Microsoft's Vista Support Ended
Microsoft's support for Vista ended April 11, 2017. Vista is unsafe to use and will become increasingly so.
An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information. Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows—new drivers for your hardware and more. — Microsoft
You Need to Find an Alternative NOW
You can't continue to run Windows Vista with it connected to the Internet. You need to:
- buy a new computer; or
- install a currently-supported alternative operating system; or
- take your computer offline forever.
A New Computer
A new computer is probably your best option. This avoids issues with aging hardware and allows you to prepare for a longer lifespan for your replacement computer.
Windows 10 is pretty much your only Windows alternative in a NEW computer but second-hand Windows 7 and 8 computers are available.
Apple Mac computers have become much more popular in recent years and integration with the iPhone and iPad is excellent.
You might find this a reasonable upgrade path, particularly if you're having to replace aging hardware and software. There are some considerations.
- The cost is significantly higher than for a typical Windows computer. The higher cost also brings better hardware. Because Apple controls the hardware, you get a consistently-great experience.
- If you have commitments to expensive Windows software like Adobe Photoshop, you'll need to replace them with the Mac versions.
- There will be a learning curve. Switch to Mac: How to find your favorite Windows features in OS X.
Advanced users can use Boot Camp to dual boot to Windows or another operating system. Because Vista will be no safer on Mac hardware you'll still need to purchase a newer version of Windows.
Alternative Operating Systems
Depending upon the upgradability of your computer hardware and your changing needs you should carefully assess the practicality of upgrading your Vista computer to an alternative operating system.
The first question you'll want to ask is the viability of upgrading your current hardware. How should I upgrade from Windows Vista before it becomes unsupported? discusses some of the issues with upgrading your current hardware to Windows 7 or Windows 10.
- Your aging Vista hardware is significantly more likely to fail. Hard drive failure could lead to the loss of data.
- Newer computers have much faster processors, significantly more RAM and are still relatively inexpensive.
- You'll need to purchase a Windows license to upgrade Vista, whereas a new computer will come with one.
- Windows 10's valid only for the supported lifetime of the device which is undefined by Microsoft. Vista's hardware is older and was never included in the offer of a free upgrade to Windows 10.
- Microsoft is determined to end the use of Windows 7 and 8, forcing people into Windows 10. Windows 7 installations run into Windows Update issues requiring research into workarounds.
Linux offers a decent upgrade path for those with older hardware and minimal needs.
- It runs well on your existing hardware and is free!
- Thunderbird, Firefox, LibreOffice and many programs are either preinstalled or available.
- Support for printers and other external hardware has greatly improved.
- Support for some Windows programs using WINE has improved.
- You can boot to a LiveDVD version of Linux (running in RAM) to see how it performs on your hardware and to see how it works for you.
Check the Linux forums for the Linux version you're planning to use to see if your hardware is supported or to find solutions to issues you run into.
The iPad or Android-based tablets can provide an excellent alternative for users that have light requirements (email, Facebook, Web surfing, very light documents). Many folks already have one of these devices, making the move relatively inexpensive.
- Be sure that you're able to do everything with your tablet before abandoning your PC files forever. A backup of those files is recommended just in case.
- Be aware that keyboard- and mouse-intensive tasks (spreadsheets, long documents, etc.) are not as easily performed on a tablet.
- To print documents you'll need to invest in a suitable wireless printer.
- iPad or Laptop. Which is right for you? — Macworld.
Going Permanently Offline
If you continue to use Vista, you'll need to take it permanently offline. You can continue to use Vista for word processing, home theatre, music, etc. as long as you're depending upon CDs and DVDs or existing stored content. Be sure to unplug network cables and disable wireless connectivity.
However, being offline has some disadvantages.
- You may be unable to install devices because you're not connected. Drivers for current hardware seldom comes on CDs or DVDs and Vista drivers of any type are quickly vanishing.
- You can't access news, email, Netflix, YouTube or other online content.
- Entertainment and video selection is restricted to CDs, DVDs and previously-stored content.
Windows Vista Editions
Comparing Vista Editions
There are four editions of Vista:
- Home Basic (intended for only the most basic computer uses: email/web browsing/photos) — not recommended.
