in the Desktop
• Prevent Windows Messenger from starting automatically ("PreventAutoRun" key to 1)
and so on..................

What could be the advantage of this approach I asked myself?
To be honest, what could be simpler then to maintain only one profile visually and in a real working environment?
And, I noticed recently and with the arrival of SP2 that fiddling with reg-files, inf’s and batches again requires a lot work. My reg-files are a collection of tweaks I gathered left and right, unordered and very difficult to oversee. Cleaning and changing them requires a lot of work.
You need to think about adding, deleting some obsolete tweaks, checking if they still work under different condition and service packs, ect…

I thought id share my experience with the MSFN community so at least somebody can learn something from it. So I went on reading as match I could about that Default User profile and started for hours and days experimenting with it.

The result is that I have an unattended DVD with all my software, fully tweaked to my taste and requirements.
All I needed was my version of XP, SP2, my software unattended and the default user profile that I created earlier and some cmd files for copying and cleaning after installation.
I did need some registry settings, especially for local machine stuff and for settings, you cannot tune by the user interface, as they are I Explorer for example. I never did needed one registry file for user or desktop specified customization during my unattended install. Not even for inserting serial numbers or software specific keys.


How-To:

1. Just slipstream XP with Sp2 and use your favourite program to install your software unattended, WIHU, XPLode, GUIRunOnce or any other program or cmd file..
2. Start to tweak the newly created user completely to your taste and requirements.
3. Copied the profile to the “default user” account of that machine, here is a guide…the guide
4. Copied specific user files to the “all users” account, especially if you have lots of desktop icons
5. Copied these profiles to our unattended folder structure under $OEM$\$docs.
You only need few files and folders from the default user profile depending on Quick
Launch icons and shortcuts. Usually I copy these: $oem$\$Docs\Default
User\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick  launch, $docs\Default
User\Desktop, $docs\Default User\Start Menu\Programs and everything under it. And
Most important the “ntuser.dat” that’s the one with all the settings. For the All User I
usually copy these: $docs\All Users\Desktop and  docs\All Users\Start
Menu\Programs with everything under it
6. Make your iso and burn the CD orDVD
7. Start your unattended install, wait til it finish, logon and.
8. Give your user the required rights and your…
9. Done

Now if you need an update to that profile, just repeat step 2 to 9
Simple but fast.

I do hope that some more information becomes available so I can even more design and fine-tune what I already have and can share more experience with you all.

Enjoy…
VV

Disclaimer:
I do not say that everything is possible with this kind of installations so don’t flame me. There are cases you need specific local machine tweaks.
There are surely cases where you need a reg-file or inf injected during your unattended. I do not need them right now for my unattended but everybody’s case is different. I only say that this approach made my maintenance fare simpler then before.


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#2
WwTIPPYwW

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in doing this- won't it be tied to the machine that it was created on? So it really would be easier to just use GHOST at that point.

I mean if you go in and do all that the registry will be full of your machine's configuration and the benefit of an unattended install cd is not to be tied to one system.

Am I missing something, or am I correct?

#3
visaversa

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in doing this- won't it be tied to the machine that it was created on?  So it really would be easier to just use GHOST at that point.

I mean if you go in and do all that the registry will be full of your machine's configuration and the benefit of an unattended install cd is not to be tied to one system.

Am I missing something, or am I correct?

yes i think you missed something...we talk about a user profile.
The machine specific profile is generated during unattended and copy seamlessly the default user profile in to the machines default user account.
ready to use...
I done this DU unattended on tree diffferend hardware platforms with different specs without any problem.

I never say its foolproof but RIS is working almost the same way. You create a default userprofile that can be rolled out on different machines.

#4
Vann

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I have some problems with your post. First, what is the advantage of copying the ntuser.dat file as opposed to importing the registry settings during install? As I'm sure you know, during the T-13 stage of the installation where people should be importing their registry settings, the Default User's registry hive is mounted at HKEY_CURRENT_USER. So you are, in fact, modifying the Default User profile. What advantage does your method have? Instead of importing some registry settings you copy a file. I don't see how one is materially more difficult or cumbersome than the other. Your problem, as you said, was that your tweaks were unorganized, but that's your problem. Personally, I organize mine in an arbitrary number of separate files, put them in one directory in $OEM$, and have cmdlines.txt call a batch file which imports all the .reg files in the aforementioned directory. I just add or delete a registry file to that directory in $OEM$ and I'm done. Moreover, as you said, you still need HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE tweaks, which means even with your method you'll be retaining a repository of registry tweaks. This seems to be creating two spots for failure.

Second, won't your ntuser.dat now contain machine specific information? There are plenty of things in the registry that are machine specific and vary even on fresh installs of XP. What if I want to install my CD on a Pentium II 400MHz machine, a Quad Xeon machine, and also in VMWare? Can you guarantee your ntuser.dat will work for all these situations? Because I can guarantee importing registry files at T-13 will.

