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Windows Setup is a setup process OOBE for retail/server versions of Microsoft Windows. This process has changed significantly with the transition from DOS-based Windows operating systems to Windows NT based operating systems, and again with the advent of Windows Vista.

Windows 1.x and Windows 2.x

The installation of Windows 1.x and 2.x requires that a compatible DOS operating system is already installed. The installer must specify any hardware such as mice or printers during installation. After installation Windows was to be started automatically by typing WIN.COM at the DOS Prompt upon system startup.

Windows 3.x

The installation of Windows 3.x requires that a compatible DOS operating system is already installed. The installer attempts to detect network cards, mice, and other hardware on its own but will rely on the user to specify hardware if it cannot find them. After being installed, Windows has to be started manually by executing WIN.COM, unless autoexec.bat is edited to start Windows automatically on each startup.[1]

Windows 9x

While Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me do not require that MS-DOS is already installed, the Windows Setup for these versions of Windows automatically installs the required MS-DOS version onto the machine as these operating systems require MS-DOS to run. The first phase of setup prepares the hard disk partition for use by Windows by formatting it to a compatible file system, then runs scandisk, and, if the hard disk appears to be ready for installation in terms of free space and disk integrity, then it will copy files to the selected installation folder (typically C:\WINDOWS). The first phase of setup resembles the interface of Windows 3.x operating systems. Once this phase is finished, the computer reboots and setup resumes from the hard disk, but still requires the installation media to continue copying files and drivers. At this point the user will be asked to provide a product key.

Windows NT

The setup process introduced with Windows NT 3.1 remained stable until the release of Windows Vista. The general process is:

  • The user inserts the installation media, initiates the process, and Setup loads various hardware and file-system drivers.
    • If any third-party drivers are needed in order to detect an SCSI or RAID system, setup pauses and requests the supply of a driver on a floppy disk. See F6 disk.
  • The user is then presented with a text-based interface which gives three options 1) install Windows, 2) repair an existing installation, or 3) quit setup.[2]
  • If the user decides to install Windows, he/she is presented with an agreement that they must accept before Setup will continue. Prior to Windows 2000, the user was required to scroll to the bottom of the agreement before they were permitted to agree.
  • The user must create or select a partition, then a filesystem (either NTFS or FAT). If either of these file systems is already present and there is no version of Windows already on the disk, it is also possible to leave the current file system intact.
  • The hard disk is checked for errors and space requirements, then, if it passes the check, Windows will be installed.
  • After the text-based phase of Setup is finished, the computer reboots and starts a graphical phase of setup from the hard disk, prompting the user to reinsert the installation media, to enter the product key, and then it continues copying files and drivers.

All versions of Windows NT from NT 3.1 to Windows Server 2003, except for Windows XP Home Edition, prompt the user to enter an Administrator password.

Recovery Console

On Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, the Recovery Console is included for repair of damaged installations. It allows the user to repair disk and boot record errors, and copy missing or corrupted files to the destination folders.

Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7/8/10

Vista, Server 2008 and Windows 7 all utilize a new GUI based setup called WinPE which also allows mouse input during setup. The concept of F6 disks has been improved to provide support for computers without floppy disks; loading drivers from CD-ROMs and USB drives are now supported. Unlike previous versions of Windows, which copied files one by one, these versions copy a hard-drive image file called INSTALL.WIM to the selected partition, and then expands this file into Windows files. Support for installing Windows onto FAT partitions has been dropped, and both Windows 7 and Vista must be installed onto an NTFS-formatted partition, though the operating systems retain the ability to access and format FAT volumes.[3]


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