If you have to provide some initial troubleshooting support by phone [or email], and you don't have access to the user's PC itself, what is the easiest and most foolproof question one can ask of the user to find out if the 'dumb' user is using either Windows 7 or Windows Vista?

For example: determining if the user has either Windows XP or Windows Vista/7 is easy. Just ask the user if the button at the left bottom corner is (a) either square with the word 'Start' on it, or (b) it is a round button.

But how do you determine the difference between Vista and 7?

Edit: For all the existing answers the user has to type something, and do it correctly. Sometimes even that is already hard for a computer illiterate user. My XP example just requires looking. If it exists (although I am afraid it doesn't), I think a solution that is just based on something this is visually different between Vista and 7 would stand above all others. (Which makes Dan's suggestion to turn over the box and look at the label" not so stupid). Perhaps the small 'show desktop' rectangle at the right side of the task bar (was that present in Vista)?

  • 18
    Turn the box over, look at the label on the bottom. Mar 16, 2012 at 11:45
  • 8
    Is your start button round or square =p (Doesn't work if they've changed their taskbar, but if they don't know what their OS is they probably have no idea that is possible)
    – cutrightjm
    Mar 16, 2012 at 12:11
  • @ekaj - Actually, that could be set by domain (corporate) policy, so the user may not 'need' to change it. Mar 16, 2012 at 15:35
  • 2
    our Groupware-team has added this information to the startpage of our groupware on it's startpage behind a "support info" button. That very page shows "my ip", "my username", "my os" and such stuff
    – user118305
    Mar 16, 2012 at 16:25
  • 3
    Easier yet is right click :MyComputer: > properties.
    – Rig
    Mar 17, 2012 at 0:55

20 Answers 20


Press CTRL + ALT + DEL it says so in the bottom and most people are aware of this shortcut (especially in corporate environments where people have to press CTRL + ALT + DEL to login).

enter image description here


enter image description here

  • 39
    It even works on Linux Mint :)
    – JohannesM
    Mar 16, 2012 at 14:03
  • 12
    And pressing Escape ("the key at the top left of your keyboard") takes them back. I like this solution. Only problem might be people who have never pressed more than two keys at the same time, let alone three. Mar 16, 2012 at 14:10
  • 20
    Doing it at the phone could be hard... Pressing 3 buttons while holding a phone.
    – Patrick
    Mar 16, 2012 at 14:29
  • 8
    Doesn't work in Windows 8! :) (I know that it wasn't part of the question).
    – DMan
    Mar 16, 2012 at 23:38
  • 4
    @Dman: what happens when you do this on Windows 8? Mar 17, 2012 at 12:11

Press Win+Pause (if you can explain to people where those keys are).

For reference, here are screenshots of the resulting dialog under various versions of Windows:

Windows XP

enter image description here

Windows Vista

enter image description here

Windows 7

enter image description here

  • 19
    Good suggestion, but I don't really think it is useful for 'dumb' users. The first question that will pop up is "what's the pause key? where is it?". Second, if they managed to find it, and if they use a laptop, they might have to press an alternate key (or how do you call these blue keys), like I have to. Third, between all the information in the dialog box, they have to find the OS description. Too hard. Don't understand all the upvotes. Mar 16, 2012 at 13:50
  • 4
    -1. This is not 'foolproof' at all for the 'dumb' user. The Ctrl-Alt-Del answer is much simpler.
    – houbysoft
    Mar 16, 2012 at 13:53
  • 5
    Exactly. You are not going to find a simpler way that covers all the major versions of Windows than this. If they can't locate two keys and then read from the screen then I fail to understand how they can operate a computer at all (blind or otherwise disabled people excepted).
    – Alan B
    Mar 16, 2012 at 16:45
  • 6
    Poor answer: there's no Pause key on my laptop at all.
    – Mark
    Mar 16, 2012 at 18:40
  • 3
    @OliverSalzburg No need to be facetious: it was a broader point that the Pause key won't necessarily be present.
    – Mark
    Mar 19, 2012 at 10:47

The quickest visual way to tell the difference between Windows Vista and 7 is the taskbar by the clock. In windows 7 there is a box that can be clicked to show the desktop. Vista:

enter image description here


enter image description here

This might look different if a user has changed the theme or something weird, but if they can change a theme, hopefully they should be able to manage one of the other methods suggested.

