I discovered a painfully simple (and only slightly inelegant) way of deploying software in a Windows Active Directory environment, namely Zap files. While you'd usually want to deploy an .msi file, you use Zap files when you want to deploy an .exe file.
Big fat caveat -- The installation will run on the user's rights, so s/he must have software installation privileges on the computer s/he's running, or the installer must have admin credentials baked in somehow. On a secure network, you don't let your users install stuff on their computers.
And with that said, here's how to do it. Windows Server 2008 recommended.
1. Create a file share if you don't already have one. Use Share and Storage Management from Administrative tools or Server management to do it The Right Way . To be Really Swanky, use DFS to publish the share on a domain scope instead of on server scope. In this example, i'll be more ghetto and shall call the share \fileserverInstall and i shall call the fictional package to install agent.exe
2. Put your agent.exe file somewhere within the share created above; for the sake of this example, in \fileserverInstallagent.exe
3. Create a text file agent.zap (you can create it as agent.txt and rename it to dot-zap later) and place it in another share, or the same if you don't believe in security by obscurity, or don't have a compulsive manner in keeping things in neat little boxes. Here's what you'll put in the agent.zap file
[Application]FriendlyName = "The Agent"SetupCommand = "\FileserverInstallagent.exe /any /switches"
Wikipedia tells me there are loads of other commands, but this will do for the Ghetto Installation we're doing now. Anyway, the [Application] row must be written like that, in verbatim. The next row is what's going to be shown to the users when they want to install the file. And the SetupCommand shall point to the UNC path where the installer resides. Any command switches can be put after the executable name within.
4. Open Group Policy editor. Browse to your users' folder (or where-ever you want to apply the deployment). As i'm on Small Business Server, that would be around ...My BusinessUsers. YMMV. Right-click to Create a GPO in this domain and link it here. Call it Published Software (since eventually you'll put more published software here).
5. Under User Configuration / Policies / Software Settings / Software Installation, right-click New / Package. Navigate to where your .zap file is, make sure the file type selector is .ZAP (and learn that .zap stands for ZAW down-level Application Package) and select it. Click OK. Select Published to force the installer down your users' throats(generally a bad call) or Advanced to modify the settings and under the Advanced tab on the next dialog box, unselect Auto-install this application not to force feed the app.
6. Showtime. Log on as a user on a workstation. Open Control Panel. If you're on Win7, find the option "Get Software". If you're on an earlier incarnation of the ubiquitous desktop operating environment, go Add/Remove Programs or the like and choose Install published software. You should now see The Agent listed there! Yay presto!
And that's about the size of it on a space like this. Experiment and write about your experiences in the comments below!