Windows 8.1 Reference Image Planning Checklist

We recently started evaluating Windows 8.1 at work and, quite frankly, I forgot how much effort went into creating a fully customized reference image.  I did the work several years ago when we migrated to Windows 7 and I can build out that infrastructure in my sleep.  But, it seems that there are even more settings that we’ll need to tweak in Windows 8.1 so that our customers don’t revolt when we start rolling it out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Windows 8.1 hater.  But, we try to strike a balance between what our end users are used to using in their current environment and the new features they’ll be getting when they move to the new OS.  A little up front planning can go a long way toward ensuring a smooth roll-out!

The List

Be warned, this is a work in progress.  I’m not making any claims that it is complete… yet.  I’ll be coming back as I progress through the process and adding links and tutorials for how we did things. 

  • Make sure you’re building from the latest ISO
  • Do you need to support both x86 and x64?
  • Pull inventory of machine models so you can start the process of pulling updated drivers.
  • Does the WSUS (or SCCM) server need to be updated to include Windows 8.1 updates?
  • Update Office 2013 files to latest ISO
  • Update .msp for Office 2013 deployment since we’re updating the install source.
    I had to find out the hard way that the .msp file that is generated by the setup.exe for Office 2013 doesn’t seem to work quite right with the setup.exe for Office 2013 SP1.  I ended up completely regenerating our .msp file just to be on the safe side.
  • Do you need/want to customize the Start Screen?
    • If yes, does it need to be in the Reference Image, OS deployment, or forced with Group Policy?
    • Plan out what will be on the customized Start Screen
  • Customize logon screen wallpaper
  • Customize default user wallpaper
    • Do you want the Start Screen wallpaper to be the same as the Desktop?
  • Add additional custom wallpapers for user to select
  • Change default color scheme to match organization logo colors.
  • Remove inbox Metro/Modern apps that we don’t want users to have
    Ben Hunter has a great script on The Deployment Guys blog that you can use to remove inbox apps.
  • Plan for end user of OneDrive and whether it needs to be blocked.
  • Update file extensions to open specified file types in desktop apps instead of Metro apps.
  • Plan for BitLocker if some or all systems are going to be encrypted.
  • Review/Test Group Policy to determine need for updates to support Windows 8.1.

See something missing?  Let me know in the comments!

Customize Disk Partitions in MDT

For most systems, I typically recommend using the primary disk’s full capacity as one partition, C:\, instead of creating multiple partitions/drive letters for end users. As an IT Pro, it makes it easier for me to find someone’s “stuff” if they store their data in a standard location like their default profile location, C:\Users\%username%\.  If all of your documents, pictures, shortcuts, Favorites, settings, etc. all live in the same place, I don’t have to go hunting for files when it’s time to migrate someone to a new machine.  (Or, better yet, I can automate it!)  For the end user, it’s just easier:  Most people are used to just saving files to the default locations on their home computers.  Any time you can keep the corporate computing experience similar to what people experience at home, it saves you time and money.

However, there are some times when it can be advantageous to create more than one partition when deploying an operating system (OS) to a computer.  I know quite a few people who actually prefer that their end users store their data on D:\ so that it can be fully separated from OS and applications on C:\.  In the event of an OS crash or malware infection that isn’t recoverable, C:\ can be wiped out and all of the user’s data on D:\ is still there.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of that because it tends to miss application settings, the Registry hive, and other important things a user may miss later.  But, to each his own I guess.

I am, however, a fan of separating data from OS and software on servers.  I’m also a fan of keeping my virtual machines totally separate from C:\ also. (Those things have this bad habit of filling up disks, don’t they!?!)

How MDT Partitions Disks

The disk partitioning process is a task that is part of each OS deployment Task Sequence.  By default, MDT creates a C:\ partition using the full first disk and names it OSDisk.  If this default doesn’t work for your environment, it is pretty easy to change.

Change the Default Partition

In the MDT Deployment Workbench, go to Deployment Shares > $YourDeploymentShare > Task Sequences.  Find the Task Sequence you want to edit and right-click on it.  Click on Properties.


In the Task Sequence Properties, go to Preinstall > New Computer only > Format and Partition Disk.

01-custom_disk_partition_mdtIn the Volume section, you should see “OSDisk (Primary).”  Click on OSDisk (Primary) and then click the Edit button.  (The Edit button is the middle button that looks like a hand pointed at a document with a bulleted list.)

02-custom_disk_partition_mdtIn the Partition Properties, you can change the Partition name, the size, file system, etc.

03-custom_disk_partition_mdtFor our example, we’ll change the partition size to “Use specific size” and set it to 80 GB.  Once we’re done, click Ok.

I don’t want to waste the remaining disk space; so, we’ll add a second partition that uses the remaining space.  Back in the “Format and Partition Disk” task, click on the New button.  (The New button is the left-most button that looks like a yellow star.)

04-custom_disk_partition_mdtIn the Partition Properties, fill in the Partition name with “Data Disk,” and select the “Use a percentage of remaining free space.”  Set the Size (%) to 100.  Ensure the File system is set to NTFS and click Ok.

05-custom_disk_partition_mdtWhen you’re done, you should have something that looks like this:

06-custom_disk_partition_mdtIf we perform a test deployment, you should get an 80GB drive and a second with the remaining space.


Customize IT Organization Using Variables in MDT

As I covered previously, you can customize the CustomSettings.ini in the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) to show a custom message like the name of your IT department or company/organization when an OS deployment is running.  You can take this customization a step further by using variables within the MDT environment to customize the message further.

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Change IT Organization to Your Company/Department in MDT

By default, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) shows “IT Organization” while it is running tasks.  The good news is that this setting can be customized.


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Create a [Mostly] Automated Reference Image in MDT – Part 5: Pause/Suspend the Task Sequence

There may be times when you, for one reason or another, have to perform a manual step as part of creating a reference image.  This could be anything from installing a finicky or old piece of software that doesn’t have an unattended installer, making manual changes, or anything else that for whatever reason can’t be automated.  When this happens, you need to temporarily pause or suspend the Task Sequence so that you can perform whatever manual steps are needed.  So, how do you do that?

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