This week's column comes to you care of Adam Kuhn, who works for the Edison Electric Institute as a Senior LAN Analyst. I've known Adam for a dozen years, and asked him to write about his latest project. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As an IT manager for a small trade association, I have learned the hard way how to deploy Windows XP in our latest roll-out. The trouble began when we bought 30 IBM Thinkpad X31s. With previous operating systems, I would take the base machine and then build up a "golden" image to deploy to the remaining 29 units.
Windows XP is different. While the sysprep tool Microsoft provides will work with a factory or OEM build of XP, once deployed you still have the 30 day activation scheme to complete. Quite simply, this is unacceptable for me, since the last thing an IT department would want would be for its end users to activate WinXP on each machine. How do you get around this? Microsoft Volume Licensing. By using special Microsoft Media requiring a Microsoft Key for installation, you can sysprep an XP computer and blast the image to the other 29 (or 290 or 2900) machines. However, you must use the Microsoft Branded Volume License Media, not the OEM build. That means installing XP from scratch on each laptop.
A scratch build of XP isn't too bad with a desktop, but an IBM Thinkpad has dozens of drivers that need to be installed after the fact. IBM really shines here. They have a "Thinkpad Software Installer" that in one fell swoop installs about 90 % of the drivers all with only one reboot. The hard part is getting that remaining 10%. It was even harder because IBM Thinkpad Support in Atlanta was giving me the "we only support factory builds" nonsense. One woman hung up on me when I mentioned installing XP fro scratch. Another person gave me the phone number of IBM Canada Direct Sales to make me go away. But the good part is, the sales rep I spoke to in Canada said he know someone who could help me. He called me back in a couple of hours with the other fellow on the line. Turns out he used to work in Thinkpad support and know EXACTLY what I was trying to do and which drivers were the hard ones to find. He knew this only because he had done it himself.
Later on, a conscientious tech support person from Atlanta did call me back to say they were at a dead-end and couldn't figure out the problem. I was able to show him how to resolve the issue based on what I had learned from IBM Canada. IBM Canada, meet IBM Atlanta. IBM Atlanta, meet IBM Canada. You guys need to talk!
Bottom line is: PC manufacturers are going to need to educate their staff about OEM versus MS Volume Licensing - and they'll need to support their customers too. What are they going to do, hang up on someone who just bought 500 machines? Sorry, we don't deal with rollouts? Microsoft could do a little better on this as well. They do have this stuff buried in their knowledgebase, but it's a hard to find. (I have links for you at the end of this essay.)
The moral of my story is that we wouldn't have to do this if it weren't for product activation. This is why corporations are still rolling out W2K rather than XP, for the mere fact that they haven't figured all this out. I don't blame Microsoft for product activation. Microsoft and the PC manufacturers need to coordinate on product activation and stop pretending that corporate rollouts of multiple PC's are some foreign unsupportable way to run Windows XP.
In large companies, they probably have experts who focus solely on this issue. But in a company of 100-300 people, I wonder how good an IT department can be at this, because there are so many other responsibilities.
Here are some links on the issue of WinXP deployment.
Thinkpad Software Device Driver Lists from IBM support:
How to Use Sysprep with Windows Product Activation or Volume License Media to Deploy Windows XP
Support WebCast: Microsoft Windows XP: Deployment Methods
Volume License Product Keys: All Other Volume License Programs
How to Acquire Microsoft Product Licenses Through Microsoft's Volume Licensing Programs
Here is a set of PowerPoint slides from Microsoft on how to deploy WinXP:
Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.
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