Utility eases Windows installation customization

A free program called nLite lets administrators customize Windows installation CDs before they are used to build system images.

Deployments of Windows can be pre-customized fairly heavily through installation scripts or by making custom deployment images. That said, systems administrators responsible for creating installations of Windows usually have to do a lot of manual wrangling to get the combination of components they need. And creating Windows "hands-off" installation scripts isn't as painless as it could be.

nLite is a program written to help administrators take some of the pain out of customizing a Windows installation. It is a free, GUI-based and wizard-driven tool that lets administrators make highly detailed customizations to Windows installation CDs before the CDs are used to build system images. The admin copies the contents of the CD to a Windows computer, uses nLite to modify the contents, then builds a bootable ISO image that can be used to deploy the changed installation on one or more systems.

Here's a rundown of some of nLite's features:

  • Service pack and patch integration: If you have a copy of Windows XP (or another Windows OS) that hasn't been patched with the most recent service pack, you can download the network-installation version of the service pack and use nLite to automatically integrate the contents into your target image. The same goes for post-service pack patches, which you can add by simply pointing nLite at the patch .EXE during the configuration process.
  • Component removal: If there are Windows components you don't want to include in the installation, nLite lets you selectively delete them. This not only includes unwanted programs such as the games that are included with Windows, but system drivers as well.
  • Component integration: Just as nLite allows you to selectively remove things, it also allows you to selectively include them -- things such as hardware drivers or Registry tweaks. (Support for third-party application deployment isn't yet available.)
  • Unattended setup: When you've finished defining the package, you can make changes in an unattended setup script .

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of theWindows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

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