Third, how do you know the default settings in the Default profile won't change between hotfixes or service packs? Is the ntuser.dat created from a vanilla XP install the same as the one created with a slipstreamed SP1 or SP2? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if MS changed it in the future. Across versions, of course, there's no reason for them to be the same, but there is reason to expect my registry tweaks to be similar between Windows 2003 and XP.

These are the major -- in my mind -- that I thought of. If I sound unduly harsh, don't take it personally; I'm just trying to be critical. I guess my complaints can be summed up with the question: "Why is this better?"

#5
visaversa

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I have some problems with your post. First, what is the advantage of copying the ntuser.dat file as opposed to importing the registry settings during install?

No that’s the whole point, I need a discussion about it witch one is better than the other one.

What advantage does your method have? Instead of importing some registry settings you copy a file. I don't see how one is materially more difficult or cumbersome than the other

Yes I think collecting tweaks is one of them. not to mension the errors and questions you have to ask people to provide them the right keys lol

Your problem, as you said, was that your tweaks were unorganized, but that's your problem. Personally, I organize mine in an arbitrary number of separate files, put them in one directory in $OEM$, and have cmdlines.txt call a batch file which imports all the .reg files in the aforementioned directory I know my collection should be more organised but its not.

I know mine is not…

As I'm sure you know, during the T-13 stage of the installation where people should be importing their registry settings, the Default User's registry hive is mounted at HKEY_CURRENT_USER. So you are, in fact, modifying the Default User profile..


No I am not, if you read my guide you create a Default User profile and not a user specific profile. So its like the HKEY_ USER profile you inject your reg files to at t-13

Second, won't your ntuser.dat now contain machine specific information?

Possible, but until now on tree diff machine I hade no problems

There are plenty of things in the registry that are machine specific and vary even on fresh installs of XP. What if I want to install my CD on a Pentium II 400MHz machine, a Quad Xeon machine, and also in VMWare? Can you guarantee your ntuser.dat will work for all these situations? Because I can guarantee importing registry files at T-13 will.

No I can’t yet, but you method can’t also not guarantee it.
Did you tested that your settings and regfiles are still working on Sp2, are you aware that lots of keys changed and added?

Third, how do you know the default settings in the Default profile won't change between hot fixes or service packs? Is the ntuser.dat created from a vanilla XP install the same as the one created with a slipstreamed SP1 or SP2? I do not know, but I wouldn't be surprised if MS changed it in the future. Across versions, of course, there is no reason for them to be the same, but there is reason to expect my registry tweaks to be similar between Windows 2003 and XP.

That’s why I refer to point 2 if M$ comes out with something different but that’s years away…just install the hotfix or sp3 and copy again.


These are the major -- in my mind -- that I thought of. If I sound unduly harsh, don't take it personally; I'm just trying to be critical. I guess my complaints can be summed up with the question: "Why is this better?"


I wish I could tell you this, I just say that my method haze many advantages for me.
But glad you question them.

As I said this method is used by RIS, well not exactly, but working almost the same way. You create a default user profile that can be rolled out on different machines.

#6
prathapml

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You have made a nice "How-To". :)
Having given thought to every step of the process....
Thanks for sharing your analysis with all of us!
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#7
visaversa

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Thx prathapml

I have a company to run, install lots of pc every month. I want to do that in an economical way. Less work, 100% result so the “default user “method works for me.
What can I ask more?

Most people just as I am btw are always trying to creating the Ultimate Unattended cd just for fun. We all do this for the kick to know and master the technology.
The fact that we can manipulate the operating system gives us a good feeling. No?
Nevertheless, how many time when you needed this UU CD was it ready?
How many times when your or my system crashed did you have that ultimate unattended ready next to you?
Moreover, when disaster strike it’s simply not ready or not the latest so called ultimate.
I tell you it will never be ready. There is always something to add and change.
You always need to test if these regkey or that tweak does what you expect them to do.
Lots of trial and error and not always with the expected result.

I just wanted to give another perspective to “Unattended”
I would say to all, just give it a try and see if it does give you an advantage.


VV.

#8
sleepnmojo

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When it comes to deploying via cd, I prob wouldn't choose this way.
Coming from a ghost image this has its advantages. Its more of the lazy man's way of doing things.

I personally prefer to have my default profile clean. Once you log in as a new user, it becomes muddied with microcrap. Much easier for me to work in the cleaner version, than make a new user, and copy over the dat file every time I want to make a change.

#9
cyberdiamond

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I personally don't recommend using a default profile between machines etc.
I have seen it cause many varied problems (I too administor hundreds of pc's)

For people that don't want to mess with the default you can create any new user and copy their profile over anyone elses profile.
But do remember to reset the permissions on it first!

