I downloaded a copy of Windows Vista off the Internet last night. And since the same site had XP, I got that too.
I figured it was okay, since I was doing research for the blog here.
It was all very convenient. The server where I found them has a lot of bandwidth, so the files (4.5GB and 1.8GB respectively) downloaded quickly. These are pre-installed disk images, so there's no trouble with activation.
The greatest irony is that the group providing them for download has configured them for maximum security-- so once you have them running, you can expect even more reliable operation than any copy of Windows you've paid for.
I just checked, and the download site is still online; I recommend you get over there and download copies for yourself as soon as possible:
That's the Computer Security Resource Center at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the government of the United States.
Why is the US government giving away copies of Windows?
In March, the Office of Management and Budget directed NIST to define standard Windows configurations for government desktop computers. NIST worked with Microsoft and agencies in the Department of Defense, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, the National Security Agency, and the US Air Force to develop these configurations.
These configurations were then applied to Vista and XP, built into Virtual PC disk images, and tested against the program requirements.
It's these images that you can download from the CSRC website. They're ready to boot right up within Virtual PC so IT security professionals in government and private industry can perform their own testing and adapt these configurations for use within their organizations.
The underlying Vista and XP installs are just evaluation copies with 120-day time limits, and they only work in Virtual PC, so they won't really save you from buying real copies if that's what you need. But if you want to see how to set up Windows for maximum security, this IS what you need.