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Windows Preinstallation Environment (aka Windows PE, WinPE) is a lightweight version of Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows Server 2008 R2 that is used for the deployment of workstations and servers. It is intended as a 32-bit or 64-bit replacement for MS-DOS during the installation phase of Windows, and can be booted via PXE, CD-ROM, USB flash drive or hard disk. Traditionally used by large corporations and OEMs (to preinstall Windows client operating systems to PCs during manufacturing), it is now widely available free of charge via the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK).
WinPE was originally intended to be used only as a pre-installation platform for deploying Microsoft Windows operating systems, specifically to replace DOS in this respect. WinPE has the following uses:
The package can be used for developer testing or as a recovery CD/DVD for system administrators. Many customized WinPE boot CDs packaged with third-party applications for different uses are now available from volunteers via Internet.
The package can also be used as the base of a forensics investigation to either capture a disk image or run analysis tools without mounting any available disks and thus changing state.
Version 2.0 introduced a number of improvements and extended the availability of WinPE to all customers, not just corporate enterprise customers by downloading and installing Microsoft's Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK).
It was originally designed and built by a small team of engineers in Microsoft's Windows Deployment team, including Vijay Jayaseelan, Ryan Burkhardt, and Richard Bond.
The following versions are known to exist: