back to article The art of desktop deployment

Each week brings a new topic to discuss here on the Reg Desktop Management Blog, and this week's is Windows Deployment Services (WDS) vs Ghost-Like Applications (GLAs). Now, unless you already have a fairly good idea what ghost is, that topic would probably be fairly meaningless to you. The topics I discuss in my blog posts are …


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  1. Anton Ivanov

    Imaging does not excercise hardware

    Imaging does not exercise hardware, scripted install does. Kit still comes out of factory with duff memory, duff disks or simply flaky connections. An image load does not load the the system sufficiently to trigger faults from a lot of these. Scripted install does.

    1. Jaruzel


      Scripted Install takes way longer than dumping an image on. To be honest I would argue that a scripted install loads the system any more than imaging does - all a scripted install is, is a bunch of copy commands and bit of hardware interrogation.

      Hardware failure is such a minor risk on proper OEM equipment, that the speed options of imaging totally out weigh the safety of a scripted install. Lest not forget also, that WDS and SCCM also support a hybrid of both approaches where a base 'image' is dumped onto the hardware and then a set of scripted tasks tailor the install to completion.

      Even Microsoft have left the scripted install behind, with post-Vista OS's all using an image dump from deployment media onto hard disk as the first phase of the OS install.

    2. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

      @Anton Ivanov

      Look into a LiveCD called "Inquisitor."

      This is was we use to "excercise our hardware." ;)

  2. Inachu

    As nice as ghosting is.....

    The ghost builder will always have to make a fresh copy every few months or so or the IT tech involved in the deployment will have to sit around and confirm all windows updates are installed as end users rarely ever execute the installs themselves and can take an eternity to download and install when they should be doing their job instead.

    Perhaps if Microsoft will one day make updates obsolete.

    1. WebbA


      Regarding updates isnt that WSUS's main purpose?

      We just schedule our machines to download updates at 5pm on a wednesday from WSUS server, then wake up 12midnight, install updates then shutdown

    2. Rob Moir
      Thumb Down


      "The ghost builder will always have to make a fresh copy every few months or so or the IT tech involved in the deployment will have to sit around and confirm all windows updates are installed as end users rarely ever execute the installs themselves and can take an eternity to download and install when they should be doing their job instead."

      If only Microsoft had some kind of free tool to handle this, or 3rd parties sold very sophisticated tools that also handled it...

      "Perhaps if Microsoft will one day make updates obsolete."

      So are you saying you would prefer to buy an operating system and not see any improvements for it, of any kind at all, until you buy a new operating system. Sorry but that seems like a bad idea to me.

    3. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge


      Both WDS and Ghost, (and probably a few others) can be set to trigger updates after imaging.

      Also, it should be noted that both WDS and Ghost offer the ability to slipstream patches into an existing image without firing that image up.

      Worth looking into.

  3. danj2k

    XP on different hardware

    Actually there is a way to make it so an XP installation can be ghosted onto any hardware. All you need to do is before you image the PC, change all the IDE controllers (including any IDE-emulation SATA controllers) to Standard Dual PCI IDE Controller in Device Manager, and the resulting image can be put on any x86 hardware you like.

  4. Lusty

    Massive or not?

    you used the word massive yet dismissed SCCM. Which is it? if you actually have a massive roll out to perform then you are likely already paying for SCCM CALs in your EA anyway and therefore it's just the server cost which is under £1000. Unless you're very cheap this is likely lower than the cost of you scripting things and will give you a more manageable solution which will be usable for the next deployment too.

    1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge


      SCCM is one of the few enterprise-class Desktop Management tools I have actually had a chance to play with on any real scale. Let me be clear: it is FANTASTIC. It has some limitations in dealing with Linux that make it a little unfit for my purposes, but eve if it weren' would be out of my price range. As with everything Microsoft, it isn't the cost of the server software, but the cost of the CALs that kills you. (They are called MLs for SCCM.)

      Client MLs are $40 with Server MLs reaching $430. I'll be honest with you: I can't afford that. I work for an SME; we have an annual budget of $100,000 that has to buy all our hardware, software, networking, internet connectivity (we use fibre,) and upgrade/maintain our datacenters.

      For those that can afford is, SCCM is worth looking into. As are the enterprise imaging and desktop management applications such as KACE or Altris.

