Bootable installation images on USB flash drives - Success

By jmclain
Mar 13, 2009
  1. Hooray!

    Please excuse the interruption as I rejoice in victory over a task I've been working on for a while. This one was important and I didn't find it documented elsewhere on the web so I thought I'd share it here.

    In our environment, we have a hodgepodge of computers. We support grad students' laptops as well as University purchased computers so what we see runs the gamut from Dell Optiplex desktops to something that was on sale at Costco. When OS decay and resulting system instability or hard disk failure results in our having to reinstall the operating system, there's no telling what type of machine it will be so we can't use snapshots of baseline computers. This necessitates using OS install discs

    We use Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT 2010 Beta 1, to be precise) to create a single DVD that we can use to for unattended installations. We've set it up so that we can install Windows XP or Vista Business along with all of our standard applications (Firefox, Thunderbird, Java runtime, Flash player, Acrobat Reader, PrimoPDF, Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition and some UNIX interoperability programs) as well as applying our security templates and defragging the hard drive. I've added in both Office 2003 and Office 2007 as options because what we install depends on what they had licensed. By now, though, you've probably guessed that it's outgrown a DVD and it would be nice to have Adobe and other products available as well. Enter the need to be able to drop the resulting ISO onto a flash drive and have it bootable. Ideally, I'd like to have an 8 GB flash drive using SLC memory for maximum data transfer rates. As I wrote this, I footed from a flash drive, formatted and installed Windows and all the basic applications (including Office 2003) in just over 25 minutes. It simplifies things tremendously for our techs and allows us to focus on helping people rather than sitting around watching progress bars move left to right.

    In case any of you would like to do the same, here's a summary of what needs to be done. It's incredibly simple but I didn't find it well documented so I wanted to share it here. Feel free to post this or pass it along as you see fit; the idea is to disseminate information as broadly as possible, not try to claim credit for anything.

    In order to make your flash drive bootable, run the following commands from the command line:
    list disk
    select disk 1 (or whichever disk is your flash drive)
    create partition primary
    select partition 1
    format fs=NTFS quick

    Now you can use DaemonTools (www . daemon-tools . cc)or a similar utility to mount your ISO image and copy the files to the flash drive. Open the virtual drive containing the ISO image and copy the files to your flash drive and you're done.

    It really is that simple. If you haven't tried MDT 2010, I strongly encourage doing so. It's quite easy to use and very, very useful. If you're getting ready to play with it, I'll offer one piece of advice: Use a simple naming scheme and don't filling all the version info. The problem with filling in all the fields is that many aren't changeable later. That means that when a new version is released, you have to delete the application and start over. It's a pain. If you leave it more generic, you can just drop the new files into the application directory and tweak the installation command as necessary. My naming convention goes like this:
    (Common) AppName
    (XP) AppName
    (Vista) AppName

    It's easy to rearrange the order that applications appear in by editing "C:\Distribution\Control\Applications.xml." Grab the entire application section you want to move and paste it where you want it. I have a couple of other applications that I haven't been able to coerce into participating in the silent install theme and I drop those down at the bottom of the list. That allows the silent installs to finish and leave just one or two simple pieces at the end for the techs to babysit.

    Finally, for anyone doing silent installs, appdeploy . com will come in handy. It doesn't have everything but it does have a lot. I find it extremely useful as a starting point.

    Here's to progress. Keep smiling and laugh often!

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