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2/4/2008
12:12 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
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nLite And vLite Can Lighten Windows, But Sometimes Too Much

Einstein supposedly said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." With the release of vLite, Vista users have a chance to try their hand at achieving Einstein's ideal. My experience with the XP version, nLite, has been that it's often hard to determine what constitutes simplicity -- and when to stop simplifying.

Einstein supposedly said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." With the release of vLite, Vista users have a chance to try their hand at achieving Einstein's ideal. My experience with the XP version, nLite, has been that it's often hard to determine what constitutes simplicity -- and when to stop simplifying.Being a PC neat freak myself, I have used nLite. It's got great documentation, including descriptions of most of the settings and components that it can control. It's great for building images for testing in a virtual machine, because you can trim off parts of Windows you're sure that you won't use, like the Windows Tour, sample bitmaps, and apps like Windows Movie Maker. That lets you create much smaller virtual disks without all the excess Windows baggage.

However, there is a dark side: It's easy to break Windows by taking out too much. This is not a theoretical problem; the nLite XP forum contains a big thread that tries to spell out which files are needed to ensure that particular Windows functionality doesn't break. The vLite Vista forum doesn't yet have a do-not-remove list for specific software, so you'll need to interpret items in the XP list where possible, and fly by the seat of your pants for the other cases.

Windows XP and Vista consist of hundreds of components, interacting in ways that aren't always clear to users who are just trying to run applications. There are DLLs, COM objects, executable files, device drivers, and services that communicate behind the scenes to implement functionality. You may not use Windows Media Player, but you may still need the same codecs for a video player embedded in another application. You may not use Internet Explorer, but an application may use the WebBrowser ActiveX control to render HTML text inside its own window. When these parts are missing, those applications will fail--sometimes in dramatic fashion.

It may surprise you that Microsoft already has the tools and information needed to create a svelte Windows setup. It's called Windows XP Embedded. It's not intended for desktop operating systems, but for devices such as billboard displays. In those situations, the developers know exactly what software will be installed and can fine-tune the Windows setup in advance to remove whatever they don't need.

Windows users, in contrast, expect to be able to install any Windows-compatible software on their PC at any time. I've seen people use nLite and then spend a lot of time later trying to figure out why some application they have installed won't work properly. Browse the vLite/nLite forums to see plenty of similar cases. That's why I think tools like nLite and vLite are better used by professionals for limited cases, rather than by end-users looking to create a slimmer Windows.

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