Windows Vista

Windows Vista
Version of Microsoft Windows
OS familyWindows NT
Architecturex86, x64
Latest build6.0.6003 (Service Pack 2 Update)
Release date2007-01-30
Support end2017-04-11
Server counterpart
Windows Server 2008
Windows XP
Replaced by
Windows 7

Windows Vista (codenamed Longhorn) is a major release of Microsoft Windows released to manufacturing on 8 November 2006[1] and made generally available on 30 January 2007. It is the seventh operating system in the Windows NT operating system line, succeeding Windows XP and preceding Windows 7. It had one of the longest development periods in Microsoft's history starting in May 2001 and continuing through November 2006, with the project's development having undergone a reset in August 2004.

Mainstream support ended on 10 April 2012, while extended support ended on 11 April 2017. However, it still runs on 0.07% of computers worldwide as of May 2024.[2]

This version drops support for the IA-64 architecture and the ability to use boot disks to boot into setup, leaving only the option to boot from optical discs. The ability to upgrade an existing Windows installation from versions prior to Windows XP with Service Pack 2 was also removed. CD-ROM distributions of this version could be obtained through mail for machines that don't have DVD-ROM drives.

Development[edit | edit source]

Plex-style logon user interface concept, circa 2002

Planning for the Longhorn project started in earnest in May 2001,[3] originally intended as a bridging release between Whistler and the later version of Windows codenamed Blackcomb (reference to the bar between two mountains in British Columbia, Canada). As development progressed, many features slated for Blackcomb became part of Longhorn, and employees jumped ship from other parts of the company, turning into a major version rather than the minor version it was initially planned as. After an initially quiet development cycle, the first build to leak publicly was build 3683, which contained a new theme called Plex, as well as the foundations for WinFS, a subsystem that aimed to bring benefits of relational databases to filesystem storage, and Avalon, a new vector-based user interface framework.

As development slowly progressed prior to the reset, the Longhorn project ended up becoming a largely bloated and unstable piece of vaporware, with release dates constantly being pushed back on multiple occasions. Many components were extended using the still relatively new .NET Framework and Managed C++. Stability increasingly became an issue as development progressed, and very few builds were released to the public as a result. Only two builds were distributed at conferences and to developers: builds 4051 and 4074, released during PDC 2003 and WinHEC 2004 respectively. As a last resort, Microsoft started work on refactoring the operating system into a set of components, hoping to contain the feature creep in the process. However, the componentization effort derailed the project even more. The last confirmed build prior to the development reset is build 4093 (main), compiled on 19 August 2004.

Approximately four hours after build 4093 was compiled, Microsoft reset the development of Longhorn and started fresh by using a work-in-progress version of the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 codebase. The immediate post-reset builds, codenamed "Omega-13" after the Galaxy Quest time travel device,[4] were primarily focused on componentization and reintegration of features from pre-reset builds while maintaining stability. A ban on usage of the .NET Framework was imposed across a large majority of the Windows source tree with the exception of the Windows Media Center. Most of these builds are similar to Windows XP in the overall look and feel, although markers such as poorly-edited branding (as observed in builds such as 5001) were temporarily utilized to distinguish from its predecessor. Few builds from this stage of development have been released, officially or otherwise. Development of Longhorn continued, although many features originally slated for inclusion (such as WinFS and Castles) were delayed or ultimately dropped in order to produce a more realistic set of goals for the OS.

A preliminary developer preview build was released to attendees of the WinHEC 2005 conference on 25 April 2005[5] to show off the total progress made after the reset, which also demonstrably proved to be significantly more stable over previous builds, despite insiders raising concerns over the then-current state of the operating system's lacking feature set at the time. The earliest available leaked build after the development reset was 5098. Build 5112 (Beta 1) was soon released to the public in July, showcasing further progress on the operating system's planned feature set and many stability improvements over its predecessor, alongside an early version of the Windows Aero user interface. Over the course of two years, many builds were released to testers through the public Community Technology Preview program; the final build pushed out to public preview testers was Release Candidate 2 (build 5744). The RTM build was build 6000.16386, compiled on 1 November 2006 and released to manufacturing on 8 November 2006. The operating system finally reached general availability on 30 January 2007, met with increasingly negative consumer reception in part due to significant mismanagement in the Windows Vista Capable program (itself the subject of a class-action lawsuit,[6] downgraded to civil-action[7]) and hardware manufacturers not having confidence in Microsoft's ability to ship a new operating system release in time.[8]