  • 10
    +1 very nice, the first answer with no user interaction, just visual inspection like the XP and Vista/7 example in the OP. Mar 16, 2012 at 18:13
  • 1
    Note that the difference is in the rectangle that will let you peak to the desktop behind all the active windows.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 17, 2012 at 23:18
  • Actually the difference is more than just the appearance, it is both visual and functional. Due to the different themes that are available, windows 7 could look a bit different. If you switch to classic, it will have a show desktop icon similar to the show desktop icon in Vista. Despite theme changes, if you were to click in the corner, all active windows will be minimized.
    – ntw1103
    Mar 17, 2012 at 23:28
  • For nuts like me who keep the status bar oriented vertically (and shy, but that isn't germane here) this box is below the clock. Just hovering over it makes all open windows go to outlines to reveal the desktop below. So just asking them to wave the mouse near the clock and talk about what they see should produce a "whoah, dude" kind of response on 7....
    – RBerteig
    Mar 20, 2012 at 2:27
  • 2
    How would you describe it to a novice over the phone, and how would they be able to understand and explain what they see back? And yes, if they are using a different theme, it can look different (in Classic Windows mode it will look like a little square with a picture in it).
    – Synetech
    Jun 7, 2012 at 17:05

Ask them to run 'Winver', either by typing it into the start menu 'search programs and files' field, or into the 'Run' dialog (Windows key + R, if it isn't visible on the start menu).

Here's an example of the two different dialog screens:

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 8
    Nice tip, didn't know that existed. But might still be too demanding for computer illiterate users. Mar 16, 2012 at 13:52
  • I have to agree with @Rabarberski, anyone who doesn't know what version of windows they're using is going to have a hard time understanding how to run a command.
    – zzzzBov
    Mar 16, 2012 at 17:31
  • 10
    You just press Win+R then type winver and press Enter. Not too tricky.
    – Macke
    Mar 17, 2012 at 21:41
  • +1, This even gives you the service pack, while the 3-finger salute doesn't Mar 17, 2012 at 23:31
  • 1
    I like it because it's minimalist. Sometimes, end users don't know what information you want them to read out, so they read everything. What does the program say? It says File... Edit... View... Tools... ... Winver has Windows 7 written in nice big friendly letters. Mar 18, 2012 at 2:03

You: Please look at the bottom right corner, right of the time. Is there a transparent square that shows the desktop when you click on it?

if(Client.Response == "Let me see.. Where did my windows go???")
    return Win7();
    return Vista();
  • 1
    Don't ask a novice to use that button (especially just hovering on it) because they will get flustered, confused, and irritated.
    – Synetech
    Jun 7, 2012 at 17:08

The date in the bottom right corner gives a big clue, but it isn't foolproof. You can see it without typing anything.

Assuming the default single-height taskbar, then Windows 7 has two lines: time and date, where Vista has just the time.

As you increase the available height, Vista adds day not date.

Warning: Customisation will break this:

  • Once you increase the taskbar height enough, both have the same format again.

  • Clocks can also be turned off.

  • Assuming everything is set to the default is, at best, a crap-shoot.
    – Synetech
    Jun 7, 2012 at 17:09

I find there are two problems with phone support

  • getting people to type what you want without error
  • getting people to find on a cluttered screen exactly what you want them to read-out you.

Oliver's answer addresses the first problem very well.

If you can get them to open a command prompt and type a command, ver gives reasonably simple and unambiguous output that the user can easily find.

  • hold down the Windows Start key on the keyboard and press the R key, release both keys.
  • type C (for Charlie) M (for Mike) D (for Delta) and press the Enter key
  • type V (for Victor) E (for Echo) R (for Romeo) and press the Enter key
  • read out the line it displayed under the stuff you just typed
  • type E X I T (which spells "exit") and press the Enter key

This is a lot more for them to type accurately but may help with some people.

C:\Documents and Settings\A Novice>ver

Microsoft Windows XP [Version 5.1.2600]

C:\Documents and Settings\A Novice>

For Windows Vista

Microsoft Windows [Version 6.0.6002]

For Windows 7

Microsoft Windows [Version 6.1.7601]
  • 3
    I love how Windows 7 isn't actually version 7. Would it really have been all that hard to change the version number to 7.x? Mar 17, 2012 at 21:34
  • 4
    Windows 8 is 6.2.x, this is just for compatibility reasons. Also, note that this number represents the kernel build number and not the OS... Mar 17, 2012 at 23:36

Send them to:


Your User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:10.0.2) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/10.0.2

and have them read what's in the parentheses.

EDIT: From the comments-- http://whatsmyos.com -- Eliminates the next step.

Then have a printout of this table handy: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms537503%28v=vs.85%29.aspx

(scroll down to platform tokens)

I can be handy to put a like to the user agent site somewhere on your own site, as anything but the most simple URL is almost impossible to communicate over the phone.

  • I am not always behind my computer when people call me. And memorizing the msdn link is not an option :-) Mar 16, 2012 at 14:04
  • @Rabarberski: bit.ly would make it easier to remember ;).
    – Matt
    Mar 16, 2012 at 15:34
  • 7
    Additionally, how about: whatsmyos.com
    – Matt
    Mar 16, 2012 at 15:35
  • 5
    And the customer might not have an Internet connection, or it just might not work. For example, the customer might have called because the Internet connection was not working...
    – vsz
    Mar 16, 2012 at 17:17
  • 1
    – nickf
    Mar 17, 2012 at 13:55

If you're looking for the best solution for the computer illiterate (as an example, traversing computer -> properties), think the easiest way would to have them 'lock' their account (from the start menu).

