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Performing an Unattended Windows Server 2003 Installation

Using scripting, you can automate the installation process of Windows Server 2003 and minimize the need for user intervention. Using an answer file (unattend.txt), you can provide all the information needed to complete the installation. Items such as the computer name, IP address, product key, and DNS settings can be written into the file.

Unattended installations can be performed on fresh installations or on upgrades and on similar or dissimilar hardware. You can deploy Windows Server 2003 from a centralized installation point, and after you install the operating system, you can easily modify it.

Deciding When to Use an Unattended Installation

Organizations frequently use an unattended installation when they need to deploy multiple systems that are configured in a similar manner. Unlike imaging technologies, unattended installations work well with dissimilar hardware platforms. You can create one answer file, make a few modifications, and apply it to another server that you want configured similarly.

This process is also useful for deploying remote systems that need to be built onsite when you may not be able to configure it yourself. The system configured at the remote site will be configured just like you want it to be.

Using the Improved Setup Manager

The Setup Manager is located in the deploy.cab file in the \support\tools directory on the Windows product CD. The Setup Manager can be used to create and modify the answer files for your unattended installations.

Enhancements to the Setup Manager for Windows Server 2003 include the capability to encrypt the administrator password, which was formerly stored as plain text in the answer file. The Setup Manager also has an improved interface and an improved help file.

Preparing for an Unattended Installation

To prepare for an unattended installation, you must first install and run the Setup Manager. Although this application is included with the Windows Server 2003 installation media, it is not installed by default.

To install the Setup Manager, perform the following steps:

  1. Insert the Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM into the CD-ROM drive of your computer. If you hold down the Shift key as you do so, you can bypass the CD's autorun feature.

  2. Open My Computer, right-click the CD-ROM drive, and select Explore.

  3. Open the support\tools directory and double-click the deploy.cab file to open it.

  4. Select all the files that are in the right pane, right-click, and select Extract.

  5. Select the folder where you want to place the files (or make a new folder) and click Extract.

  6. Open the folder where you placed the files and double-click the Setupmgr.exe file.

  7. When the Setup Manager Wizard starts, follow the instructions to create your answer file.

Creating an Unattended Installation Script

To create an unattended answer file, open the folder where you placed the files you extracted. Double-click the Setupmgr.exe file and follow the instructions in the Setup Manager Wizard.

Sample unattend.txt File

The unattend.txt file can be extremely simple or extremely complex, ranging in size from a few dozen lines of code to a few hundred.

The following is a sample unattend.txt file that was created in about five minutes using the Setup Manager:




 FullName="Rand Morimoto"
 OrgName="Convergent Computing"















As you customize and begin using unattended script files, you will find that they can save you an enormous amount of time installing Windows Server 2003 on multiple systems.

Launching an Unattended Installation Script

When the Setup Manager creates the unattend.txt file, it will also create a batch file called unattend.bat. The batch file gives the name of the answer file (unattend.txt) and the location of the source files (\\WINSERVER\windist\I386). Next, the installation process is kicked off by the winnt32 command and the switches to call the files.


Because the setup files (in this case) are located on a Windows server, you will need network connectivity before starting the batch file.

Sample unattend.bat File

The unattend.bat file is the batch file used to launch the unattended installation. The steps of the batch file can be executed manually; however, if the process is repeated several times, running a batch file like the following one will simplify the process:

@rem SetupMgrTag
@echo off
set AnswerFile=.\unattend.txt
set SetupFiles=\\WINSERVER\windist\I386
\\WINSERVER\windist\I386\winnt32 /s:%SetupFiles% /unattend:%AnswerFile%

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