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Microsoft’s Greatest Glitches: Sysprep Admin Passwords

Here’s what to do when the sysprep mini-setup is not properly setting the Administrator password.

Chris: I’m setting up a baseline Windows XP sysprepped image. The image creation process works fine and I don’t have any problems creating the sysprep answer file or running sysprep. The problem that I have occurs during the mini-set-up process that runs on the first boot of the sysprepped system. Mini-setup prompts for an administrator password and I enter a password. Then, when I try to log in with the new password, I'm not able to. If I try the password that was saved before the system was sysprepped, I can log in fine. Here is the GuiUnattended portion of my sysprep answer file:

[GuiUnattended]
   EncryptedAdminPassword=NO
   OEMSkipRegional=1
   TimeZone=35

I think that everything in the file is correct. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?
— Kevin

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Kevin, I felt compelled to answer this question because I’ve been asked this a few times over the last couple of months. If Microsoft had a “Greatest Glitches” CD, this problem would probably be one of the first tracks. Many admins have encountered the same problem and ultimately spent hours or days trying to solve it, so you’re definitely not alone in your pain.

When a system that has any non-blank local administrator passwords is sysprepped, the password that is entered in the resulting sysprep mini-setup will not overwrite the existing password. To have the password entered in the mini-setup saved to the system, the administrator password saved on the system prior to the sysprep process must be blank. This problem is documented in Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article 200607, "Unable to Change Admin Password Using Sysprep."

Both the Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional default installations allow you to set blank administrator passwords without having to edit the Local Security Policy. In a Windows Server 2003 domain, the password complexity requirements in the Default Domain GPO will not allow you to set a blank password for a local account. Of course, the passwords that were set for accounts that existed prior to the system being joined to a domain would be OK. Since your sysprepped image is based on a default install of Windows XP in a workgroup, setting a blank administrator password will not be an issue.

Seeing a Windows problem replayed year after year is like hearing a good Led Zeppelin song on the radio. Some hits never get old.

About the Author

Chris Wolf is a Microsoft MVP for Windows --Virtual Machine and is a MCSE, MCT, and CCNA. He's a Senior Analyst for Burton Group who specializes in the areas of virtualization solutions, high availability, storage and enterprise management. Chris is the author of Virtualization: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Apress), Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley), and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).learningstore-20/">Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley) and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).

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