One feature of Windows Vista that has received little attention is the fact that every edition of Vista—from Home Basic to Ultimate—can be run as a trial edition for 30 days without even supplying a product key.
This may sound startling, but it's not a bug, a defect or a failure of Microsoft's Product Activation technology. It's deliberate, and can be quite useful in certain instances.
When you pop in the Vista DVD and start the install process, you'll be prompted for a license key. But unlike earlier versions of Windows that required a license key, you can click through this part of the install with only a warning. You don't have to supply the license code to begin the installation, and you can choose to install any of the available editions of Windows Vista.
Once the product is installed, you'll get the 30-day Product Activation countdown. Every so often, a notification balloon will pop up from the system tray to warn you that you have X days left before you need to activate Windows.
If you elect to activate Windows during that time, you'll be prompted for a product key. If your copy expires, it will drop back into limited-functionality mode—you can log in, open a Web browser and connect to the Internet, but you won't be able to run any other programs and you'll automatically be logged off after one hour.
What makes this feature especially useful is that if you want to test out any of the features of a given edition of Windows (for instance, BitLocker), you can install an unlicensed copy of Vista onto a PC or in a virtual machine and use this 30-day trial window to do this. That's a good amount of time to determine if a given Vista feature suits your needs. Then when you're done, you can simply delete the install or activate it and use it if you have a license.
If you're installing Windows Vista in Virtual PC, use Virtual PC 2007 (currently available as a stable beta-testable product) for the best results. Virtual PC 2007 has Vista-specific features that allow it to run all the more efficiently in a virtual machine, although it doesn't yet support the Aero Glass user interface; the video driver in Virtual PC 2007 hasn't been updated to allow it.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.
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