Microsoft released the first service pack for Windows Vista in March 2008 in the form of a major update to the RTM build, which was additionally complemented by a stand-alone installable update package, adding support for UEFI firmware on 64-bit versions of Windows alongside added support for the exFAT file system and improvements to performance, stability, and wireless capabilities.

In May 2009, Microsoft released the second service pack for Windows Vista, which includes various new features such as wireless and Bluetooth support; most notably, a Bluetooth Control Panel applet; it also includes Windows Search 4.0 built-in, better support of eSATA drives, support for burning on Blu-ray discs and support for the x64 VIA Nano processor, and also improved performance of the RSS feeds sidebar gadget, and improved streaming high-definition content. Another update, known as the Platform Update for Windows Vista, was later released in October 2009, and backports the Automation and Ribbon APIs from Windows 7.

Naming[edit | edit source]

Several product names for the Longhorn project were presented to Microsoft in the lead-up to the final release of the operating system; its final name, Windows Vista, was officially unveiled on 22 July 2005.[9] Greg Sullivan informed Paul Thurrott about how the name Vista focused around the premise of wanting "the PC to adapt you" and aimed in "bringing clarity to your world"; the operating system was intended to be marketed with the terms "Connected, Clear and Confident". Microsoft vice president Jim Allchin expressed their enthusiasm for the product name, stating that it created the "right imagery for the new product capabilities".[10]

The earliest known build to use the final name is build 5112, and the final builds to have any leftovers of the Longhorn codename are two compiles of build 5284, with the last traces being removed in January 2006.

System requirements[edit | edit source]

During development of pre-reset Longhorn, the system requirements were largely the same as Windows XP, with the sole exception of build 4001, which required a Pentium III processor or better during setup. However, most builds of Longhorn only install on NTFS partitions, which would be carried to the final release of Vista. Throughout development of post-reset Vista, the system requirements were significantly increased to accommodate new computing standards, such as the use of WDDM to take most advantage of display capabilities, immediately requiring ACPI after replacing NTLDR with BOOTMGR, and greatly increasing the amount of disk space required to install Windows.

Microsoft recommends Windows Vista to be installed on a system with a processor with a speed of at least 800 MHz, at least 512 MB (384 MB for Starter Edition) of RAM, 15 GB of hard drive space, a SVGA or better display adapter, and a DVD-ROM drive.[11] Windows Vista drops support for systems without ACPI. CD-ROM installation is still possible, but such installation method now uses multiple CD-ROMs due to the increased size of the installation media after the shift to WIM installation and wasn't offered in retail.

Windows Vista's setup doesn't check for a required processor generation or speed to install as long as setup can start, and thus it is possible to install Windows Vista on processors as early as the original Pentium. Windows Vista can also be run with as low as 256 MB of RAM.

Hardware compatibility[edit | edit source]

Intel CPUs whose microarchitectures are based on Haswell or later are not supported on Windows Vista.[12] Numerous issues relating to certain services or applications failing to start on the affected CPUs have been reported by various users, with extreme cases often leading to potential bugchecks.[13] The KB4493471 update contains a new version of the HAL (hardware abstraction layer) that fixes most of these issues.

The x86 versions of Windows Vista, as well as Windows XP and earlier versions, are not affected by the aforementioned problems.

Main changes[edit | edit source]

User interface[edit | edit source]

Windows Aero[edit | edit source]

The new Windows Aero design language was introduced, incorporating the use of skeumorphic designs that feature three-dimensional surfaces (often with reflectivity) and realistic icon designs. Microsoft also encouraged third-party developers to make their applications consistent with Aero, with the company for the first time producing a definite set of design guidelines that included advice ranging from icon design to text wording. The Segoe font family, a humanist typeface intended to improve overall legibility across varying system surfaces, has been introduced to the operating system.

