Installing an Application or Service Pack via Group Policy

Using a graphical user interface

  1. Open the Group Policy Management snap-in.
  2. In the left pane, navigate to the GPO you want to modify. Left-click on it and select Edit.
  3. If you want to publish an application to computers the GPO applies to, expand Software Settings under Computer Configuration. If you want it to apply to users, expand Software Settings under User Configuration.
  4. Right-click Software installation and select New > Package.
  5. Enter the UNC path of the location of the MSI installation file (even if it resides on a local drive on the domain controller.
  6. Select the MSI file and click Open.
  7. Select Assigned if you want this application to be installed automatically on each client the GPO applies to. Select Published if you want this application to be downloaded and made available to be installed via an Add/Remove Programs applet if the client chooses to install it (this option is only available for the User Configuration section of a GPO).
  8. Click OK.

You can use group policy to install applications, hotfixes, and service packs on servers. The preferred method for installation is to use Microsoft Installer files, but you can also use something called a ZAW down-level application package (ZAP) file to do non-MSI-based installations (for example, using Setup.exe instead). ZAP installations can be configured only in the User Configuration section of a GPO. For more on ZAP installations, see MS KB 231747.

When you assign an application to the User Configuration section of a GPO, the application is automatically installed the next time targeted users log into a computer. When an application is assigned to the Computer Configuration section of a GPO, it is installed the next time the GPO is refreshed on targeted computers (or when the computers reboot). In both cases, the application installation is finalized the first time a user actually runs the program.

Publishing an application is a little different. You can publish an application only in the User Configuration section of a GPO, not the Computer Configuration section. After you publish an application, it will show up in the Add/Remove Programs applet and be available for the user to install on demand.

You can do much more than just basic assigning and publishing of applications with GPOs. You can also upgrade and remove applications. For a quick overview of those processes, see MS KB 314934. You can also use the GPO software installation feature to install service packs on your clients. See MS KB 278503 for more information on how to install a service pack using a GPO.