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Can you use Sysprep to install a custom Windows 10 image?

With the right know-how, IT can create and install a custom Windows 10 image using Microsoft's System Preparation tool.

When you work with Microsoft's System Preparation tool -- a command-line tool IT can use to duplicate, test and deliver new Windows installations -- Windows 10 on a technician VM is not activated. As a result, you cannot personalize it.

To work around this limitation, use your host to create custom Windows 10 themes, including modifying the desktop background, colors, screensaver, sounds and more. Then, you must save that theme file into a custom Windows 10 image in the Assets folder on the host PC -- usually the same machine where the technician VM is running.

Once you use the System Preparation (Sysprep) tool to create the custom Windows 10 image on the technician VM, you can generalize it, copying all desktop, Start and Windows Explorer customizations to a default user profile. The default profile then serves as the basis for all actual user profiles. Unfortunately, when you do this, you also copy all of the current user's recent files, folders and Quick Access content to the default user profile. The login account in this case is the built-in administrator account.

Use a batch file to work around the problem

The following two-line batch file -- a text file containing a sequence of commands for the OS -- resets Quick Access and recent items whenever a new user signs in for the first time. On the host PC, open Notepad, and copy and paste the following simple two-line script into a new text document:

echo Y|del %appdata%\microsoft\windows\recent\automaticdestinations\*

del %0

Save it in the Assets folder as RunOnce.bat. This requires selecting a Save As type and selecting All Files in Notepad's Save As dialog box. Later, you will import this file into the technician VM, where you must save it in the %appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Start-up folder. That guarantees it will run each time a new user signs in for the first time.

Here's a breakdown of the batch file:

  • echo Y |: Pipes (sends) the letter Y to the command that follows after the pipe (|) character.
  • del %appdata%\microsoft\windows\recent\automaticdestinations\*: Resets the Quick Access to its defaults, and resets the Recent Items list. This command expects the user to enter either Y for Yes or N for No. The Y is piped into the command, so user interaction is not necessary. Instead, Y is entered automatically when the batch file runs.
  • del %0: Deletes the batch file itself after it runs. Not deleting the batch file resets Quick Access every time the user signs in. You don't want that. RunOnce needs to run only once, which is how you make sure that happens on a per-user basis.

How to customize a Windows 10
image in Audit Mode

Prepare an OEM logo image if you chose to add it in your Unattend.xml file's OEM component. This file must be a bitmap image file, with maximum dimensions of 120x120 pixels. You can use a bigger image if you must, but it scales down to 120x120 pixels if you do.

If you create this file, save it as oemlogo.bmp in the Assets folder on the host PC.

At this point, Windows should have finished installation on the technician VM. It will wait for you to restart it in Audit Mode. When you boot to the Audit Mode desktop, it's time to start customizing and installing software for your custom image.

Next Steps

Create a custom Windows 10 image on a technician machine

Automate Windows 10 setup with an answer file

How to upgrade to Windows 10

This was last published in November 2017

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Windows 10 operating system

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