An important aspect of the design language was the hardware-accelerated Windows Aero theme, made possible by the new Desktop Window Manager, a compositing window manager that works hand-in-hand with the DirectX graphics architecture and the new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). The compositing nature of DWM allows for dynamic effects such as Aero Glass and Flip 3D, but also prevents various rendering glitches that were present in previous versions of Windows. The exact appearance of Aero Glass can be further customized by toggling the transparency or changing the window frames' colors, functionality that is only exclusive when composition is enabled.

To tailor towards underpowered or non-WDDM-compliant systems, Windows Vista also includes the Windows Basic visual style, a reduced-functionality variant of the Aero theme that makes use of the older Windows XP theming engine.

System shell[edit | edit source]

Windows Explorer[edit | edit source]

The Windows Explorer user interface received a complete design overhaul in Windows Vista, featuring a command-based user interface that allows users to quickly access common file and directory actions. Improvements to file navigation have been implemented with the addition of a navigation pane, which contains a tree of commonly-used directories and certain pre-configured search folders, as well as adjustments to the address bar that allows the user to switch between higher- or lower-level directories in (at minimum) two clicks with directory layouts, eliminating the need to search through various directories for specific items. Storage devices now show the total amount of free space through a dedicated indicator placed under the drive icon. Metadata and information for files and folders can now be viewed through a separate details pane, and descriptive terms for easier categorization and retrieval can now be added to items.

Start menu[edit | edit source]

The Start menu was redesigned such that the All Programs list becomes integrated as a single shortcut directory tree view, rather than its previous iterations which instead presented additional clutter as the user advances into deeper shortcut directory levels. Integration with the Windows Search service has also been implemented, allowing the user to quickly search for files, documents and installed programs. As with its predecessor, the user can revert to the older start menu design from Windows 2000.

Taskbar[edit | edit source]

The Taskbar received a minor functionality improvement with the addition of live taskbar thumbnails, which shows the preview of a window when its taskbar button is hovered over. The Start button also no longer shows the "Start" text and was changed to a blue orb which bears the Windows logo.

Windows Sidebar[edit | edit source]

Vista implements a separate sidebar area that allows the user to place gadgets, small applets designed to show information at a quick glance such as displaying the time and date, displaying images or reporting current weather conditions. These applets can also be placed onto the desktop.

Accessibility[edit | edit source]

The new Ease of Access Center has been added as a replacement for the older Utility Manager, allowing disabled users to launch built-in accessibility tools and configure existing accessibility options through a dedicated launcher.

Integrated support for speech recognition has been added, enabling users to control their device using various voice commands and dictate text in various applications. An interactive tutorial is included to teach users how to use voice commands. The speech recognition technology utilizes Microsoft Speech API version 5.3 and Speech Recognizer version 8. To accomodate for this, an updated speech synthesis engine for text-to-speech programs like Narrator and Microsoft Agent has also been updated to support SAPI 5, which implements enhanced support for natural-sounding voices.

Security improvements[edit | edit source]

Windows Vista introduced many improved security features such as User Account Control, which improves the security of the computer by limiting programs to use fewer privileges by default in an effort to prevent malware from compromising the security of the user's computer. It also allows standard users to use their devices with as few privileges as possible whilst retaining overall system usability.

When an action requires administrative elevation, User Account Control will ask for the user's credentials or consent to initiate the action through a separate prompt, achieved by having its underlying system process (consent.exe, spawned by the Application Information service) send a request to the Windows session manager to switch to a special session reserved specifically for the local system account (otherwise referred to as the "secure desktop", additionally used by the Windows logon user interface), display a dimmed bitmap image copy of the logged-on user's session across the client area and spawn the respective application launch confirmation dialog.[14][15]

Improvements to drive encryption were implemented through the addition of BitLocker Drive Encryption, which makes use of the device's TPM module to encrypt the contents of an existing partition wherever possible. Drives can also be decrypted through the use of a separate backup key.