  5. Danny 14


    I am about to start using SCCM. Previously I used PING (and clonezilla) then had a monster GPO group that installed everything. However, since im moving to W7 on our desktops ive now subscribed to M$ schools desktop agreement (instead of just the CALS I used previously - all the machines had XP on them to begin with).

    A byproduct of this is SCCM CAL, with the server licence costing me a whopping £46. That should help me roll out W7 to everyone too. Nice.

  6. WebbA

    Ghosting and WDS

    We had a similar issue as we are upgrading a 500machine network to Windows 7 from XP this summer. We have 4 or 5 main machine types.

    We have always used ghost with sysprep to sort out the drivers.

    We are still going to use ghost this summer for main machines as to be honest its far quicker. (Only issue we had is that you cant let windows 7 create its mini boot share as our ghost cant deal with it) but otherwise works fine.

    We are using WDS for staff laptops. We created a virtual machine (Windows Hyper V Image) with all required software on, used ImageX to convert it to a WIM image, ready for sending down from WDS. (Ran sysprep etc obviously) works quite canny but not to a scale where we would have the time to use it on 500 machines in 2 weeks!)

  7. andy gibson

    I use WDS

    to deploy images here. It works and was free with Windows Server so that's good enough for me.

  8. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Cave-penguins use dd

    info "(coreutils)dd invocation"

    You can find the name of the drive you are about to overwrite with:

    cat /proc/partitions

    BTW: With a drive image, I can be sure that all my test and diagnostic software is correctly installed and availabe to debug a broken computer. With a scripted install, I would have no confidence what the script said was going on if I lack confidence in the hardware.

  9. b166er


    Mark Russinovich (SysInternals) withdrew NewSID last year after he researched the necessity and found it to be a myth:

    Thanks for the introduction to PING.

  10. Chris Dixon
    Thumb Up


    I'll look forward to the next article.

    I've been using PING for the last 6 months to image and restore our office PCs and have not as yet encountered any problems. Definitely a capable option and worthy of mentioning, well done.

    With Open Source this good I'll be interested to see what the paid for competition have to offer to best it!

  11. DMJ


    "software is the canonical Syamtec Ghost"

  12. justkyle

    is this really The Register?

    Nobody can post saying, where is the IT angle!

    No Paris Hilton references.

    No Lego/Playmobil reenactment requests.

    But seriously, as a professional in the business, I do look forward to your article and your findings.

    And, I plan on sending the link to my boss.

  13. jake Silver badge

    Windows confuses people ...

    "In the bad old days, if you had two computers that were hardware-identical in every way, you could image a bit-for-bit copy of one computer’s hard drive onto the other."

    This is "bad", why, exactly? Old school, yes, but "bad"? And no, the "receiving" computer didn't have to be identical to the "sending" computer. The image could even be made between big-endian & little-endian machines.

    "Think of it as copying and pasting an entire operating system; applications, configurations and all."

    Uh ... No. Think of it as complete system backup.

    "The catch was that the hard drives had to be identical, because it was quite literally a bit-for-bit transfer."

    Not quite. My near quarter of a century old Sun 3/470's CDC WREN IV hard drives are mirrored on more modern SATA drives ... and the 3/470 is perfectly happy booting from them, across the network. Likewise, my Bridgeport mill can boot DOS 3.3[1] from paper tape ... Wait, you're not thinking that the desktop box is called "a hard drive", are you?

    [1] It calls itself MS-DOS 3.26b, but near as I can tell it's MS-DOS 3.3 ...

    1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge


      Honestly, the first versions of Ghost, (or at least it's predecessors,) would not image a system unless it was between disks with an identical amount of free space. (Down to the bit.) There may have been some Unix apps of the era that allowed it to be done differently, I am not sure. I'll admit to you; in the late 80s, I was not yet 10 years old, and my computer knowledge was restricted to Trash-80s, C64s, DOS systems and an Apple Mac. The only ones I had even taken apart and upgraded by that point were the DOS systems, and my very first multi-node LAN was at home using Windows 95. (My second was a large number of Apples I took care of at School.)

      If the imaging solutions of the late 80s and early 90s actually allowed for more than bit-for-bit copies then it certainly wasn't so for any of the PC or Mac solutions I encountered. It wasn't until that late 90s that I started to be able to image from one partition to another of a different size.

