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What should I use to reinstall Windows? Slipstream, Sysprep, Acronis, Paragon?

Here is my most common problem:

Phone: Ring ~ Ring ~ ring

Me: Hello?

Client: Yes, hi, mi name is John Doe and my computer is completely dead can you help me?

Me: Of course!

(2 hours later) ...

Me: I will need to reinstall Windows in your computer are you ok with that?

Client: Yes, go ahead.

Me: Do you have your Windows disk?

Client: My what? I should have it some where, but I don't know where.

Me: Ok, don't worry. I will install windows with my disk and then I will use your license key.

Experts, every week I have to do that. I takes a really long time to install Windows and then I have to reinstall the most common upgrades and software. For example, SP3, Flash player, java, Adobe Reader, iTunes, etc.

So far, this is what I have done: I have created an image from a computer with Windows XP, and another one from a computer using Vista. In my image. I include all the software and upgrades. And then I use Paragon's Adaptive Restore and install that image to any computer. The problem is that I sometimes have a really hard time activating Windows with their Microsoft Windows license key.

I know a lot of you are in the computer repair business. How do you approach this problem? What do you use? How do you use it? Where do I get it? What do you recommend using . . . Slipstream, Sysprep, Acronis, Paragon?

Let's consider that I have to fix computers with Windows XP Media Center Edition, XP Home, XP Professional, Vista Basic, Vista Home Premium, Vista Business, Vista Ultimate, Windows 7, etc. I think you get the idea.
1 Solution
You should have this question added to the "Microsoft OS" and "Windows" zones, because that is where the people check whose advice you are seeking.
CompuHeroAuthor Commented:
I think that any ITPro should be able to comment on this. But I have also requested the moderators attention in order to move this question to the right category if needed. Thanks, for your suggestion torimar.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Here's the answer you don't want...

You are violating licensing doing what you're doing.  Microsoft does not permit imaging customized Windows installs EXCEPT with volume licenses.  It sucks, I don't like it, and I know many other people don't either.  But that's the way it is.  You can slipstream updates and service packs using nlite or vlite and do some customization, but that's it.  

As for media, it's the client's responsibility to provide the media you need to reinstall.  Don't hang up the phone without explaining to them what you will need to properly handle the repair. I want to feel like the hero too and come in with all the necessary media, but it's not appropriate for me to do so.  I find that MOST of my home user clients have stored the media in an envelop somewhere near the desk.  Those that don't I offer an upgrade to Win7 if necessary.  SOMETIMES, since many clients have Dells and HPS, if I have a Dell CD or HP CD, I will use them as appropriate, but that's it.  I cannot recall one instance where I had to perform a reinstall and the client didn't have the disks somewhere.  It definitely could happen, but it should not be commonplace.

Microsoft media is specific to the type of windows you have - meaning, OEM keys only work with OEM media.  Using Retail media (or a retail key with OEM media) won't work.
CompuHeroAuthor Commented:
leew, I understand perfectly what you are saying.Thanks for your advice, but let me give you another common scenario. I would like to know how you and other experts are handling this.

An office has 13 computers, they all have an OEM license for each computer (Windows XP Pro). I need to reinstall windows in all 13 computers, and I also need to install 12 different software titles in all of them.

This is what I do: I reinstall Windows, remove unnecessary software, install necessary software, install all the security updates, and 6 hours later I create a master image with Paragon Backup & Recovery. Now, I install that image in all 12 computers, but as soon as I turn on the first computer Windows automatically detects that it is not the old computer but a different computer. So it asks to be activated again. At that point, I get the license from the sticker and voila I reactivate Windows. This has worked for me in the past, but I am sure there's a better way to do it. Isn't it? How are the other experts handling this?
David Johnson, CD, MVPOwnerCommented:
use sysprep before yoiu do the imaging
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
OEM licenses do not offer re-imaging rights which is what you're doing in that scenario.  If someone decides to report you for something and you are audited, this can be a VERY COSTLY practice.  Microsoft permits you to create an image of the image the OEM sent you - EVERYTHING that was on it when you unboxed it.  That's it.  If you modify that image - uninstall things you don't want, install common apps - you are re-imaging in an unlicensed way.

Imaging saves you a tremendous amount of time.  If I have the proper license, I can use WDS (free part of Windows Server), and deploy those 13 computers in about 20 minutes, depending on the apps/network bandwidth.  This is a LOT faster than if I had built those machines from scratch.  Now, you can philosophically object to Microsoft's decision to not grant you the right to do this with an OEM image, but for better or worse, you CANNOT.  That means if you don't get the appropriate license, then it's going to take you - patching and all - anywhere from 1-3 hours per machine (depending on OS, Service Packs, etc).  Doing the math - as a consultant who can charge $150 per hour, that's the difference of $150 to setup 13 machines or nearly $6000 in labor costs.  (lower the rate and it stays proportionally the same).

Now, add the appropriate license (add Software Assurance (SA) to the OEM licenses - ONLY possible within 90 days of purchase of the new machine) and you then have re-imaging rights.  Given that SA is about $110 per system, 13x110=1430 plus the $150 to install the image (not counting the time necessary to create it) = 1/4 the cost of manually deploying 13 machines.

The other way to get SA is to buy a volume license upgrade to the client OS and SA with it.(if everyone has XP, buy Win7 Upgrade with SA and now you qualify and can install/upgrade to Win7; not sure if the volume license alone permits re-imaging) if you fail to purchase it within the initial 90 day window.  

BEFORE creating the image, you must sysprep - failing to do so fails to remove critical system information that must be unique for some aspects of Windows networks to function properly, including things like WSUS.  It doesn't matter what you use for imaging - Ghost, Paragon, Acronis, ImageX, etc. - a sysprep must be done to prevent potential issues.

If you want to do deployments, I would suggest checking out Microsoft's tools - they are almost all free (SCCM is the only one that isn't that I'm aware of) or included with Windows and they are VERY powerful (though also a bit complex because they provide such flexibility) - I'm referring to:
Windows Deployment Server/Services (WDS)
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT)
Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK)

And there are other related tools like the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP).
CompuHeroAuthor Commented:
Thanks leew! That's what I wanted to know. I needed to know what was the right way of doing this.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
And I should have thrown this in there:
DISCLAIMER: Licensing advice offered here is a "best effort" and based on the understanding of the respondents. Licenses can change and we may not be aware of these changes or may misunderstand them. Further, licenses can differ by country and/or region and what we understand to be true in our region could be false in your region. "they told me on Experts-Exchange" will not be a valid defense in a software audit.  All licensing questions should be confirmed with the appropriate licensing authority (the maker of the software/issuer of the license).  
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