The logon experience in Windows Vista has been overhauled. Support for GINA DLLs were removed, and the roles and responsibilities of Winlogon have also been changed significantly. The design of the logon screen was overhauled to feature a minimalistic design that places a central focus on the user themselves, with options for power and accessibility placed on

Miscellaneous[edit | edit source]

Search indexing[edit | edit source]

The new Windows Search service replaces the older item indexing service included as part of Windows previous versions, making use of a lightweight database containing all indexed items stored on the user's computer. Search functionality has also been expanded with the introduction of search folders, which automatically categorize files based on existing metadata. The new search indexer supports IFilters, components that allow the service to scan the contents and metadata of files. Windows Search also uses property handlers to index existing metadata from various file formats.

Searches can be initiated by using the search box in the Start menu and in the Windows Explorer user interface.

Networking stack[edit | edit source]

The underlying Windows networking stack has also been overhauled in Windows Vista to feature IPv6 support, a reworked IPv4 and TCP/IP implementation and improvements towards peer-to-peer connectivity.

Printing subsystem[edit | edit source]

The print architecture has also been overhauled in Windows Vista. The new print architecture is built around WPF and provides high-fidelity color printing using improved color management features. The XPS format was also introduced for printers which allows prints to look much better in quality. Client Side Rendering was also introduced to allow documents to be rendered on to the main client machine rather than on the server. This allows the rendered form of the document to be passed on to the main print server without additional processing.

Windows Audio[edit | edit source]

The audio stack has also been overhauled in Windows Vista. The new stack model includes support for UAA and support for better audio processing through major new APIs such as Windows Audio Session, Multimedia Device and Device Topology. In addition, new digital signal processing features such as Room Correction, Bass Management, Loudness Equalization and Speaker Fill have been introduced which adapts and modifies an existing audio signal to take more advantage of the speaker configuration. The ability to calibrate audio speakers to a room's acoustics automatically using an Aero wizard has also been added.

Software Protection Platform[edit | edit source]

The licensing subsystem has been completely rewritten in Windows Vista. This allowed Microsoft to define licensing restrictions for each SKU more easily and systemically using product policies, rather than hardcoding them in the kernel or using hooks for core system components. Product policies are used to limit the maximum amount of RAM, number of processors, as well as the availability of user interface options such as the Aero theme or transparency.

Boot environment[edit | edit source]

The boot environment has been reworked from scratch with the introduction of the Windows Boot Manager, a replacement for the legacy NTLDR boot loader that implements a new registry-based Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store which defines settings for existing boot applications and the underlying boot environment.

Performance optimizations[edit | edit source]

The ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive features were introduced as a way to improve system performance by using available flash memory on USB flash drives and hybrid hard disks to store commonly used programs and data. This additionally improves battery life on portable computers, as hybrid drives can be spun down when the system is not in use.

SuperFetch, a new feature that extended upon the existing prefetching subsystem was was also introduced, allowing the operating system to analyze usage patterns and make decisions about what should be present in memory at any given time.

Deprecations[edit | edit source]

  • Windows Vista drops the ability to upgrade from Windows NT 4.0, Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, Windows Me, Windows 2000 and can be only officially upgraded to on devices using an 800 MHz CPU or faster, 512MB RAM or higher, Super VGA video output, and 20GB HDD disk or larger, with BIOS or compatible firmware and Windows XP or Windows XP x64 Edition supported and installed.
  • It is no longer possible to downgrade to an older version of Windows due to underlying changes within the setup subsystem.
  • The Windows Messenger service has been removed, as instead a link to download Windows Live Messenger has been placed in Welcome Center.
  • WordPad can no longer open Microsoft Word documents. Instead, Microsoft recommended to use Word Viewer instead.
  • Service Packs can no longer be installed cumulatively in Windows Vista SP2, meaning that Service Pack 1 has to be installed first.

Editions[edit | edit source]

Windows Vista was shipped in a number of editions. Unlike Windows XP, there were no special editions for Media Center, 64-bit capabilities and Tablet PCs since these features were included in at least one of the consumer editions. Windows Anytime Upgrade was also introduced to allow users to easily facilitate upgrades to higher editions of Windows Vista.

