Free tool compresses Windows Vista from 15GB to 1.5GB

A Croatian college student has created a utility that installs a seriously stripped-down Windows Vista, saying the heft of Microsoft Corp.’s biggest desktop operating system is just too big to believe.

“Who can justify a 15GB operating system?” asked Dino Nuhagic, a fifth-year student from Split, a Croatian city on the Adriatic. Not Nuhagic, or the uncounted users who have turned to his creation, vLite.

The free program lets users pick and choose which Vista components, hot fixes, drivers and even language packs are installed, then builds a disk image that can be burned to a DVD for unattended installation of the operating system.

“Why did I do it? Well, it’s performance and work environment,” Nuhagic said when asked why he came up with vLite. “Performance, that’s easy to explain. The less things running, the more responsive the OS. But the environment part is where it gets down to personal preference.”

Those preferences include options for leaving out virtually every component of Windows Vista, from the minor — such as the bundled screensavers — to the major, such as the firewall or Universal Plug and Play.

Some vLite users, in fact, have made it a contest of sorts to come up with the puniest-possible installation package for the operating system. While Microsoft recommends that users set aside 15GB of hard-disk space to install its pride and joy, Nuhagic’s fans boast of squeezing it into an image file as small as 515MB that takes up just 1.4GB on the hard drive.

One user reported condensing Windows Vista Home Basic into a 526MB .iso file and installing it in a virtual machine that used just 1.3GB of drive space. “It worked well inside the virtual machine and since I have 1GB of RAM on the host I guess the little Vista would work well,” said amocanu.

Nuhagic didn’t come right out and say it, but he hinted that he — like more critical users and pundits — thought Vista was bloated and could use some reducing. “To be frank, I don’t need 90% of Windows. But that 10%, which guarantees that you can run [the] majority of games out there, is what is worth isolating.”

Crafting vLite wasn’t easy, he said. But the time Nuhagic spent on its predecessor, nLite, which similarly squeezes Windows 2000 and Windows XP, paid off in spades. “Since I had four years of experience with tampering [with] older Windows, it was a lot easier than nLite,” Nuhagic said of the development of vLite. “Also, it was easier than in XP because Vista does not have the old-style installation. It doesn’t install components one by one, but simply extracts the image. Where XP would fail during install because a certain file was missing, that issue is not present in Vista.”

Even though vLite features a simple graphical interface that lets users remove a component with a click, Nuhagic warned that the utility isn’t designed for the average user: “Because of certain possible compatibility issues with the programs out there [that] expect full Windows, I’d recommend [it] only to users [that] want exactly that kind of tool. In other words, I would not recommend it to someone who installs their OS once every few years. But if you do it every few months, then it’s a must.”

Nuhagic couldn’t say how many people use vLite, or even the number of times it’s been downloaded from his Web site. “I don’t have counters installed because the FTP mirrors were donated, and I would have to upgrade my hosting for some extra script processing,” he said of his shoestring operation. It shouldn’t be a surprise, however, that nLite, the Windows XP miniaturizer, remains four to five times more popular than vLite, based on the number of visitors to the different nLite and vLite Web sites.

Microsoft knows of the tools — Nuhagic said the company has contacted him in the past about possible employment — but it’s done little to quash the condensing. When asked whether it had any thoughts on vLite, a company spokeswoman e-mailed a lukewarm warning.

“Microsoft does not recommend using any tool to strip out applications from Windows Vista prior to installing it on your system, as it may affect your ability to download future Windows Updates and Service Packs, and may cause your system to become unstable,” she said.

But vLite’s users praised Nuhagic’s efforts with blunter language. “Thanks for spending your time making our OS less bloated,” said one.

VLite 1.1 can be downloaded from Nuhagic’s Web site.

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