Windows Vista End of Life
This is a Legacy Guide that instructed in Downloading Windows Vista Setup Files from Digital River Servers and using them to make an Installation ISO for Windows Vista Reinstallation on a Dell PC with a Dell Windows Vista OEM License.
Windows Vista was released in January 2007 and reached End of Life in April 2017 and Microsoft Removed the Download Links in 2015. This guide is a Legacy Archive and will not be updated.
As Windows Vista is now passed its Supported Lifespan it should be regarded as unsafe to use online and there is no modern Browser support for this legacy Operating System.
Computers manufactured at the time of Windows Vista are now approximately 12-15 years old and should be considered as Legacy Systems. They do not have the capabilities of running modern versions of Windows such as Windows 10 or Windows 11 as they are below System Requirements. Moreover there is no Free Upgrade and the cost of a Windows 11 Retail License is far higher than the worth of such Legacy Hardware. Legacy Systems no longer have any support from their computer manufacturer (as they have outlived their warranty period by about 4 or 5 fold).
Zorin OS 16 Lite and Zorin OS 15 Lite
There are a handful of Linux Lite Editions aimed for use on Legacy Computers. One of the most noticeable is Zorin OS 16 Lite which is a Linux distribution designed with a Windows Like Desktop Environment. Installation of Zorin OS 16 Lite will allow one to continue to use their computer for basic tasks such as web-browsing, word-processing and viewing multi-media such as videos. Note that Zorin OS 16 Lite requires a computer with a 64 Bit Processor. For older systems with a 32 Bit only Processor, you will need to use the last 32 Bit Version which is Zorin OS 15 Lite.
For more details see:
The rest of the guide below is obsolete and no longer works due to the Download Links being Removed…
Table of contents
Windows Vista Licenses
Although the Downloadable Retail Installation Media could be used with all Retail and OEM Licenses, a number of workarounds were required for Product Activation…
Retail (Full) Licenses
The Windows Vista Setup Files could be downloaded directly from Digital River which could then be converted to a ISO and used to make Retail "Full" installation media.
This installation media accepted Retail Product Keys and could be used for a Clean Installation.
Retail (Upgrade Only) Licenses
Many Windows Vista licenses were "Upgrade only". The original installation media for these licenses required the user to run them within a previous version of Windows… In short the installation media that came with such a license was restricted and could not be used for a clean installation.
Retail Full Installation Media did allow for a direct clean installation however for an upgrade license one would have had to skip entry of their product key during installation otherwise they would have got an error message stating their key was an upgrade only key.
Skipping the product key on the other hand allowed them to circumvent this and proceed with direct clean installation with a 30 day trial. However if one tried to input the upgrade key normally within system properties, post installation they would get the same error message. Inputting the product key and activating online via the command prompt worked. This allowed direct clean installation of an upgrade license and is a perfectly valid workaround when used on a computer which came with an eligible version of Windows to upgrade from.
Open the Start Menu and search for CMD. Right click CMD.exe and select run as an administrator. This will open up the elevated command prompt accept any user account control prompt.
To input your product key type:
slmgr /ipk xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx
Where xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx is your product key and then press [↵].
Select ok and then to activate type
This will activate your product.
OEM Licenses were Licenses that were designed to be preinstalled by computer manufacturers and sold on as a complete product to the end customer.
These computers had a Windows Vista COA affixed to them with a unique 25 Digit Product Key however they were activated using OEM System Locked Preinstallation. With Dell OEM SLP for example, each Dell system included a System license Internal Code (SLIC) embedded in the computers system BIOS and the Dell OEM Reinstallation Media used a Generic OEM System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) Key. For Windows Vista, the SLIC had to have a version of 2.0 (or 2.1 via Windows 7 Downgrade Rights). The end result was Dell OEM Reinstallation media would activate automatically offline on eligible Dell system.
Originally each Dell system came with a Dell Windows Vista Reinstallation DVD however Microsoft invoked an OEM Media Reduction Policy and failed to allow OEMs to provide a Download Link.
Downloadable Retail Full Installation Media was not intended for use with an OEM License. However it could be used with an OEM License in a number of ways.
The key had be skipped during installation as the Retail Installation Media rejected the OEM Product Key. The Key could be input within system properties. Online Product Activation was not possible under this circumstance and an automated phone line had to be used to activate Windows Vista. This activation mechanism could not be used if the 25 Digit OEM Product Key was faded.