  • Starter: This edition is intended for emerging markets and low-cost PCs. Like its predecessor, the three-program limit was included, and a maximum limitation of 1GB installable RAM is imposed. Other software restrictions were applied as well; hence, this version isn't available in 64-bit. This edition is the only edition of Vista that does not have Desktop Window Manager and Windows HotStart enabled. Only Windows XP Starter Edition can be upgraded to Windows Vista Starter.
  • Home Basic: Found in low-cost to mid-range computers, this version of Windows Vista does not feature complete Aero (though it includes DWM functionality) and hence does not feature more complex effects like transparency and Flip 3D. Windows Media Center, Windows DVD Maker and various backup features are also not present in this edition and unlike the Starter edition, it doesn't have the hardware and 3-program maximum limitations. The user can also only join a meeting but cannot create one in Windows Meeting Space.
  • Home Premium: The consumer version of Windows Vista. This version includes full Aero functionality, Windows Media Center, Windows DVD Maker, Premium Games (e.g.: Inkball, Purble Place) and various WMP11 audio decoders. However, it lacks the BitLocker and Complete PC Backup functionalities.
  • Business: A business-oriented version of Windows Vista. It contains several features such as full Remote Desktop Protocol (client/host) capability, group policy management, Active Directory domain join support and faxing capabilities. Consumer-specific features such as Windows Media Center and Parental Controls are not included, and Premium Games are disabled by default.
  • Enterprise: A business-oriented variant of Windows Vista. It is similar to Ultimate but does not include consumer-specific features such as Windows Media Center and Parental Controls. Rather, it includes enterprise-specific tools such as Windows Fax and Scan and Windows Services for UNIX. This edition was only available to customers who participated in the Microsoft Software Assurance program.
    Windows Vista Product Red gadgets and theme
  • Ultimate: The high-end variant of Windows Vista. It is a merger of the features included with Windows Vista Home Premium and Business. BitLocker is included in this version. This edition also allows the user to install Windows Ultimate Extras, a set of addons that include games, sound schemes, Windows DreamScene, BitLocker and additional Windows Marketplace enhancements. This SKU also has all features of Windows Vista.
    • A custom version of Windows Vista Ultimate was also created for the Product Red campaign, which aids in supporting global funding for research on diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The version includes extra Red-themed wallpapers, gadgets and a special theme.

There was not a separate componentized embedded version of Windows Vista, as Microsoft instead opted to release Windows Embedded 2009, which was based upon the Windows XP codebase.[16] Windows Vista Business and Ultimate could be licensed for use on embedded devices. Such copies are labeled as "Windows Vista Business for Embedded Systems" and "Windows Vista Ultimate for Embedded Systems" on the Product Key sticker, respectively, and their installation media is identical to the retail version. The only notable difference from the retail version is the inclusion of an EULA that forbids other uses.[17]

Marketing[edit | edit source]

Windows Vista was initially marketed with the slogan The Wow Starts Now. The slogan would be later changed to I'm a PC in 2008 in response to Apple's opposing Get a Mac marketing campaign from 2006. The campaign would carry over to Windows 7, and lasted through 2011.

In an attempt to curb the negative reputation of Windows Vista, Microsoft launched an advertising campaign named the Mojave Experiment, which involved a limited set of users being given the chance to try out a rebranded copy of Windows Vista under the assumption that it was an in-development version of a fictitious operating system codenamed Mojave.[18]

Criticism[edit | edit source]

While Windows Vista was praised for its new design, features and security improvements, it received criticism due to various factors such as stability issues that were present in the original release of Vista, lack of compatibility with many drivers and programs that previously ran on Windows XP and older, its much higher system requirements that caused performance problems on older computers and rendered many high-end features such as the Windows Aero interface unusable on older hardware and the excessive intrusiveness of the User Account Control feature. Later updates would resolve many of the performance issues.