Again I don't recomend it but feel free to do what suits you best.

#10
visaversa

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I personally don't recommend using a default profile between machines etc.
I have seen it cause many varied problems (I too administor hundreds of pc's)

For people that don't want to mess with the default you can create any new user and copy their profile over anyone elses profile.
But do remember to reset the permissions on it first!

Again I don't recomend it but feel free to do what suits you best.

Thanks for your opinion.
The more i install this way the more i start to like it.

Given the thought that most of the members just installing only one pc, there own i think that the chance for incompatibility almost zero is.

Please lets not forget that this system is used by RIS server (not exactly the same) and is used to deploy hundreds or even thousand pc throughout companies without problems.
vv

#11
GreenMachine

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I've toyed with it before. Would have to vote "No Go".

While they hardware specific data may NOT be in that NTUSER.DAT, software specific data sometimes is. For example, you install program X Version 101(at T-13, for example), which then sets up, via the HKCU section of the registry, to use %USERPROFILE%\My Documents\X-Files\RecievedData as the default file transfer data. You may, or may not, have included that in your profile. Then you update your Windows Distribution to use Program X Version 102, which has a new "feature", and uses directory %USERPROFILE%\My Documents\X-Files\Quarentine. ... Time to update your default profile. That is, if you know about the new registry settings it is supposed to add.

Furthermore, some hardware devices have User Profile settings, particularly graphic adapters with "Profiles". That raises the issue of hardware compatabilty. While the settings most likely will not cause problems, they do cause registry bloat.

Lastly, it requires you to "inspect" every modification to your Distribution more carefully, which is never fun.

Having a controlled set of registry imports, and a command script for certain other modifications work's fine for me. I also find it easier to maintain, understand, and refer to when I have questions or doubts. To check what is in the default user, you have to load the hive, and look that way. If you know what you are looking for ...

That said, on domain servers, I do keep a default profile that I copy for each new user. And these Roaming Profiles do attach themselves to different machines with different hardware and software configurations, and I've had next to zero problems with that.

You wanted disscussion! There's the GreenMachine take!

#12
prathapml

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Hmm....
Yes, all of us have different requirements and priorities, which determines whether something is right or not. Thanks for your perspective on this, GM - it always helps to look at something from varying angles. :)
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#13
visaversa

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Thx GreenMachine for the professional opinion. Indeed, I wanted a open discussion.
I knew that i hade to throw this in the group to have as much advise as possible.

I said it before it open new doors and possibility’s towards a almost zero maintained profile of my builds. I recently also started to look at the possibility of RIS. In my case, I think for the long run it will pay of.

I still think that many of us could achieve faster result with this system. I think about users that really have only ONE system the like to install unattended.

However a do not agree with following:

While they hardware specific data may NOT be in that NTUSER.DAT, software specific data sometimes is. For example, you install program X Version 101(at T-13, for example), which then sets up, via the HKCU section of the registry, to use %USERPROFILE%\My Documents\X-Files\RecievedData as the default file transfer data. You may, or may not, have included that in your profile. Then you update your Windows Distribution to use Program X Version 102, which has a new "feature", and uses directory %USERPROFILE%\My Documents\X-Files\Quarentine. ... Time to update your default profile. That is, if you know about the new registry settings it is supposed to add.


This is exactly the case with these registry settings we use now use. How often changes a program maker his builds? Do we now they did not change something? But we still use that older reg settings…No? until someone complains and launches a topic about it.
I saw quickly how many keys where added to SP2. Do we now that our old registry settings would still have the same effect? NO we don’t. Not yet lol
We slipstream a new Service Pack into our older builds, add the reg keys valid and tested for SP1 and expect that they work with SP2, don’t think so.
Look at the forum and tell me that I am wrong.

I think that my actual build is more stable my way then I would have done it the old way.

Anyway, keep giving your comments as always I like to reading them cause I learn from them.

#14
BeenThereB4

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I never had any luck with copying profiles. It reminds me of creating the perfect install, syspreping it and then imaging it to other types of machines. It seems to work, sometimes for a long time. But then problems show up that can be traced back to the process used. YMMV
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#15
GreenMachine

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@viceversa: I know you, and I know you indeed want discussion, not arguement. Otherwise, I probably would have stayed out of what can become such an opinionated thread! I appreciate your questions/answers.

My case is a little different (surprised?). My set of reg tweaks is not that big. I have it divided into seperate files: HKCU, HKCR, HKLM. The HKCU ones are the only ones of interest here, and in my case these only contain Microsoft related settings. They do need to be re-evaluated with SP2, but there really isn't much, so it's no big deal. In fact, they are, for the most part, insignificant, and I honestly haven't bothered yet. They seem to work.

