nLite – a GUI Windows install customizer

I finally convinced myself to clean install Windows XP, so I decided to try out nLite to see how well it worked. For some background:

MSFN’s Unattended XP CD

It takes quite a bit to do step 2 and 3 on that site, which requires manually typing some batch files and stuff. nLite is different because it allows you to do essentially all from a GUI (Graphical User Interface).

All that’s really required is the .NET Framework and a CD burner. I had already slipstreamed SP2 (Service Pack 2) onto my Windows XP CD, so all I had to do was go through the other prompts.

Note: I don’t use .NET, and I’m not sure too many end-users have programs that use it either. But, if you’re going to clean install Windows, it doesn’t matter if nLite needs it. Windows is going to get wiped out anyways.

Disclaimer: I can’t be held responsible for whatever you mess up on your computer, this is all my opinion, blah blah blah…

I won’t go through the details of the program itself; you can see it here: Complete nLite Guide (English)

I couldn’t get the latest version (0.98.8) to boot from the CD, so I settled for the latest stable version (0.98.7 beta 2). The third time around, I used a rewritable CD so I wouldn’t waste anymore blank CDRs. I can’t remember which Windows apps I decided to remove. I can tell you I didn’t get as drastic as removing Internet Explorer or Windows Media Player.

The questions were fairly simple and straightforward (at least for me), and when all the questions were answered, it took about 20 minutes to build the directory and ISO. Sorry, I didn’t time it, but I do know it wasn’t too bad of a wait.

When I booted with the CD, the only question I had to answer was to select which partition to install Windows XP onto, and what filesystem I wanted to use. About 25 minutes later, the mouse cursor was on the screen motionless. The resolution was off, but there was no hard drive activity. What? Finished? That’s it!?! It’s done!

I installed all the important drivers, then updated Windows. I checked my disk usage, and it was under 1.5GB. There were only 23 processes running, and my PF (Paging File) usage was hovering at 103MB. I don’t know if it’s because I expected things to be quicker, but it really felt that way. In general, everything feels snappier.

After installing all the programs I feel are the ones I’ll use the most, it’s now taking up 2.26GB. There’s 31 processes running, and my PF usage is now around 130MB. (Even right now, with some more bloated programs running, things are still quicker.)

Edit: I forgot that my PF was still set to the default 768-1500MB on my Windows partition. So, I set that onto another partition and only dedicated 25MB for the Windows partition. Now, with all my programs* installed, I’ve only got it taking up 1.52GB. How much smaller would the inital size be? Yikes!

Other than the first two coasters that won’t boot for me (it is a beta), the current stable version shines. I’m sure it can get very small if you’d like to just use the machine for web browsing and word processing. Perhaps you can just dedicate an older system with Firefox and OpenOffice.org. It’d have to stay away from some IE-dependent websites, I’m sure.

Although drive images are nice to use, it’s another thing to be able to boot with this CD and be able to walk away for 30 minutes to come back to a clean installed system. Drivers change, so it’s preferrable to have the latest driver installed fresh, rather than updating it on top of an older version.

Single-word summary: time-saver.

If you need to clean install Windows on a regular basis, or you want to reduce the size of the Windows installation, image your drive then give this a shot. I love it…

* These are the programs I have installed:

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Bryan Villarin

Bryan is a Trust & Safety Wrangler at Automattic. He's also a photographer, card magician, and cat whisperer. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Blythe for the sweet photo!)

2 thoughts on “nLite – a GUI Windows install customizer”

  1. Thanks for the time you took to write this up. It is helpful to me to know what do you use and what are your experiences here.

    Keep up the good work… (I came from google)

    Like

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