Pre-configuring Office 2003 using the Custom Installation Wizard

tigermattStaff Platform Engineer
Very often, on Experts Exchange, a question is posted asking:
Can I have a new user login to a workstation on my network, and have Outlook automatically configure itself, and connect to my Exchange Server, without any administrative intervention?
The fact is that this facility has been available to users of Microsoft Office 2003 for some time, using a little known application - the Office 2003 Resource Kit. In fact, in addition to Outlook, the resource kit can be used to customise almost any aspect of a Microsoft Office installation, including Word, Excel and other bundled applications.

1. Download the appropriate tools

In Office 2003, the toolkit you are looking for is the Microsoft Office 2003 Resource Kit (often referred to as ORK 2003), which you will first need to obtain from the Microsoft Download Center:

2. Installing and using the Resource Kit

After having downloaded the Resource Kit from the Microsoft website, it must be installed. Follow the typical setup procedure. Once complete, the resource kit will create a menu in the Start Menu, Programs, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office Tools, Microsoft Office 2003 Resource Kit.

3. Beginning to customise your Installation

In order for you to begin customising your installation, we need to open the 'Custom Installation Wizard' from the Microsoft Office 2003 Resource Kit program folder. Once the program loads, you will be greeted with its welcome screen.

4. Office Resource Files

In order for you to have the ability to modify your Office Installation, it is recommended that you copy your entire Microsoft Office 2003 CD-Rom to your computer hard disk, or a location on your network. Ruahine's Ycopy tool is a tool which I often use for completing this, since it will copy the hidden program files constituting the majority of an Office 2003 installation CD, which Windows' copy procedure often fails to copy. Ycopy can be downloaded from

5. Selecting your Office Installation

To enable the utility to determine the version of Microsoft® Office® 2003 you have copied from CD-Rom, and the applications it includes, it is necessary for you to locate the MSI file for your Office Installation. This can be found in the root directory which was created on your Hard Disk in Step 4, above. The file is usually named the same as the version of Microsoft Office 2003 you have copied; for example, a Professional Plus edition may have an MSI filename of 'ProPlus', whereas a standalone Outlook MSI is called OUTLS11.MSI. As a general rule of thumb, if you have multiple MSI files, do not choose any beginning with 'OWC'.

6. Specifying the Transform File

When customising your Microsoft Office 2003 installation, Windows Installer refers to a Transform file, a file with an MST file extension. This file contains the instructions which Windows Installer uses when Office is installed to modify the vanilla installation of your version of Microsoft Office 2003. In Step 3 of the Custom Installation Wizard, you are prompted to Create or Open an Existing MST file. At this stage, you should choose the option to 'Create a new MST file'. However, if you were re-running the wizard to change a setting after you have already completed it once before, you would choose the second option, specifying the path to the existing MST file in the box provided.

7. Creating the new Transform File

The next step prompts you for a location to save the new transform (MST) file to. I suggest you save the file in the same root directory as where the Office 2003 CD-Rom was copied to, named appropriately. If, in step 6, you chose the option to modify an existing MST file, set the path to match the existing MST file's path, thus overwriting the existing file.

8. Performing the Customisation

The next steps of the wizard enable you to actually begin Customising your Microsoft Office 2003 installation. Parameters from your Organization Name, the Installation Path, What to Install and How to Upgrade a previous install are available. In Step 7, I would particularly draw your attention to the 'Not Available, Hidden, Locked' setting for the default installation state of Office components. If you will be allowing users to proceed with the installation as usual, but pre-configuring many of the settings, then you may make use of this feature to prevent installation of some components, such as the pesky Office Assistant.

9. Product Key

In the following step, you can enter your Product Key and accept the Terms of the Licensing Agreement. If you are intending to deploy Office to your network using a quiet or unattended install, such as through Group Policy, it is recommended you fill in this information at this stage. If you do not have a Volume Licensing Key, you should not fill in this information at this stage. It will need to be done on a per-installation basis.

10. Policies

Step 10 enables you to control almost every feature of every Microsoft Office 2003 application. Unfortunately, the wizard displays the entire suite of applications, so you must remember you should only set policies for the applications contained in your installation. The generic Microsoft Office 2003 (machine) and Microsoft Office 2003 (user) contains apply to all installations.

11. Outlook Configuration

Later in the wizard, after some pages which enable you to change the location where Office shortcuts are created and add files to your installation, you are prompted with how you wish to customise the Outlook Profile, which is loaded when users start Outlook for the first time. If you do not use Roaming Profiles, the ability for you to do this is a must, since every time the user goes to a new computer, their Outlook profile will need to be re-configured. I recommend you choose the option to create a New Profile, and specify a name for the new profile as appropriate.

12. Exchange Connection

To enable a connection to your Exchange Server, choose the option 'Configure an Exchange Server connection' and enter the full internal DNS name of your Exchange Server. If you have more than one server, do not worry; simply enter the name of one of the servers. When Outlook first runs, it will connect to this single server, and if the user's mailbox is hosted elsewhere, it will automatically re-configure itself to connect to that server instead.

Since the User Name is not known at this stage, the %username% variable is used, which indicates this information is filled in automaticaly when a user launches Outlook. By pressing the 'More Settings' button, you can configure the path to the OST file (used by Cached Exchange Mode) and also enable the RPC over HTTPS feature.

13. Additional Accounts

Finally, you have the ability to specify additional accounts, such as a global POP3 or IMAP account, for example, which should be added to the profile. I have not personally had very much luck with utilising this feature without having an Exchange Server configured in the previous step. However, I would recommend that you choose to Customise this option, and add an 'Outlook Address Book' account, which solves several issues with name lookups in the user's Contacts list later on.

14. Finish

Click through the final few pages of Advanced Settings. You can change these if you need to for your environment, and some may be useful if you will be using this Custom Installation to upgrade from a previous version. On completing the wizard, you will be given a path. This path can be copied and set as the target for a new Shortcut object, enabling on-demand installations using the Custom Installation by simply double-pressing on the shortcut. Notice the shortcut specifies the TRANSFORMS="..." switch; without this switch, a standard, non-customised installation would be installed instead.

This completes the procedure for pre-configuring a Microsoft Office 2003 Installation. The Windows Installer transform file generated can be used in a shortcut as indicated in Step 14, to enable you to install the software on-demand, or, alternatively, you can push the Office Installation by Group Policy, where the Advanced options enable you to specify the path to a transform file.
tigermattStaff Platform Engineer

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