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Windows Vista was available from the Digital River online store, and some of the download links are still accessible. Most of the links that can be found on the web now are dead, but I managed to search and collect all that is necessary to still download a full version of Windows Vista in English, French, German, Spanish and Dutch.

Important Note August 2014

Microsoft is retiring the previous download servers msft-dnl.digitalrivercontent.net, msft.digitalrivercontent.net and azcdn01.digitalrivercontent.net. Some downloads have been moved to the Azure storage on drcdn.blob.core.windows.net. At this point it is not clear whether the listed downloads will be available long term. We always keep the link list up to date.

Download Windows Vista from Digital River

Digtal River provides these downloads via Microsoft Azure. Digital River is Microsoft's service provider for e-commerce. For more details, please refer to this press release. So this is an official download channel, and you can be sure to receive setup files that are virus-free, secure, legitimate and untouched. Downloading the files from Digital River is absolutely legal and completely free of charge. Without a legally obtained product key however, only trial installations can be done.

Purchase an Activation Key

Windows Vista

If you don't own a product key yet, you can look at this list of offers from Amazon. Some of these are OEM versions, which contain a DVD with a product key just like the retail versions. They are significantly cheaper, but lack a proper box packaging, and don't include technical support by Microsoft. If you already have the installation files in your preferred language and bit edition, it doesn't matter which language version you purchase. The key only determines the edition (Home, Business etc.) and can activate both 32 and 64 bit in any language. Sometimes better editions are the cheaper ones, so all of the following links to Amazon might be worth checking. Windows 7 might also be cheaper than Vista, so it might also be worth checking the deals on the Windows 7 Direct Download Links page. As for Windows Vista, I've already tried to find good deals and linked to them here:

Create your own bootable Vista iso image

For a complete installation, you'll need three files: an *.exe file plus the two *.wim files. If you want to upgrade an existing Windows system, you can start the Vista installation by copying all three files into one folder and executing the *.exe file.

You might also want to have a bootable Vista DVD iso image. Microsoft doesn't provide these as free downloads, but actually it's quite easy to create an iso image from the setup files.

The instructions that could previously be found in this place were quite cumbersome. Please scroll to the end of this page for a new tutorial with some screenshots. All the restrictions that came with the previous instructions no longer apply.

Download Windows Vista Setup Files

For the student discount programme "the Ultimate Steal", Microsoft published installation files for Windows Vista Ultimate with integrated Service Pack 1 (SP1). These files are good for installing the other Windows Vista editions (Home Basic, Home Premium and Business) as well. The activation key determines which Vista edition will be installed.

The RTM *.exe files lack the corresponding *.wim files. They can't be used for a full installation. I've listed them anyway. You can still use them together with *.wim files from a recovery DVD or partition for example, even though if the language doesn't match.

Amazon

Windows Vista 32 bit

Product Language Download Link
Windows Vista Ultimate x86 SP1 Dutch (Netherlands) VistaSetupPrep.exe (X14-68066.exe)
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x86 SP1 English (USA) X14-63452.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x86 SP1 French (France) X14-68064.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x86 SP1 German (Germany) X15-19134.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x86 SP1 Spanish (Spain) VistaSetupPrep.exe (X14-68065.exe)
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista x86 RTM English (USA) X13-49114.exe
X13-49116.exe
X13-49118.exe
X13-49120.exe

Windows Vista 64 bit

Product Language Download Link
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1 Dutch (Netherlands) VistaSetupPrep.exe (X14-68071.exe)
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1 English (USA) X14-63453.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1 French (France) X14-68069.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1 German (Germany) X15-19135.exe
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1 Spanish (Spain) VistaSetupPrep.exe (X14-68070.exe)
boot.wim
install.wim
Windows Vista x64 RTM English (USA) X13-49115.exe
X13-49117.exe
X13-49119.exe
X13-49121.exe

Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT) RED

This is a collection of screen saver, side bar apps, background images etc. dipping your desktop into deep red, like the red ribbon, indicating solidarity with victims of AIDS/HIV. When properly purchased, a percentage of the proceeds of Vista RED editions goes towards fighting AIDS in Africa. Please don't just indicate your support. Do give! The HIV rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is at an alarming 5%, and even little donations can have great impact there.

Product Language Download Link
Windows Vista Ultimate (PRODUCT) RED English (USA) X15-19965.exe

Amazon

Tutorial: Create a Windows Vista installation disk or iso image the easy way

You will need the three downloaded files (one *.exe and two *.wim files) as well as some zip software such as 7-zip and an iso image software such as ImgBurn.

The following screenshots show the process of creating an English Windows Vista 64 bit iso image on Windows 8.1 32 bit. Other languages and bit editions work exaxtly the same. As you can see, the restriction that 64 bit iso files could only be created on a 64 bit system is no longer valid. Since ImgBurn runs on all Windows systems as well as on Wine, things will be much easier now. Only a few clicks are required.

Windows Vista downloaded files

So you start with all three Windows Vista files in one folder. It should look like on the screen shot now. X14-63453 is the setup file for the English Windows Vista 64 bit. The *.wim files come from the same download set. First thing to do, open the *.exe file in 7-zip and extract the contents to some folder on your hard drive.

Extract setup executable to hard disk

7-zip will create a new folder called "Vista", which is the root folder of the installation DVD. It contains a subfolder named "sources". Now move the two *.wim files into there.

Sources folder with *.wim files

What reamins to be done now is to create the iso image, and/or an installation disk from the new folder with the Vista files. You do that using ImgBurn. Let's look at the screen shot first.

ImgBurn settings for Windows Vista iso image

This is the settings screen for ImgBurn. You don't need to change a lot from the default settings. Browse for the "Vista" folder as the source. Choose a file name and a location for the iso file you want to create ("destination"). Then go to the "advanced" tab, and select "bootable disc".

In the options screen for bootable discs, select the check box to make the image bootable. As the boot image, select the "etfsboot.com" file in the "boot" subfolder. Then enter "Microsoft Corporation" as the developer ID. All other settings, please do not change.

So, that was already it, you can trigger burning the disk or creating the iso image now, and ImgBurn will do its thing. ImgBurn will offer you to auto fix some issues like a missing name tag, and the disc type. You can confirm all the auto fixes. After about 5 minutes, your disc or your file is already done.

ImgBurn auto fix for file system