Saturday, December 06, 2008

Windows Vista and Slipstreaming: A Primer

I’ve been slipstreaming XP setup disks since SP1 was released.

There are a lot of third-party tools to help make the process painless, but in the end, I always come back to the basic method outlined by Paul Thurrott in his Slipstreaming Windows XP with Service Pack 3 (SP3) guide (and previous version as well).  It’s easy, fairly fast, and once you’ve done a few, you can make XP Slipstream disks with your eyes closed.

I’ve got a number of what I consider the best links and guides for XP slipstreaming collected and have been sitting on them for months.  Eventually I will get around to posting that roundup.

However with Vista, the whole slipstreaming thing appears to have become derailed.

Why Concern Now?

After Vista was released the masses moaned to Microsoft about numerous performance issues and bugs.  Eventually MS released Vista SP1 and all was heavenly.  I (and most others) noticed immediate performance improvements and program stability.  Golden.

I imagine most folks just followed what I did and allowed Windows Updates to offer the SP1 install and apply it.  Part of that was due to a pre-update update that checked for necessary conditions prior to allowing SP1 on the system.  Seemed like a good idea.  As our Gateway laptop didn’t come with a traditional/pure Vista setup DVD, rather a OEM “restore” disk/partition, I didn’t have any source material to use for a Vista slipstream attempt anyway. With only one Vista system, I didn’t really care, to be honest.

Now Vista SP2 is on the way and thanks to the D-Man, I have a full and legit Vista SP1 setup DVD to use for testing and PE 2.0 building.

Suddenly I found myself waking up to a possible need for a Vista slipstreamed disk and as all the above links point out, a beta version was out ripe for testing.

Only a comment by joshf in the Techblog post left me suddenly wondering what crazy world I was waking up to!

They didn't include a slipstream feature in SP1 and said they'd do it in the next service pack, has anyone heard anything about it?

But if it is anything like Office 2007's so-called "slipstream" then I don't want it (placing the service pack setup in some "update" folder and AFTER the OS is installed spend another hour or so waiting for the service pack to install).

Turns out I had missed a lot of key developments in Windows slipstreaming devolution while I was asleep.

joshf had just delivered my wakeup call.

Vista Slipstreaming Primer

As stated, while I am getting very advanced with PE 2.0 WIM building and manipulations, I’m still taking in the background for Vista slipstreaming.  I have no doubt if I inadvertently make any mis-statements, I will quickly be corrected in the comments!  Please help educate me!

Vista setup is build on many processes wrapped in a WIM (Windows IMaging file). WIM files are wicked cool for image deployments, especially in that they can be “off-line” mounted and updated, include multiply “stacked” image versions in a single WIM, as well as have drivers and hot-fix updates (in some circumstances) injected into them.  Oh the tricks that one can do!  But that is for prior reading and future posts….

In a post earlier this year, Paul Thurrott outlines some key information that is a wakeup call for some of us XP slipstreaming pros: Microsoft speaks on slipstreaming Windows Vista with SP1 - SuperSite Blog

Way back when, one of the touted benefits of Windows Vista was that then-future updates, including service packs and hot-fixes, could be very easily "slipstreamed," or integrated, into the Vista install image, create an always up-to-date install image that would be used going forward. How easy was it supposed to be? Microsoft placed a convenient UPDATE folder right in the root of the Vista install image and claimed that any fixes you wanted to integrate simply needed to be copied into that folder. Voila! An integrated, slipstreamed Vista install image.

…however, this technical nirvana remains but a dream. Because of "some unexpected issues with the servicing stack," as Microsoft put it, this drag-and-drop form of slipstreaming never happened for SP1. I was told at the time that Microsoft was hoping to make it available for SP2, but no promises. (emphasis mine)

But what about SP1? During the same meeting that led to Inside Windows Vista Service Pack 1, Microsoft told me that customers interested in slipstreaming SP1 with Vista could still use the old -integrate method of slipstreaming (which I document in my XP SP2 slipstreaming guide). Fair enough: This process is well known and has had years of success. But then, that's true of the pre-WIM world. Vista, you see, uses a different servicing model than XP and previous NT-based versions of Windows. So things are a bit more complicated.

Make note of that part I’ve emphasized.

