Windows installation disc-customizing tools are always useful. They allow you to add Windows updates to your installation media, streamline the installation process by filling in your product key and other information, and customize Windows’ default settings.
We previously covered RT Se7en Lite for Windows 7, and WinReducer works similarly for Windows 8. Both tools work similarly to the nLite tool for Windows XP — WinReducer is like an nLite for Windows 8.
First, download WinReducer 8. This software is technically in beta at the moment because of how new Windows 8 is, but it worked fine for us. That said, WinReducer includes a warning that it shouldn’t yet be used for production purposes. It’s okay to experiment with it on your own, but don’t use it to customize an entire organization’s mission-critical Windows 8 installer discs just yet.
Launch WinReducer after extracting it and you’ll immediately see an error message. The message tells you you’ll have to manually download certain tools that WinReducer requires — click OK to continue.
Click the Download links to visit each program’s website and download the appropriate software. Just download the software and install it as you normally would, then click each check box and point WinReducer at each installed program’s .exe file. ImageX and osdimg are both included in the same package, so you only really have to download four different tool packages. This is the most tedious part of the process — it’s smooth sailing after this.
You’ll next have to copy the contents of a Windows 8 installation disc to a folder on your computer and point WinReducer at that folder. You can also click the Extract an ISO box and point WinReducer at the ISO file — it will automatically extract the ISO file to a temporary folder.
After pointing WinReducer at the Windows 8 installation files, select the edition of Windows 8 you’ll be using and click the Mount button.
WinReducer will read the data from your Windows 8 installation files and then you can get started.
Minimizing Your Installation Media
As its name suggests, WinReducer is focused on reducing the size of your Windows 8 installation disc by removing components from it. This is possible — for example, you could remove the default Modern apps, language files you don’t use, and various other things. You should be extra careful if you start removing stuff — you could easily remove too much and cause problems with your resulting Windows system.
We don’t recommend removing things — sure, you could shrink your ISO image, but either way it would fit on a DVD. You could perhaps fit it on a smaller USB drive, if you’re lucky. The resulting Windows system may use less space when you install it, but the difference shouldn’t be significant.
The options on the Customization tab are more interesting. On the Appearance tab, you can set a custom background you’ll see during the installation process and also set a custom desktop wallpaper, lock-screen background, theme, and system properties logo that you’ll see on the installed system. Other tabs allow you to customize Internet Explorer 10, including setting a different home page and changing a variety of its settings.
On the System tab, you’ll find options for integrating drivers and updates. This process of integrating updates is known as “slipstreaming.” It saves you time later by integrating Windows updates with the installation media, so you won’t have to install them after installing Windows. To start slipstreaming updates, click the Updates checkbox and choose a folder for your updates.
Click the Update Download Tool button and use the integrated tool to download the Windows 8 updates to your computer. They’ll be integrated into your Windows 8 installation media when you create the media.
Unattended Installation Options
WinReducer allows you to set up unattended Windows installation options. These allow your Windows installation media to automatically select various options. For example, you can have the Windows installation process automatically accept the EULA, select your preferred language, and enter your serial number — your serial key will be inserted directly into your Windows installation image.
If you opt to integrate your serial number, be sure you only use your Windows 8 installation media for a single computer or you’ll be violating the Windows license agreement. You’ll also run into issues activating Windows 8 if you use the same key on multiple systems.
Other tabs here allow you to set up your final Windows installation setup, including automatically creating user accounts and selecting passwords, enabling autologin, and selecting a computer name.
Creating Your Installation Media
Once you’re done configuring your Windows 8 installation media, click the button on the Apply tab to create your customized ISO file.
You can then burn the resulting ISO file to a disc or copy it to a USB drive the same way you’d create a Windows 8 USB drive from a standard Windows 8 ISO image. The resulting installation media will work just like standard Windows 8 installation media, but will be customized with all the options you chose.
Before installing your customized Windows installation disc onto a standard computer, you may want to test by installing it on a virtual machine created by VirtualBox or VMware Player. WinReducer is still in beta, so it’s a good idea to be careful and double-check everything worked properly.
Image Credit: Cheon Fong Liew on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 08/5/13