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Preparing Windows PE : Exploring Windows PE

2/20/2013 5:24:33 PM
Windows PE, which is supplied with Windows Vista and in the Windows AIK, is the installation engine for Windows Vista. It is directly bootable from CD, DVD, and USB Flash Drives (UFDs). You can also start Windows PE by using Windows Deployment Services (Windows DS) and the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) extensions to DHCP (if supported by the network adapters of your computers).

Windows PE is a minimal Windows operating system that provides limited services based on the Windows Vista kernel. It also provides the minimal set of features required to run Windows Vista Setup, install Windows Vista from networks, script basic repetitive tasks, and validate hardware. For example, with Windows PE, you can use powerful batch scripts, Windows Script Host (WSH) scripts, and HTML Applications (HTAs) to fully automate computer preparation and Windows Vista installation, rather than the limited batch commands in MS-DOS. Examples of what you can do with Windows PE include:

  • Create and format disk partitions, including NTFS file-system partitions, without rebooting the computer before installing Windows Vista on them. Formatting disks with NTFS by using an MS-DOS–bootable disk required third-party utilities. Windows PE replaces the MS-DOS–bootable disk in this scenario, allowing you to format disks with NTFS without using third-party utilities. Also, the file-system utilities that Windows PE provides are scriptable, so you can completely automate the setup-preparation process.

  • Access network shares to run preparation tools or install Windows Vista. Windows PE provides network access comparable to Windows Vista. In fact, Windows PE provides the same network drivers that come with Windows Vista, allowing you to access the network quickly and easily. Customizing MS-DOS–bootable disks to access network shares was time-consuming and tedious.

  • Use all the mass-storage devices that rely on Windows Vista device drivers. Windows PE includes the same mass-storage device drivers that Windows Vista provides, so you no longer have to customize MS-DOS–bootable disks for use with specialized mass-storage devices. Once again, Windows PE allows you to focus on important jobs rather than on maintaining MS-DOS–bootable disks.

  • Customize Windows PE by using techniques and technologies that are already familiar to you. Windows PE is based on Windows Vista, so you are already familiar with the techniques and tools used to customize Windows PE. You can customize it in a variety of scenarios:

    • Addition of hardware-specific device drivers

    • Automation through use of Unattend.xml answer files

    • Execution of scripts (batch, WSH, and HTA) to perform specific actions

The following sections provide more detail about the features and limitations of Windows PE. They focus specifically on using Windows PE in high-volume deployment scenarios, rather than in manufacturing environments.

Direct from the Source: Windows PE 2.0

Windows PE 2.0, the new version that will be released with Windows Vista, is a key part of the deployment process. Even the standard DVD-based installation of Windows Vista uses Windows PE 2.0, and most organizations will be using it (often customized for the organization’s specific needs) as part of their deployment processes.

Compared to MS-DOS-based deployment, Windows PE 2.0 brings numerous benefits, including less time spent trying to find 16-bit real-mode drivers. (It’s not even possible to find these any more for some newer network cards and mass storage adapters.) Better performance from 32-bit and 64-bit networking stacks and tools, as well as large memory support are also advantages. And don’t forget support for tools such as Windows Scripting Host, VBScript, and hypertext applications.

Windows PE has been available for a few years (the latest version, Windows PE 2005, was released at the same time as Windows XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003 SP1), but not all organizations could use it; it required that you have Software Assurance on your Windows desktop operating system licenses. With Windows PE 2.0, that’s no longer the case. All organizations will be able to download Windows PE 2.0 from microsoft.com and use it freely for the purposes of deploying licensed copies of Windows Vista.

Like Windows Vista itself, Windows PE 2.0 is provided as an image that is componentized and can be serviced both online and off. As with Windows PE 2005, several optional components can be added, although Windows PE 2.0 includes some new ones: MSXML 3.0, Windows Recovery Environment, language packs, font packs, and so on. New tools like peimg.exe are provided for servicing Windows PE 2.0. Peimg.exe can also be used for adding drivers—including mass storage devices, which no longer require any special handling.

Michael Niehaus, Lead Developer for BDD 2007

Management and Infrastructure Solutions


Windows PE is a bootable image that you can start by using removable media (CD, DVD, or UFD). You can also use Windows DS to start Windows PE. Because the Windows Vista deployment tools do not work in 16-bit environments, Windows PE replaces the MS-DOS–bootable disk in all deployment scenarios. It’s a lightweight 32-bit or 64-bit environment that supports the same set of networking and mass-storage device drivers that Windows Vista supports, and it provides access to similar features, including NTFS and stand-alone distributed file system (DFS). Windows PE includes the following features:

  • Hardware independence Windows PE is a hardware-independent Windows environment for both x86 and x64 architectures. You can use the same preinstallation environment on all the desktop computers and servers without creating and maintaining different bootable disks for different hardware configurations.

  • APIs and scripting capabilities Windows PE contains a subset of the Win32 APIs; a command interpreter capable of running batch scripts; and support for adding WSH, HTA, and Microsoft ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) to create custom tools or scripts. The scripting capabilities in Windows PE far exceed the capabilities of MS-DOS–bootable disks. For example, the command interpreter in Windows PE supports a more robust batch-scripting language than does MS-DOS, allowing you to use more advanced scripts.

