How To: Streamline and Customize your Vista Installation

Nathan Edwards

Tired of Vista installation bloat? Looking for an easy way to set up an unattended install process? Wishing for a faster way to tweak your favorite settings after Vista is installed? There’s an easy solution for all these scenarios, thanks to a little program called vLite.

VLite allows you to create a customized Windows Vista installation disc that contains only the features you need and leaves out all the drivers and components you don’t use. The program also lets you perform an unattended install and configure a variety of post-installation tweaks.

Maybe you want to make your next Vista installation faster and easier by creating a one-button install disc. Maybe you want to put Vista on a diet. Hands-down, vLite is a great customization program that belongs in any power user’s arsenal. However, while the process is straightforward, we recommend that you test your disc on a virtual machine, such as the free Virtual PC 2007 (www.microsoft.com), before doing a full install.

Time: 45 mins

What You Need

1. Get Started with vLite

VLite can be downloaded as either a 1.56MB installer or a leaner 1.43MB self-extracting archive. You need administrator-level access to run the application, so right-click the executable and select the Run as Administrator option—which is right below the Open command.

When vLite opens, the program prompts you to browse to the folder containing the Windows Vista installation files. Insert your Windows Vista DVD, click Browse, navigate to the optical drive, and click OK. Then click OK again on the Copy Files dialog and select a folder for storing the Vista installation files. Use the Make New Folder button to create a new folder if necessary. It takes about 10 minutes to copy the files from the Vista DVD.

Next, select the Vista edition you want to configure. VLite is a “world citizen,” so it’s compatible with non-U.S. editions such as Home BasicN, BusinessN, and Starter, as well as Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. Once you’ve made your selection, click OK. After you complete the copy and selection process, the vLite screen lists the location of the Vista files and the version information.

Before continuing, use the Options menu to check the location of the temporary files folder. The program displays a message if there’s not enough space, so you can select a folder on a different drive. Click OK to close the Options menu; then click Next to continue.


After vLite copies your Vista DVD’s contents, it’s ready to customize the install files.

2.Choose a Task

In vLite’s Tasks tab you can select or deselect the parts of your install process you would like to customize:

  • Integration: integrates hotfixes, drivers, and language packs
  • Components: removes unneeded components to reduce the size of the Vista install image and the installed size of Vista
  • Tweaks: adjusts the Vista configuration to save time and steps after installation is complete
  • Unattended Setup: automates Vista setup to save time
  • Bootable ISO: creates a bootable ISO image or burns the image to CD or DVD.

By default, all options are selected. We recommend you clear the “Enable before apply” option; otherwise, you might forget to apply changes, and you’ll wonder why you created an ISO image identical to the original. When you disable this option, the program forces you to make and apply changes before it lets you make a bootable ISO. If you want to create only an unattended install image, clear all but the Unattended Setup check box. Click Next to continue.

3. Add a Side of Hotfixes and Drivers


The more hotfixes you add to Vista SP1 now, the fewer you’ll need to install later.

Now you’re in the Integration menu’s Hotfixes tab. If you’re customizing Vista SP1, you will see already-integrated hotfixes, but you can add additional hotfixes introduced post-SP1. (To locate them, go to www.microsoft.com/downloads and search for updates for Windows Vista SP1. Be sure to save, rather than run, hotfixes.) Click Insert, navigate to the folder containing the hotfixes you want to add to the installation, select them, and click Open.

To add drivers, click the Drivers tab. Use the Insert button and navigate to the appropriate folders to add drivers, which then appear at the bottom of the dialog.

Note that drivers included as a standard part of Vista or Vista SP1 are not listed. To add language packs, click the Language Pack tab. The current language in use is listed. Use the Insert button and navigate to the appropriate folders to add language packs. Click Next.

4. Kick Unwanted Features to the Curb

The Compatibility dialog opens next. Within the Features tab you can deselect the Vista features you want to remove. (We kicked Scanners and Cameras and Windows Fax and Scan to the curb, since we’ll eventually use third-party apps for picture transfer and scanning.)

The Applications tab lists a few popular third-party apps that depend on Vista components, such as ACDSee/XnView and Halo 2. If you plan to install a listed application, click the empty check box next to it. Keep in mind that checked items will be included in the Vista installation image. Click OK to continue.

5. Remove Components to Slim Vista


Selecting components to remove can be tricky. Keep an eye on the Help window to the right for suggestions and warnings.

The Components dialog can be tricky. Unlike the Compatibility dialog, the Components dialog is used to remove components in particular categories, such as accessories, drivers, and hardware support. Checked items will be removed from your image. As you select each item, a help dialog on the right side of the display lists the size of the item, what it does, and under what situations it should be kept. Items that can be particularly dangerous to remove are listed in red type.

We removed Paint, Snipping Tool, and Wordpad from Accessories (they won’t be missed), almost all items in the Driver category except for some storage controller listings (we’ll install updated video drivers ourselves), all games (Vista’s games are pretty lame), fax and iSCSI support from the Hardware Support category, Asian language support from the Languages category, sample files from the Multimedia category, and IIS from the Network category. We kept all of the services.

The original Windows Ultimate installation includes 172 total items. We selected 68 for removal. Once you have your list ready, click Next to continue.

6. Tweak Now, Save Time Later


If you’re always tweaking these settings anyway, let vLite do it for you, and you won’t have to make the changes ever again!

The Tweaks dialog allows you to preconfigure commonly changed settings in four areas. The Security option lets you edit Anti-Spyware Realtime Protection, Data Execution Prevention, and UAC options. The System section allows you to set AutoPlay and paging executive, hibernation, memory requirement, Power button, and Sleep button options. Explorer lets you edit view settings for the Control Panel, file extensions, hidden files and folders, and operating system files. And finally, the Internet Explorer option allows you to edit the IE Phishing filter and phishing verification balloon tips. Click an item you want to change (such as the Power button), and a pull-down menu arrow appears to the right of the current setting. Select the setting you prefer. Click Next to continue.

7. Run an Unattended Installation

The Unattended dialog helps you create an unattended installation. In the General tab, you can select your preferences for the install process. “Select this version on install” refers to the version of Vista you specified when you started vLite; the “Protect your PC” button lets you choose an automatic-update setting. In the Regional tab, you can specify the UI language, time and currency format, keyboard or input method, and time zone.

8. Burn a New Installation Disc


You get a few different options for making your final disc, based on how much time you want to spend!

Once done with the Unattended tab, click Apply to open the Apply Method dialog. Of the three options given, use Rebuild One (the default) to create the smallest ISO image and smallest installation size (select the others to see suggestions on when to use them). Click OK. It takes about 15 minutes to complete changes to the install image. Click Next when prompted to open the ISO menu. You can create an ISO file on disk, CD, or DVD. You can adjust burn speed, verify the image after writing it, perform a simulated test write, or split the image to fit onto multiple CDs. After you create an install disc, use the Preset menu to save your configuration for reuse before exiting vLite.

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