Weekly quickTIP

Next, Next, Finish. Repeat.

Software installation might sound like instructions on the back of the shampoo bottle. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The hardest part of any software installation is often the walk between desktops. When you're in charge of a massive software installation using nothing but manual methods, you'll find the wear on your shoes equals the wear on your mouse-clicking finger.

But software needn't be installed using the "Next, Next, Finish" method. You can achieve the same result on hundreds of machines as on a single one through packaging and automated deployment. "But, Greg," you may say, "packaging tools and software distribution systems are expensive!"

A-ha! There's where you're wrong. With a little technique and the right tools, you can deploy virtually any piece of software through Active Directory. The deployment process is relatively simple. Check out this ancient TechNet article for the down-low on setting it up. The basic steps haven't changed much over the years.

The hard part with automated software installation is in getting the software to install "silently," without prompting the user for questions. Doing this requires either discovering the command-line switches that install the software in this mode, or by repackaging the installation into an entirely new .MSI file.

One free tool that's perfect for helping the small environment with this repackaging process is WinINSTALL LE. Found here, this tool enables a great set of functionality for turning difficult installs into easy automated installs. The process goes a little like this:

  1. From a fresh OS installation, install the WinINSTALL LE software and run its Discover tool.
  2. Install your software of choice and re-run the Discover tool again.

WinINSTALL LE will determine what files and registry entries changed between the two snapshots and package up the "diffs" into a new .MSI file. With this file in-hand, you're ready for testing and ultimately a large-scale deployment.

Come to TechMentor in Las Vegas, where Greg will spend an entire session explaining the details of automatically and rapidly deploying software in a small environment.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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