Now let’s go directly to the heart of the problem why slipstreaming of Vista RTM to Vista SP1 isn’t “officially” possible.

Full of I.T. : I can’t do WHAT?! Why can’t I create my own slipstreamed installation of Windows Vista SP1? – Kevin Remde’s IT Pro Weblog.

This seems to be THE definitive source pointed to across the Net on why one just can’t do it like XP/Windows 2000 builds. What Kevin says in that post is this:

Okay.  So here's the deal**.  And those of you who have experienced the SP1 installation have experienced this as well.   When you do the SP1 installation, even if it's from Windows Update (when available), you're going to see your machine shutdown and restart on it's own several times.  That's to be expected.

See, there's this important part of the OS known as the "servicing layer" in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.  This is the part of the OS that allows for easy update installation with minimal disruptions, allows for an update to be applied to an offline captured image that's within a .wim file, among other things.

Well.. let's say that that servicing layer ALSO needed to be updated?  What then?

"Oh.. I get it.  You can't update the thing that makes the updates happen smoothly, because the thing that makes updates go smoothly is itself being updated!"

Bingo.  You got it.  So hopefully the news that you can't just do an offline upgrade to an image .WIM file won't be too tragic.

"So.. what do I do instead?"

You are going to have to install your image to a machine.  Install the Service Pack.  Then re-capture the image.


Not so simple.  There are additional steps that involve some cleanup once you've sysprepped your newly updated SP1 machine.  Detailed steps are available in the new WAIK documentation.

Make sense?


However, that seems to apply specifically just to the jump from Vista RTM to Vista SP1 as the key issue here was the critical update to the Windows Updater’s Servicing layer.

So the official method for “slipstreaming” was to (basically) install the base Vista setup to a system, update it with the new SP1, Sysprep it with the updated Sysprepper, and recapture the WIM. Only see the Vista RTM contains multiple versions and you have to make a fresh capture for each version you want to “slipstream”.  Ugly and a whole lot more work that XP/2000 setup media slipstreaming.

Leave it to the Younglings: Slipstreaming Vista RTM and SP1

Of course, just because Microsoft said something wasn’t supported, or the “official” way was the only way, didn’t mean gifted enthusiasts listened.  Nope.

They seem to have hammered out two basic alternatives.

The first and semi-official means is to “reverse integrate” by installing the Vista image to a host-system, install the Vista SP, then recapture.

This then led to a remarkable number of attempts to refine the process quite a lot more. Leading at the culmination to a editor’s nightmare of a post (although it remains a fascinating read).

You just have to love and feel for poor Arneh who stuck with it until the 12th update!

Rise of the Jedi: Third-party Vista SP1 slipstreaming tools

During this stage, Slipstreaming Jedi masters finally merged with the Vista force and developed two competing unofficial and unsupported Vista slipstreaming tools.

The first method is based on a German Vista Update Integrator .NET tool crafted by AlbertS2.

Looks awesome wicked-cool and brings out the German pride in me.

However, let’s not say everyone else is sleeping.

This long in development and refinement utility is very, very polished and, in fact, does support the ability to Slipstream Vista Service Pack.  Although it doesn’t specifically (yet) address how SP2 will be handled. I’m sure the gang is hard at work on it as we wait.

For a great and clear guide on how to use it, I found two almost identical guides on the net.  I would say one was ripped from the other.  Looking at dates in the comments and posting dates, I have ordered them in what I think is the original and ripped attribution.  I could be wrong and will be happy to correct any attribution errors.

The first one is complete, though the numbering is off with a “missing” digit. Seems that the author forgot to catch he should have used a “3” instead of “4”.  The second one corrects that mistake but is posted many months later than the first comment date from the first post by Amit Agarwal.

You be the judge.

I also recommend dropping by the vLite forum and in particular the following thread

[Tutorial] Build Windows Vista SP1 x86 DVD using vLite

Alright. Now on to Vista SP2 matters.

A New Hope: Vista SP2?

Are we now on the verge of finally realizing “true” slipstreaming under Vista SP2 release?

All the old signs say: Maybe.

In his Inside Windows Vista Service Pack 1 post, Paul Thurrott had posted direct word from Microsoft that “off-line updating” while stripped from SP1 would return to Vista, possibly in SP2.

