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Customize Windows Vista Installations With vLite

Create custom Windows Vista installations by adding or removing system components and automating setup options with vLite. It's unsupported by Microsoft, but vLite is free and will delight Vista enthusiasts.


vLite's Compatibility option keeps essential system components intact.
(click for image gallery)

The Integration tab lets you add hotfixes, device drivers, and language packs to the Vista system image. Since hotfixes cannot be readily added or "slipstreamed" into a Vista disk image -- at least, not yet -- this is one way to get around that limitation.

When you install Vista from the image you've created, everything you've selected will be preinstalled and ready to use. This is useful if you want to create an image that, for instance, already contains network or mass-storage controller drivers that aren't bundled with Vista, or that contains a hotfix for a hardware issue that might affect system setup.

To add a hotfix, click Insert and point the program to a .CAB or .MSU file that contains the hotfix. Device drivers require an individual .INF file, but you can also point to a folder that has multiple drivers listed in it if you want to integrate a whole sheaf of them at once. If you integrate multiple drivers, be sure only to integrate drivers that are Vista-compatible or you may end up with a mess on your hands.


In this tab you can select components of Vista that will be permanently removed from the system image. This can be done as a way to save space, as a way to reduce the attack surface of the OS, or simply because you don't want something present. Over 170 different components can be removed or included in the following categories: Accessories, Drives, Games, Hardware Support, Languages, Multimedia, Network, Services, and System. One important thing to note is that the interface here is a little counterintuitive. If you check off a component in the list, you're removing it from the build image, not including it.

Also, remember that anything removed in this menu will be removed completely -- you won't be able to add it back in later unless you completely rebuild the DVD image. Part of why removing components wholesale from Vista is controversial is because it can break both backwards and forwards compatibility. For instance, a vLite-modified version of Vista cannot accept Vista SP1, unless you use one of the unorthodox slipstreaming methods that are out there. The safest way to proceed is to wait for a preintegrated Vista installation disc that has SP1 and then use vLite to process that system image (provided that vLite can still work with SP1).

The most crucial system components that have dependencies that might not be obvious are highlighted in red, but you can elect to protect specific files from being removed by clicking "Protect files" and specifying a path to the executable you want to leave in. When you do this, you'll get confirmation dialogs before going to the next step, where you can affirm or deny that anything that depends on the protected components will be retained. A similar mechanism, the "Compatibility" button, allows you to designate major, commonly used system components (like Internet Explorer) that are to be retained.

vLite's design lends itself to two basic approaches in this section. The first is to strip out everything and then click on "Compatibility" to add back in the features you need to support certain system functions, and then add more options (such as hardware support or drivers) on top of that if needed. This is the expert approach, and you may find that stripping out certain things will cause others to break in an unforeseen manner further on down the line. The other way is to include everything first, strip out only things that in your estimation don't absolutely have to be there, and ask that vLite protect the most crucial components. This is probably the easiest way to go if you're a relative novice and don't want to go through a lot of trial-and-error experimentation.

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