      I respect your Unix knowledge sir; your comments on El Reg say you probably have quite a bit of it, but dealing with early versions of Ghost (and it’s confederates) was just ****ing awful.

      Thus…”bad old days.”

      Also, on a completely separate note...why always the contrarian sir? Is there no room for artistic license or folks who think on things a little different than yourself? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good debate, and any and all comments are good things…but in these El Reg comments sections you and I seem to very frequently find ourselves at odds. It’s unfortunate.

      1. jake Silver badge

        I ain't your enemy, Trevor :-)

        First, in my mind Ghost & the like are blips in the rear-view ...

        "Also, on a completely separate note...why always the contrarian sir?"

        It's my nature ... Instead of contrarian, think Devil's Advocate. I'm trying to make people think ... Maybe I'm tilting at windmills, but I'm cool with that ;-)

        For the record, my name is jake, not sir.

        "Is there no room for artistic license or folks who think on things a little different than yourself?"

        It would seem I'm the one who is not exactly "mainstream", no?

        Seriously, a little background on me ... I was in the second year of my first engineering degree when ken got to Berkeley. I was hired by DEC, right after I got my Masters from Stanford. I was at Bigger Blue (on Fabian Avenue, in Palo Alto) when they got 6 original IBM PCs, three of which booted into PC-DOS 0.96 Beta (two of the other three ran the UCSD P-System, the last CP/M ... Most of them mostly ran the internal BASIC, day-to-day). I grew up with Microsoft, UNIX[tm], DEC, and the late-comer Novell ... and the later-comers Sun & cisco (and all the wild & varied hardware they ran on).

        Over the years, I've been certified by most industry groups, including Microsoft (I was a MCSE and a member of the MSDN from their inception, both are probably lapsed, I can't be arsed to look). About 18 months ago, I dropped all interest in supporting Microsoft products. Vista was just too big and bloated, and I couldn't stomach it anymore. As of the first of January, this year, I no longer take on any MS contracts.

        People tell me I'm nuts, turning down MS-generated dollars, given my background. I'm fine with that ... and point out that the number of support calls that I get from my techno-phobic mid-70s Mom & computer illiterate mid-90s Great Aunt have become virtually nonexistent since I switched them to custom versions of Slackware.

        It ain't the toolbox, it's the mechanic ... but you can't work on a metric car with a bunch of cheap, rusty, bent imperial tools. MS tools are bent, cheap & rusty, and trying to become Imperial. IMO.

        1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge


          Each person has their own take. I would have agreed with your view ten years ago...but MS has really come along way. I'll be upfront about it and say that this is likely in spite of Ballmer, rather than because of him...but they have made a lot of progress.

          Windows 7 is a heck of a thing. It may be "years behind unix" in some ways...but it is decades ahead of it in others. Your experience, values and philosophies have lead you to dislike (and it seems distrust) Microsoft. I can respect that, even if I may never fully understand your reasoning.

          For my case, MS is rapidly becoming one of the few companies I do actually trust. They are a vicious life sucking leech, but they are a predictable vicious life sucking leech. They are quite literally the devil I know, whereas their main competition, (Apple, Google and Oracle) are erratic and unpredictable.

          I can’t tell you what Jobs is going to do next; and with Apple Jobs is the only one that matters. Ellison operates a company I’ve never had to think about much in my career, and so I am only now beginning to read up on him, and take real note of his actions. From what I have read, I trust him less than I trust him far less than I trust Ballmer, but it won’t be a problem because I will never be able to afford anything Oracle makes. Google is just downright creepy. The more they put out this fake “friend of the common man” image, the less I believe them. They are trying to hard. Worse, the behind-the-scenes information, when it periodically leaks out, reveals a corporation at least as soulless as Microsoft, but convinced of their own ethical purity. What scares me even more is the power base they are amassing; even if the folks in charge now aren’t the be-all and end-all of evil…Google is a publicly traded company. Their replacements will be, and they’ll have control of all that Google has amassed in the interim.

          What does that leave? The open source community? From my perspective, the open source community is laced with neuroses. To call it schizophrenic is to not even begin to diagnose it. I wrote Novell off ages ago, though I am starting to think that was short-sighted and premature. I can deal with Red Hat…I like a stable platform that changes slowly, in a careful and considered fashion with an eye towards functionality rather than “purity.”