As for the program specific stuff, I package most my installers in an IExpress package (surprised again?), that often does the install, and a little more. For example, there are very few programs that put the icons where I want them (AllUser profile, correct directory). If there are any registry settings needed, I add them to my installer package. If I update the installer, the reg settings are right there, and I will (hopefully) adjust them for the new version.

All this keeps things modular, and easy to manage for the poor memory I've got (me, not my PC). Much easier to keep the little things straight, then the whole picture.

Roaming profiles are a different thing, and I strongly believe that these are this is the only way to go in a corporate environment. Backup, controll, etc., is much easier to manage. These profiles are used on many different machines, with different hardware and software configurations. I have the profile, create a fictitious user, give it administrator rights, install the new program, and then save the profile back to the server and use as the new default. I may even manually edit the user profile's registry, mainly to remove old settings, but I like to avoid that.

Now, if we are talking about the hobbiest here that has one PC, uses one profile, and is looking for something very user specific (user directories, drive letters, favorite collections, themes, etc.), that's a horse of a different color, and I do see how this idea can work for them. My one-track mind just considers even my own installations as a "generic" install, thus it's not for me. Keeps me from doing one thing here, one thing there. Again, for reasons of ease (to me).

I really believe in keeping it all modualr, and a copied NTUSER.DAT doesn't fit in my scheme.

Still, most important is to do what you (any you) is most comfortable with.

(Rainy day here, must get me verbose!)

#16
visaversa

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Thx again...lucky the weather here is in super condition.
I sure do understand your point. Indeed everyone’s needs are different.

Maybe we better let this discussion die slowly…until somewhere in time it shows up again.
However, for myself I will keep exploring all the possibilities of this technique.

I go back to the pool now for some relaxation.
Thanks for all the positive comments.

VV

#17
exiteable

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what a fab read and a great positive attitude to a informative debate
luv it
just wish i had u 2 techies working on my sp2 unattended hehe...
back to testing
groan

#18
visaversa

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what a fab read and a great positive attitude to a informative debate
luv it
just wish i had u 2 techies working on my sp2 unattended hehe...
back to testing
groan

i am still here to help you and others out and i am sure greenmachine also.
Thx for the positive note.

#19
neophyte

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Both methods require you to maintain them (particularly in cases such as the example GreenMachine pointed out), and both methods can be particularly messy. However, for ease of access, I'd have to say that registry tweaks are the way to go. Why? Because they don't require you to have to log into a Windows installation to edit them, practically any text editor can do it, thus, this makes them the hands down winner (in my belief).

You could use ntuser.dat from the All Users profile, however, you'd have to make your modifications on a completely clean installation of Windows, without any other software to inject itself into the profile.
It would still be a b**** to fix any mistakes up.
Oh would someone please think of the children!

#20
`Felix`

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Hi there ppl,

Well I have been building custom SOE installations for a few years now and have used a default user profile approach, however I don't create my default user profile in the way described here.

Basically I edit the original default user profile in regedit. Now of course there are pro's and con's in this method like others, however once you do it once - you can export the entire registry settings for the default user and then in the future just add the additional changes requirements and important them.

I have spent some years playing with registry hives right back to Windows NT 3.0 (yes a dinosaur that didn't do much was it was a genesis)

I certainly don't recorded copying the current user profile to replace the default user - I have experimented with this over the years and whilst the process has become simpler and more compatible - it is not without problems - some of which have been raised in this thread.

If you would like to have a go at editing the default user NTUSER.DAT profile hive - See my guide here for some ideas on the simplest method I have found.

if you would like some more information - please let me know...

Felix
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#21
MHz

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I use multi-Profiles for logon. Like a profile for gaming where most services and hardware are disabled. Is a method available to save profiles as to this method or other? Does take some time setting up profiles ( 6o or so services in XP yet anything else.). Is it possible to disable startup programs in certain profiles?

#22
`Felix`

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Yes you can disable services in profiles - this is best achieved using hardware profiling that you select during the boot up of the system.

Felix
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#23
MHz

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True, with the boot process. Can this profile be saved so it can be put on win cd or any other way by chance? :unsure:

#24
dirtyepic

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let me see if i'm understanding this. in the first method, he creates a new user, then sets everything up the way he wants. these settings are saved in NTUSER.DAT plus some important bits from the profile tree, which is copied to $OEM$\$DOCS\Default User etc. etc. in the second method, you open NTUSER.DAT and edit the settings in regedit til you get them how you want them.

so excuse my newbness, but what's the difference?

and also, in the second method once you have your custom ntuser.dat, what do you do with it? put it in $OEM$\$Docs\Default User ?

#25
`Felix`

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and also, in the second method once you have your custom ntuser.dat, what do you do with it?  put it in $OEM$\$Docs\Default User ?

yes :yes:
"I seek not to know all the answers, but to understand the questions."
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