As a result of these issues, Windows Vista's initial adoption and satisfaction rates were very low compared to Windows XP and many users also downgraded back to Windows XP due to compatibility issues that rendered many programs and computer peripherals unusable along with performance issues. The Windows Vista Capable marketing campaign was also subject to criticism due to OEM's installing the OS on underpowered machines which did not fully meet Vista's system requirements which resulted in a class-action lawsuit being filed against Microsoft in early 2008 and eventually lost its class-action status in early 2009.

Misattributed system sounds[edit | edit source]

The widespread sound scheme often attributed to Longhorn was never included in any official build and originates from a theme produced by Samsung Electronics for Windows XP from 2003.[19] The Windows XP sounds remain and are used in all pre-reset and post-reset builds, with a few being swapped with Vista sounds between builds 5469 and 5840.16384.

The alleged Windows Vista Beta 1 startup sound[20] is actually WELCOMESEQUENCE.WAV used in the Speech Recognition tutorial from build 5308.6. Likewise, an alternative interpretation of the final startup sound that is sometimes labeled as the Windows Vista Beta 2 startup sound[21] is actually a jingle used in Vista Beta 2 Help video outros.

List of known builds[edit | edit source]

Pre-reset builds[edit | edit source]

Milestone 3[edit | edit source]

Milestone 4[edit | edit source]

Milestone 5[edit | edit source]

Milestone 6[edit | edit source]

Milestone 7[edit | edit source]

Milestone 8[edit | edit source]

Please note that the categorization of the following builds as Milestone 8 is unconfirmed and disputed.

Post-reset builds[edit | edit source]

Omega-13[edit | edit source]

Developer Preview[edit | edit source]

Beta 1[edit | edit source]

Beta 2[edit | edit source]

Release Candidate 1[edit | edit source]

Release Candidate 2[edit | edit source]

Pre-RTM[edit | edit source]

RTM[edit | edit source]

Service Pack 1[edit | edit source]

Service Pack 2[edit | edit source]

Windows Server 2008 Lifecycle Servicing Update[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Microsoft. Q&A: Windows Vista Released to Manufacturing, Microsoft PressPass. 8 November 2006.
  2. Desktop Windows Version Market Share Worldwide, StatCounter.
  3. Galli, Peter. Pushing Forward, eWeek. 30 July 2001. Retrieved on 18 April 2022. Archived from the original on 18 April 2022.
  4. Chen, Raymond. By Grabthar's Hammer, it's a Galaxy Quest documentary, The Old New Thing. 17 October 2019.
  5. Thurrott, Paul. WinHEC 2005 Longhorn Developer Preview, Windows IT Pro. 25 April 2005. Archived from the original on 27 April 2005.
  6. Keizer, Gregg. Judge makes 'Vista Capable' lawsuit a class-action affair, Computerworld. 25 February 2008.
  7. Fiveash, Kelly. Judge strips MS 'Vista Capable' lawsuit of class action status, The Register. 19 February 2009.
  8. United States District Court - Western District of Washington at Seattle. Case Document #131 (pp. 32-33), Kelley v. Microsoft. 27 February 2008.
  9. Microsoft. Microsoft Unveils Official Name for “Longhorn” and Sets Date for First Beta Targeted at Developers and IT Professionals, Microsoft PressPass. 22 July 2005.
  10. Thurrott, Paul. Road to Gold: The Long Road to Windows Vista; Part 4: January - July 2005. November 1, 2006.
  14. Russinovich, Mark; Solomon, David A.; Ionescu, Alex. "Chapter 6: Security - Running With Administrator Rights". Windows Internals (6th ed.), Microsoft Press. March 2012. ISBN 978-0-73-564873-9. pp. 574.
  15. Jim. User Account Control Prompts on the Secure Desktop, User Account Control WebLog. 3 May 2006.
  16. Microsoft. Microsoft Charts Its Road Map for Windows Embedded Business, Microsoft PressPass, 15 April 2008.
  17. Microsoft. Windows Vista for Embedded Systems overview, Windows Embedded. 21 April 2008.
  18. Microsoft. The Mojave Experiment official advertisement video, 29 July 2008.