          Debian, Slackware...this is getting into the realm where the populace starts seeming to me more religious about technology rather than folks who just want to implement it and have it work. There’s a need for these folk and their product...just not where I work. I’ll be honest: I don’t have the time and the resources to futz about with anything. Whatever I use has got to work out of the box, with minimal hassle and be easy to maintain. I don’t have the time to become an expert on literally everything technological, as much I would love to. To use the more “pure” Linux distributions as anything other than glorified web/thin clients, lots and lots of expertise is exactly what is required.

          So this leaves me with what I run: Microsoft and Red Hat. Microsoft because, while they are evil bastards…they are TAME evil bastards. They are so utterly predictable that their competition has spent the past ten years dancing on their faces with faceted cleats. Some of their software, once the blinders are off, is actually pretty good. Other software…not so much. Where the holes exist in Microsoft’s portfolio, I fill it in with Red Hat, and the combination has worked really well for me.

          I guess we are simply doomed to forever have different criteria for choosing our applications, and our application vendors.

          For future reference however, titles like “Windows confuses people” does come off as a bit aggressive. Given your utterly enormous posting history here at El Reg, I would be remarkably reluctant to dismiss you simply as “another blind, prejudiced, evangelical open sourcer with whom no rational discussion can possibly be had.” Ever now and again however, a title like that is posted…


          It’s 4am. Less rambling, more sleep.

    2. Peter W.

      RE: Windows confuses people ...


      In regards to "Not quite. My near quarter of a century old Sun 3/470's CDC WREN IV hard drives are mirrored on more modern SATA drives ... and the 3/470 is perfectly happy booting from them, across the network. Likewise, my Bridgeport mill can boot DOS 3.3[1] from paper tape ... Wait, you're not thinking that the desktop box is called "a hard drive", are you?":

      I believe the point was that with older imaging utilities the disk had to match in terms of CHS layout and be the same capacity in order for the disk to be duplicated. Newer utilities (and LBA) certainly have made a lot of headway in regards to this no longer being required however.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Rebuilding image for patches?

    Meh. WSUS/PatchIT/whatever-you-like does that. Two main reasons to rebuild images:

    +Service Pack comes out - happens rarely, and will save some time for patches. Worth the hassle.

    +Your new hardware has some new NIC, and you need to add the drivers

    Also, a tip: if you need drivers for the hardware in a nice, WDS-usable from without the hassle of searching the web for them, extracting, etc., then get one of the new PCs, boot it from a live CD and look through the hard-drive for a folder with HW drivers (which are there for the use of OEM's OOBE scripts).

    Most OEMs can't really be bothered to create a new factory image for each of their PCs, so you should find drivers for any similar PCs in their range there as well. If you're ordering a lot of new PCs in batches that may be slightly different, it's a great time-saver.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm surprised that this article didn't talk about Imagex as an GLA. It's free (comes with the WAIK), and if you're OK with using a CLI, it's pretty easy to use.

    I used Ghost quite extensively in the past, and have switched almost exclusively to imagex for doing my imaging now (although, to be fair, I work at an SMB, so the number of managed machines is pretty low).

  16. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

    Followup Articles

    Guys, The Register posted my articles out of order. Here are articles two and three in this set:

    These articles didn't make the front page. (Several haven't, in fact, I've been noticing a lot of articles lately that just don't make the front page.)

    For those interested, here are all the articles by me so far:

  17. jake Silver badge

    Earth to Trevor ...

    "These articles didn't make the front page. (Several haven't, in fact, I've been noticing a lot of articles lately that just don't make the front page.)"

    Welcome to the real world ... Sometimes Page Three is more important than the front page ... ElReg IS a red-top, after all ;-)

    Hang in there ... IMO, you can write. That's half the battle.

    1. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge


      Oh, not just my articles. I'm the new guy and I totally understand my own articles not making front page. The whole "Desktop Blog" thing is new, unproven, and real estate is real estate...even if it's digital. Making the front page even once is still new enough to elicit a “dude…cool!”

      I mentioned it only so that a) folks could find the other two articles in the set, and b) after ten plus years of reading the Reg, I only clued into the fact that not all the articles made the main page about, oh…four months ago? (Don’t I feel dumb!)

      So either it is a new thing, or I have been missing quite a few articles over the years. Figured I’d let folk know, so they don’t miss out.

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    1. jake Silver badge

      ElReg mods allowing advertising?

      Curious ...

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