Deploying Windows Vista SP1

Since we're on the topic of confusing issues surrounding Windows Vista Service Pack 1, this might be a good time to address another bit of confusion surrounding this release. Way back in May 2003, I wrote up a Vista Setup and Deployment showcase that was based on a Microsoft presentation at WinHEC 2003 described Microsoft's plans for Vista deployment. The biggest advance, of course, was Vista's componentized architecture, which provides the foundation for a number of capabilities. One of these was what Microsoft calls offline updating, which is the ability to slipstream service packs and other hot-fixes into a Windows install image. Businesses use these images to blast new Windows installed down to network-attached PCs. And enthusiasts use them to create new versions of the Windows Setup CD/DVD, so they can perform clean installs with the latest bits pre-configured. This process, called slipstreaming, is horribly difficult under Windows XP. (See my XP SP2 slipstreaming guide for details.) But Microsoft promised to make slipstreaming almost laughably simple in Vista: I was told that users would be able to copy service packs and other hot-fixes into an UPDATE folder in the root of a Vista DVD or install image and just install the system, and all those updates would be automatically applied. It sounded fantastic, as it would to anyone whose suffered through the XP slipstreaming process countless times, and I was looking forward to testing this with Vista SP1.

Something funny happened on the way to SP1, however. First, Microsoft was curiously silent in public about this update between the end of 2006 and the middle of 2007, no doubt in part to convince its enterprise customers not to wait on the release before upgrading. And when Microsoft finally did break its silence at the end of summer 2007, it released a whitepaper describing the various ways in which users and admins could deploy SP1. And the only slipstreaming option that was mentioned was one in which Microsoft slipstreamed it for you and then supplied you with a new install DVD. Huh?

The fear, of course, was that Microsoft had given up on the drag and drop slipstreaming method, thereby erasing one of the key benefits of the new system. And this fear was only exacerbated by Microsoft continued silence on the topic.

So it with a sense of relief that I can now report that drag and drop slipstreaming--excuse me, offline updating--is still happening. It's just not happening in Vista SP1. "Vista Service Pack 1 will not be able to be applied as an offline update to prestaged install images," Zipkin told me. "But this will work as planned with future update, post-SP1 updates. We ran into some unexpected issues with the servicing stack, so we can't do it for SP1. But we're planning to add this capability for SP2, though we can't make any promises. This will be a bigger issue around SP2 than it is now. We think this is a one time thing. But you can still make your own slipstream DVD using the old '-integrate' method as with XP if you want to."

And in the release notes FAQ for Vista SP2 I found a curious tease regarding possible Vista "slipstreaming/integration" of service packs.

Frequently Asked Questions: Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 Beta and Windows Vista Service Pack 2 Beta Updated: December 2, 2008

"What is a standalone vs. an integrated SP2 DVD?

An integrated installation (also known as "slipstream installation") means that the service pack is integrated into the operating system, and therefore the operating system and service pack are installed simultaneously. You can use the integrated installation to upgrade computers running Windows XP and to perform clean installations on computers that do not have an operating system. A standalone SP2 DVD, also known as a 'Patch DVD', you use the stand-alone pack to upgrade computers that already are running the Windows Vista operating system with Service Pack 1 level installation. The download size of the stand-alone package is larger than the package applied with Windows Update. This method is recommended for: 1) Applying Windows Vista SP2 to computers without (or with limited) Internet connectivity 2) Applying the service pack to more than one computer using deployment tools such as Systems Management Server 2003 (SMS) or System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (SCCM).

Will Microsoft provide an integrated Vista SP2 DVD?

The ability to create an integrated DVD is available for customers, and Microsoft is still determining the demand to provide an integrated DVD. For more information

For more information, what? That second answer just ends hanging.  Where do I go for more information?  What is the information?  Does it relate to “the ability to create an integrated DVD” by all customers or the less enticing “to provide an integrated DVD” clause?

Has the UPDATE folder on the Vista root finally been armed to accept SP2 and higher for integration?  (I am assuming logically that due the issues related to Vista RTM and SP1 that IF so, it would only work with original Vista SP1 RTM disks as they would have thus bypassed the original “updating the updater service” barrier that caused the problems in the first place.

