When trying to update an imaged machine you may get an error that states, “Windows could not parse or process the unattend answer file for pass [specialize]. The settings specified in the answer file cannot be applied. The error was detected while processing settings for component [Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup].” The error is pictured below and it has the potential to ruin your day when it appears.

 Windows could not parse or process the unattend answer file...

There are multiple reasons you may see this error, so you may find that this information is not entirely relevant; however, you should be able to use the general information to fix your issue. In our environment, the following conditions applied:

  • Machines run Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Our imaging solution is LANDesk OSD with Sysprep and HII
  • Issue occurs after pressing CTRL+SHIFT+F3 to enter audit mode

My particular issue arose because of an incorrect configuration with LANDesk OSD. The error occurred when I pressed CTRL+SHIFT+F3 to enter audit mode and the machine rebooted. A copy of the unattend.xml file was put in C:\ to be used by the LANDesk imaging tool. The file was different than the copy put in C:\Windows\System32\sysprep. As a result, the system panicked during the setup process.

To resolve the issue, all I had to do was one of two things:

  • Delete C:\unattend.xml -OR-
  • Copy unattend.xml from C:\Windows\System32\sysprep to C:\

In this case, here’s what I did to correct the problem:

  • Imaged the machine using the problematic image
  • When prompted to name the computer pressed SHIFT+F10 to access the command prompt
  • Copied unattend.xml from C:\Windows\System32\sysprep to C:\ to get rid of the troublesome unattend file
  • Closed the command prompt and pressed CTRL+SHIFT+F3 to proceed with the normal image update process

Your issue will likely be different than mine; however, the error you get should tell you generally what the issue is. For example, from the error shown above we can tell the following:

  • The problem is with the “unattend answer file”
  • “Pass [specialize]” is the section of the file with the issue
  • The problem component is “[Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup]”

The bottom line is that you need to fix or remove the offending portion of the unattend file. In our example, find “[Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup]” in the “Pass [specialize]” section and delete everything between <component> and </component> (also delete the <component> markers).

Keep in mind, unattend files can be in the following locations (among others):

  • C:\Windows\System32\sysprep
  • C:\Windows\Panther
  • C:\

This error has plagued me for a while. Knowing that the issue can be worked through should make life a lot easier.

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