The second way was skipping the Product Key and manually applying Dell OEM Activation. There was a script file to backup your old cert file and SLP key and then reapply these post-installation. This was known as the Activation Backup and Recovery Program and required the user to be proactive, running the utility on their old Windows installation to Backup.
However as the cert file and SLP key were both generic, these could be Downloaded and manually applied to any eligible computer using a similar script to ABRs Recovery Script. For more details see my written guide:
This would create a clean install identical to the Dell/HP OEM install which you would of got from a Reinstallation DVD with the exception of superficial touches (Dell/HP branding).
OEM System Builder Licenses
There was another type of OEM License which got often confused with Retail licenses. It was designed for smaller system vendors, such as local computer shops who would put together a motherboard, processor, ram, drive, graphics card, computer case and then preinstall Windows onto the PC. These motherboards never had a SLIC key and therefore only the 25 Digit OEM Product Key on the COA could be used for Product Activation as indicated above for the OEM License.
Checking the Size of Downloaded Files
In the days of Windows Vista, internet connections were not very good and it was common to get an incomplete download.
Verifying that the download sizes were correct, reduced the chances of this problem:
- For Windows Vista 64 Bit English the file sizes should be Boot.wim 147,856 KB, Install.wim 3,503,069 KB and MicrosoftInstaller.exe 89,847 KB
- For Windows Vista 32 Bit English the file sizes should be Boot.wim 130,010 KB, Install.wim 2,717,937 KB and MicrosoftInstaller.exe 83,182 KB
If one makes the installation media with the incompletely downloaded installation media, then the install.wim was typically corrupted and the following error message would display during installation.
A required CD/DVD drive device driver is missing. If you have a driver floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB flash driver, please insert it now.
Note : If the Windows installation media is in the CD/DVD drive, you can safely remove it for this step.
Building the Vista ISO
You will need ImgBurn to create the ISO. The installer for ImgBurn unfortunately includes the Open-Candy Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP). In the days of Windows Vista, Open Candy was included in a lot of software installers as essentially embedded advertisements are in websites. Instead of displaying an advert it would install an additional program such as a game. This practice has been abolished by Microsoft for later Windows Versions and any installers that carry out this process are flagged up. Unfortunately the installer for ImgBurn was never updated to remove this. You can still install ImgBurn but make sure to uncheck installation of Open Candy. For more details see:
Once you have downloaded the 3 setup files boot.wim, install.wim and MicrosoftInstaller.exe (previously X14-xxxxx.exe) of your desired architecture to the same folder run the MicrosoftInstaller.exe (x14-xxxxx.exe) to extract the Vista installation files.
Once extracted the Vista setup Windows will open, these can be used to install Windows Vista directly but don't allow for a complete clean install or for installation on a new hard drive or unbootable Windows installation. Therefore its recommended to use these setup files to instead create a Windows Vista .iso and a bootable USB for clean installation. Close the setup.
You should now note that there is a Vista folder which contains the extracted setup files.
Select the folder icon and then select the Windows Vista folder.
Next select the destination folder you wish to save the .iso
Next go to the Advanced tab and select Bootable Disc. Under options tick Make Image Bootable. Click the folder icon and select the etfsboot file within the extracted Vista/Boot folder.
Select open and change the rest of the options as specified:
Platform ID 80×86
Developer ID: Microsoft Corporation
Load Segment: 07C0
Sectors to Load: 4
Check all the settings match and when ready select this button
Select ok at the next few prompts
Imgburn will inform you that the operation completed successfully and now you will have your Windows vista .iso.
Creating a Legacy BIOS Bootable USB
You may use Rufus to create a bootable USB. The last version compatible with Windows Vista was 2.18:
Rufus does not need to be installed and can be run directly by double clicking on the application
Use the drop down arrow to select your device.
Press the disc button and browse for the Windows Vista .iso and select open
The partition scheme and target system type should be set as MBR partition Scheme for BIOS or UEFI Computers by default and this should be used.
It will begin creating the bootable USB.
The status will say done and the progress bar will be full when complete, you can now close down the program.
If you want to install Windows Vista for a 30 day evaluation period you may skip entry of a product key.