Fact is, I just don’t know!

What does that cryptic dangling statement really mean?

What is this ability and do I have to come from Krypton to have it?

I’ve spent a lot of time searching and trying to follow up on those statements by Paul Thurrott and Windows Client product manager Dave Zipkin about still making “…your own slipstream DVD using the old '-integrate' method as with XP if you want to."

But darned if I can find any hard (TechNet quality) information on how or where this is possible with Vista.

And none of the official Vista SP2 beta feature details make mention of the re-addition of Vista slipstreaming.

Plea for Clarification from the Pros

If any of my various technical Windows readers or enthusiasts have a way to clarify if "true" slipstreaming/integration is now possible and back in under Vista SP2 I would really appreciate you sharing details in the post comments.

I’d also be grateful for tips/leads on those just do your Vista slipstreaming the old way like XP with the “-integrate” method if they exist.

If not, what exactly is Microsoft talking about? Is it back to the old base "install Vista, update, recapture WIM" method?

If so, that's still not the holy-grail of "true and off-line" slipstreaming as I would see it (like in XP/2000), but plain-Jane OS deployment and image recapture.

Just wondering and wishing….and waiting to see if this feature will be delivered in Vista SP2

--Claus V.


PE 2.0 and WAIK Post Script:

While doing the research on this post, I came across periodic mention in a few forums of a WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit) command-line tool I hadn’t heard about: PostReflect.exe along with the VSP1CLN.exe file.

PostReflect Command-Line Options - TechNet

The boot critical driver projection tool, PostReflect.exe, is used to reflect all boot critical device drivers out of the driver store in an offline image.

Driver reflection is the process of installing a driver on a computer that might or might not have a device for that driver. Typically, this involves copying the driver files to the destination location so that the driver can be loaded by the operating system during the boot process. If all of the boot critical drivers are reflected in the image, it can be deployed to various hardware configurations.

After Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) is applied online, this tool must be run on the offline Windows image because SP1 contains boot critical drivers for the hardware abstraction layer (HAL) and matching changes to the kernel. If the changed versions of boot-critical drivers for the HAL and the kernel are not correctly installed on the computer that you are deploying to, the operating system will not boot, nor will the image boot on any computer that has a different CPU or hardware configuration.

Also related a kindred soul’s post:

VSP1CLN Command-Line Options – TechNet

The Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) Files Removal Tool (VSP1CLN.exe) can be used to remove the files that are archived after Windows Vista SP1 is applied. Running this tool is optional.

Installing Windows Vista SP1 increases the amount of disk space that is used by the operating system. This space is used to archive files so that SP1 can be uninstalled. Typically, you should run VSP1CLN.exe if you want to reclaim this disk space after applying SP1 and if you will not need to uninstall SP1.

This tool works in conjunction with SP1 only and can be used online or offline.

Don’t know if these will be helpful to anyone else, but I’m making note of them here for my own personal study and application down the road.

That is all.


Anonymous said...

Is this recent post the final answer to slipstreaming? Although Paul refers to the same release notes, he does imply "YES, old XP style slipstreaming IS supported starting with SP2." Why is the world not waking up to this "new" feature being enabled by SP2?

Claus said...

@ Anonymous - Thanks for the link and information!

Can you slipstream SP2 into Windows Vista/Server 2008?

I haven't seen any news on Vista slipstreaming so this is a real treat. It is still a bit thin on details and I'm not exactly clear how this is being pulled off. Are the update installers getting copied into the WIM's "UPDATES" folder or injected in some other fashion?

Looks like I have another homework assignment to get cracking on!

Thanks for the lead!

--Claus V.

Anonymous said...

I have slipstreamed vista sp1 many times with vLite, too bad you have to apply and then loose the many versions of windows on the same DVD, have to decide on Ultimate or any other only version

Anonymous said...

Hey, following up to first comment I made earlier, I contact Microsoft for an official answer. What MS is referring to for SP2 slipstreaming is installing it once and then capturing the image. I dunno if this method was supported for SP1. Was it? Otherwise, if it's a new method we can rejoice with SP2, Vista (and Windows 7) service packs are slipstreamable (though not by the excellent "/integrate" method.