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Image-level methods for Windows application deployment

Imaging is a crucial process, but IT must also consider application deployment. Here are methods to deploy different types of Windows apps during installation.

The use of deployment images can greatly simplify the Windows installation process, but administrators must also consider how to include applications.

There are two basic techniques that IT can use to automate Windows application deployment when provisioning a new computer. The first technique is to use an image to deploy the OS, and then use automated task sequences to deploy applications once the OS has been installed. IT can define these task sequences within Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), but other tools can also deploy applications in this way.

The other basic technique is to include the applications inside of the image file. This technique results in a larger image, but it can be useful if an organization does not want to use SCCM or a similar tool for application provisioning. The primary disadvantage to including applications in a deployment image is that IT will likely have to create images each time the organization adopts a new application.

Sysprep has long been the preferred tool for creating Windows deployment images. This tool requires an administrator to install Windows onto a reference computer, usually a VM. After doing so, the administrator customizes the OS as necessary and then uses the Sysprep utility -- which is included with Windows -- to create an image from the Windows deployment.

Sysprep images can include applications, but there is more to the Windows application deployment process than simply installing an application onto Windows and then running Sysprep.

Microsoft Store applications

Admins must handle Microsoft Store applications differently than desktop applications. The most important thing to know about Microsoft Store apps is that installing them directly from the app store onto a reference PC will cause Sysprep to fail. Likewise, if any of the apps that are built into Windows are updated prior to running Sysprep, those updates will cause Sysprep to fail.

There are two basic techniques that IT can use to automate Windows application deployment when provisioning a new computer.

The easiest way to prevent the built-in apps from updating is to disconnect the reference computer from the internet before installing Windows.

If IT pros need to include non-default Windows Store apps in the image that they are creating, then they will need to sideload those apps rather than installing them from the Microsoft Store. Microsoft provides a tool called Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) that IT can use for app sideloading.

Desktop applications

Since desktop applications are based on a completely different architecture than Microsoft Store apps, admins must handle Windows application deployment differently. The preferred way to include desktop applications within a Windows image is to use provisioning packs. Provisioning packs only work with Windows 10 images, however.

To use provisioning packs, IT will need to install the current version of the Assessment and Deployment Kit onto the reference operating system. After doing so, IT should copy the User State Migration Tool (C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\10\Assessment and Deployment Kit\User State Migration Tool\amd64) and the Windows Setup sources (C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\10\Assessment and Deployment Kit\Windows Setup\amd64\Sources) to a folder named ScanState x64 on a USB flash drive.

The next step in the process is to boot the reference operating system into audit mode by pressing Ctrl+Shift+F3. Once in audit mode, IT can install any required desktop applications.

The next thing that IT will need to do is to run ScanState from the USB flash drive. This will create the provisioning package. The actual command that IT will need to use varies based on the system configuration, but typically looks something like this:

Scanstate.exe /apps /ppkg D:\Packages\Reference.ppkg

IT pros can perform an alternative process to create and integrate provisioning packages, as well.

Dig Deeper on Windows applications