Thanks to an InfoWorld article by J. Peter Bruzzese entitled “How to snapshot Windows 7 and resurrect SteadyState — for free” I just learned that well-known Windows guru Mark Minasi (long-time Sybex author of all those many Mastering Windows books over the past 20 years) has resurrected an obsolete but valuable Windows facility. This facility is called SteadyState, and it enables Windows to return to a pre-defined state each time a system is rebooted. This made SteadyState a staple for admins who worked in schools, computer labs, libraries, or with kiosk machines, because it guarantees that a new user will encounter a clean, pristine Windows installation each time the system reboots, no matter what the previous user may have done with or to that machine.
Alas, Microsoft discontinued SteadyState in December of 2010, and Microsoft let support for this facility lapse entirely on July 1, 2011. There are, in fact, numerous commercial products that still do what SteadyState used to — Bruzzese identifies three named Deep Freeze, Time Freeze, and Returnil in his InfoWorld story — but at around $40 per seat, such costs may be beyond the means of the core audience for the old SteadyState stuff.
Minasi has created a total bare-bones Website called www.steadierstate.com where he provides a zip file that contains a detailed step-by step description of how to roll your own version of SteadyState along with all the files needed to put this environment together for yourself (along with licensed system components, of course). For the technically curious, it works by booting first to the Windows pre-installation environment (aka WinPE) which then loads a pre-defined VHD for the pristine system image that this tutorial teaches you how to construct.
There is one caveat that Bruzzese points out in his story worth attending to. Because Microsoft does not allow Windows 7 Professional to manipulate bootable VHDs, you cannot use this technique with machines running that version of Windows 7. It only works with Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate versions. Nevertheless, this is a great bit of public service from Mr. Minasi, and I’d like to add my thanks to him to Mr. Bruzzese’s while also thanking Mr. Bruzzese for bringing this effort to my attention and for his useful commentary and analysis of what Mr. Minasi did. Thanks guys!