  • Network access Windows PE uses Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) to provide network access and supports standard network drivers for running Windows Vista Setup and installing images from the network to the computer. You can easily add or remove network drivers from a customized version of Windows PE. In contrast, customizing MS-DOS–bootable disks to access network shares is frustrating, mostly because you need to build and maintain numerous disks. Windows PE alleviates this frustration by supporting the network drivers that Windows Vista supports, and Windows PE is easier to customize with additional network drivers.

  • Mass-storage devices Windows PE includes support for all mass-storage devices that Windows Vista supports. As new devices become available, you can easily add or remove drivers into a customized version of Windows PE. Customizing an MS-DOS–bootable disk to access atypical mass-storage devices requires tracking down and installing the 16-bit device drivers. However, Windows PE supports many of these mass-storage devices out of the box. And customizing Windows PE to support additional mass-storage devices is easier because it uses standard, readily available Windows device drivers.

  • Disk management Windows PE includes native support for creating, deleting, formatting, and managing NTFS partitions. Also, Windows PE provides full, unrestricted access to NTFS file systems. With Windows PE, you don’t have to restart the computer after formatting a disk.

  • Support for the PXE protocol If the computer supports PXE, you can start it automatically from a Windows PE image located on a Windows DS server—and Windows DS doesn’t install the Windows PE image on the computer’s hard disk. Starting Windows PE from the network makes it a convenient tool to use in all deployment scenarios. Also, you can customize a Windows PE image for recovery and troubleshooting purposes, and adding it to Windows DS makes it a convenient tool to use in production.

You manage and deploy Windows PE by using the Windows PE Kit included with the Windows AIK. This tool kit includes the Windows PE User Guide, the Windows Imaging Interface Reference, and Windows PE tools such as:

  • Bootsect A tool for managing boot sectors on hard disks and flash drives

  • DiskPart A command-line disk-partitioning tool

  • Drvload A command-line tool for device-driver management

  • Oscdimg.exe A tool for creating CD and DVD ISO image files

  • Peimg.exe A tool for customizing Windows PE images

  • ImageX The Windows Vista image-capture and maintenance tool, which you use to customize Windows PE image files, capture operating-system images, and apply images to destination computers


Windows PE has the following limitations:

  • To reduce its size, Windows PE includes only a subset of the available Win32 APIs: I/O (disk and network) and core Win32 APIs.

  • Windows PE doesn’t fit on floppy disks, but you can write a custom Windows PE image to a bootable CD or DVD.

  • Windows PE supports TCP/IP and NetBIOS over TCP/IP for network connectivity, but it doesn’t support other protocols, such as Internetwork Packet Exchange/Sequenced Packet Exchange (IPX/SPX).

  • The Windows on Windows 32 (WOW32) subsystem allows 16-bit applications to run on the 32-bit Windows platform. The WOW32 subsystem isn’t available in Windows PE, so 16-bit applications won’t run in 32-bit versions of Windows PE. Similarly, in the x64 version of Windows PE, the WOW64 subsystem is not available, so applications must be fully 64-bit compliant.

  • To install 64-bit Windows Vista, you must use 64-bit Windows PE. Likewise, installing 32-bit Windows Vista requires 32-bit Windows PE.

  • Drive letter assignments aren’t persistent between sessions. After you restart Windows PE, the drive letter assignments will be in the default order.

  • Changes to the registry aren’t persistent between sessions. To make permanent changes to the registry, you must edit the registry offline by mounting the image with ImageX and then loading hive files into Registry Editor.

  • Windows PE supports distributed file system (DFS) name resolution to stand-alone DFS roots only.

  • You can’t access files or folders on a computer running Windows PE from another computer. Likewise, Windows PE can’t act as a terminal server, so you can’t connect to it by using Remote Desktop.

  • Windows PE requires a VESA-compatible display device and will use the highest screen resolution it can determine is supported. If the operating system can’t detect video settings, it uses a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels.

  • Windows PE doesn’t support the Microsoft .NET Framework or the Common Language Runtime (CLR).

  • Windows PE does not support the installation of Windows Installer package (.msi) files.

  • Windows PE does not support 802.1x.

  • To prevent its use as a pirated operating system, Windows PE automatically reboots after 72 hours.

Other -----------------
- Planning Deployment : Starting Deployment Workbench, Updating BDD 2007 Components
- Planning Deployment : Installing BDD 2007
- Planning Deployment : Preparing for Development
- Planning Deployment : Planning Low-Volume Deployment, Windows Vista Requirements
- Using BDD 2007 for Deployment Planning
- Developing Disk Images : Manually Preparing Images, Customizing BDD 2007
- Maintaining Security : Authorizing Administrative Actions, Restricting Access to Web Content
- Maintaining Security : Monitoring Your Security Settings, Configuring the Windows Firewall
- Developing Disk Images : Capturing a Disk Image for LTI, Capturing a Disk Image for ZTI
- Developing Disk Images : Creating the Lab Deployment Point
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