- Home Premium (recommended for most home desktop and mobile PCs)
- Ultimate (all the bells and whistles: for your power user)
- Business (aimed at the needs of small businesses)
Windows Vista Hardware
Installing Windows Vista
Microsoft's instruction on how to install, upgrade, & activate Windows Vista are no longer available.
Vista More Demanding of Hardware
Windows Vista is particularly demanding and few computers built before 2007 will run Vista satisfactorily without being significantly upgraded. Hardware requirements are generally much higher to perform the same functions as a comparable system running Windows XP (or even Windows 7).
In most cases you are better off upgrading to Windows 7 if your computer will support it, although support for Windows 7 is now relatively short (January 14, 2020).
Be sure your hardware is adequate to optimize your experience with Windows Vista. As noted above, Windows 7's requirements are lighter. See the general notes about Windows hardware requirements.
Vista provides an advantage where you are using the 64-bit version with large amounts of memory (8 GB or more). 32-bit systems only provide a small amount of enhanced memory (nominally 4 GB of which many 32-bit systems only see 3.5 GB), making the advantages over XP, in this respect, minimal.
Hardware Upgrades Probably Necessary
The most likely upgrades needed to satisfy Vista's demands include:
- a significantly improved video card for most systems
- a doubling or more of RAM: 1 GB minimum, 2 GB recommended. (Vista Basic states a minimum of 512 MB RAM but it will be extremely slow and unresponsive — NOT recommended.)
ReadyBoost is a feature that allows you to enhance built-in RAM with external devices like USB flash drives. Not all devices are capable of providing the speed needed for ReadyBoost and it is most pronounced in systems with Vista's minimum of 512 MB RAM (not recommended).
Vista is a poor choice if you're considering upgrading. Vista requirements are much higher and Windows 7 may run better on hardware that will support Vista.
If you have a basic XP system, you're more likely to be satisfied only if you purchase a new computer.
Vista Compatibility Resources No Longer Available
Most Microsoft resources, including the Vista Upgrade Advisor, are no longer available.
- Windows Vista TechNet resources are aimed at technical support staff.
Vista “Basic” Crippled
Vista Home Basic was a sell-out to hardware vendors with computers designed for XP but lacking the capacity to run Vista (Microsoft was determined to kill XP off). If your computer came with Vista Home Basic, you'll have to look at alternatives to Windows for satisfaction. Linux is recommended although current versions can run slowly on Home Basic hardware.
Tweaking & Customizing Windows Vista
This involves changing the way Windows does certain tasks, such as not placing the "shortcut to" in the name of new shortcuts. You can tell a shortcut by the little arrow placed on the icon (although you can remove that as well).
Broadband and Networking Tweaks
Tweaking broadband and network settings is not recommended in Windows Vista.
Editing the Windows Registry directly is for advanced users. Be sure to backup your registry before making changes.
Changing the Look
Windows Vista introduced the Windows Aero translucent glass design and larger "live" icons which captured people's imagination. This is much more demanding of video hardware and can affect performance in marginal systems where Aero is usually disabled such as in Vista Basic.
If you're having trouble with Vista, try these resources:
- Windows Recovery Hints — Recovering Your Windows Installation
- Windows Backup — Options & Strategies
- Windows Vista System Restore Guide shows screen shots of the System Restore process.
Windows Vista Security
Windows Vista greatly increased the security of Windows with bitlocker drive encryption, encrypting file system, shadow copy and the notoriously annoying User Account Control.
Significant changes to the operating system were undertaken to help reduce vulnerabilities long entrenched in Windows. This meant that legacy utilities and security software no longer ran on Vista (new versions were developed to remedy this).
Unfortunately, Microsoft chose not to allow Vista users to upgrade Internet Explorer past version 9 — another reason not to use Internet Explorer as your default browser and not at all on anything but sites known to be safe (something that is very hard for many users to determine in these days of fake news on major sites).
Vista Service Pack 1 & 2
Support for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) ended on July 12, 2011.
Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) provides
customer and partner feedback-driven fixes into a single service pack.
As with most service packs, Vista SP2 should be installed unless you have a compelling reason not to. Using Windows Update, only the necessary patches are downloaded and installed.
Note: Vista support has expired and is no longer safe to use online, even with SP2 installed.
Updated: June 6, 2017