A lot of the requirements you have for your image can be quite easily accomplished using a combination of Microsoft tools. Windows XP deployment and Windows 7 deployment is done quite differently but there were many changes that were made with Windows 7 deployment that allowed for a more efficient and seamless deployment. Windows 7 deployments do use a unattend.XML file, otherwise known as an answer file, as opposed to using sysprep.ini and unattend.txt files.
You will most definitely want to use an answer file with each of your deployment images. This video
from TechNet will walk you through the process of creating an answer file using Windows System Image Manager (WSIM). As I believe you read, WSIM is a component of WAIK and greatly simplifies the process of creating answer files and will validate the file for you. For your benefit, there are more sample unattend files here
Customizations to the default profile should be done in Audit Mode. You would then use the 'CopyProfile'
setting in your unattend file to make these customizations part of the default user profile. Remove any other profiles you have created before sysprep and the administrator profile will be copied to the default user profile.
Windows 7 still uses the unattend file to set OOBE settings for you also. The Unattended Windows Setup Reference
is a great reference to help you.
Another thought to consider is that MDT is a common console for Microsoft’s free deployment tools. MDT is very customizable and has some great benefits. While the current version of MDT is MDT 2012, there is still a great introductory video on TechNet here
that walks you through the process of using the deployment workbench of MDT 2010. One more benefit of MDT is that it is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows Server 2003, 2008, and 2008 R2 so you would only have to learn one utility to learn ALL of your deployments.
Another two videos that are always recommended are:
• Alphabet Soup Deployment: Understanding MDT, WDS, MAP, ACT, SCCM, and USMT
• Deploy Windows 7 The Easy Way: Using WDS, MDT and AIK – Step-By-Step Video
The first video outlines how simple it is to not only manage your deployments but also greatly minimize the time it takes while the second video walks you through, step-by step, the process of doing so with all the aforementioned tools.
Because there is so much information, the entire deployment process may seem a bit confusing at first, but once you get it setup, it will save you huge amounts of time.
For a step-by-step guide to deploying Windows 7 I recommend this
step-by-step guide from the Springboard Series on TechNet and the Build a better desktop image
image resource as it is a great article with additional detailed information on desktop image management.
Hope this helps,
Windows Outreach Team - IT Pro