It could go like this:

  • Please click the icon in the bottom left
  • See where it says "Shutdown?" on the right of the menu just popped up? Click the little arrow to the right of it.
  • Choose "Lock"
  • Centered near the bottom, it should say "Windows 7" or "Windows Vista," which is it?

There are plenty of ways to tell, but I think that's the quickest when dealing with people that would have problems traversing multiple menus.

  • 3
    This will only trigger the next support call: how do I unlock my computer.
    – Jeff
    Mar 16, 2012 at 11:43
  • 6
    Easier instructions: windows key + L?
    – stoicfury
    Mar 16, 2012 at 12:23
  • 1
    @user79928: yes, the ctrl-al-del has the advantage that you can easily go back using the Escape key. Mar 16, 2012 at 14:16
  • 9
    "What's that you say? Click Shutdown?"
    – Nick T
    Mar 16, 2012 at 14:59
  • Go to start;
  • Right click on the computer;
  • Go to properties;
  • If there are "Windows 7" in windows edition, you have Windows 7 installed...
  • Too much steps. Mar 16, 2012 at 13:53

Another option would be to ask them to open one of the accessories that come with windows (calc, notepad) and use the About command from the Help menu. If they know how to get to notepad or calculator then this will be rather easy.

If they don't, getting them to open it might not be as simple, so go with some of the other answers here.

  • +1; I like this. And even if they don’t know themselves, having them to type calc in the start menu is still an acceptable instruction.
    – poke
    Mar 23, 2012 at 13:39

Obviously, dependent on an Internet connection and users skill at typing URLs:

Go to: www.thismachine.info or google for "machine info"


Send them to http://fmbip.com/

In fact, if you have an account on there, you can send them to a custom link and it will automatically give you a detailed report - they don't even have to read stuff out to you over the phone.

  • Great site, it even has country, region and city correctly resolved when it comes to the IP. Bookmarked.
    – Michael S.
    Mar 19, 2012 at 19:37
  • I've found it incredibly useful for clients with extremely low technical knowledge. I can create a custom link and send it to them in an email or skype and instantly get detailed information about what they're using. Mar 20, 2012 at 10:48
  • It didn't like my iPad, but I've voted this up for teaching me yet another way to establish OS. Most of the time :-)
    – user3463
    Mar 27, 2012 at 7:51

Without restarting...

  1. Press Control+Shift+Escape , these are common keys that the user would know.

  2. Select Help -> About, what does it says?

  • 1
    This only works if somebody hasn't replaced Task Manager with something else. On my machine it says Process Explorer v12.03. I realized that the inexperienced user won't have done this, but somebody else might have done it for them. Mar 17, 2012 at 21:39
  • 4
    if they are able to do this, then they should be able to figure out what system they are using.
    – g24l
    Mar 17, 2012 at 22:54

I'll post this as a separate answer - Unfortunately I don't have the rep to make a comment on the above post regarding use of "winver".

Pressing the windows key ("button in bottom left"), or the start button, the user can then be instructed to type "winver" and press enter. [W, I, N, V, E, R, enter normally works for me]

Both Vista and Windows 7 have the option to search for programs from the start menu.

  1. Click Start.
  2. Type "Version" (without the quotes).
  3. Click on "Show which operating system your computer is running".
  • -1; doesn’t work well. If I type “version” the first result is some text file that was added to the start menu by the WinRAR installation. After some other results, I then get the program compatibility assistent first, and only then the link to the system properties. The problem is that I have a German Windows 7, and obviously the search is completely localized.
    – poke
    Mar 23, 2012 at 13:37

What about

  • Open My Computer (start > my computer or double click on "my computer" on the desktop)
  • click on the help menu
  • click on "About Windows"

the help menu should be available from any window

  • Where is the help menu in Windows 7 Explorer? (No, honestly, there is only this blue help button... The menu is hidden by default.)
    – krlmlr
    Mar 16, 2012 at 23:20

(If possible) Ask them to reboot and to describe the boot screen animation. Windows Vista has a pulsating Windows orb (like the Start button, only pulsating.) Windows 7 has the four colors of the Windows flag fly together (see Youtube examples below.)

These two boot screens are, I believe, the most visually distinct feature between the two versions.



Since you are looking for a visual distinction, perhaps the most notable is the task bar. In default Windows 7, the task bar buttons are squares and have no text but big icons. Windows Vista has rectangular task bar buttons and text besides the icon.

Perhaps if you could ask the user to try to do what he's usually doing with the computer (browsing, reading mails, ...), and then ask him to read the text in the task bar if there is any? Or ask about the shape of the newly appeared button?


The simplest way is to lock at the buttom of the screen. The open windows bar. On Vista there are the old long windows, but on windows 7 there is boxes with open programs. If less you have modified windows, but then I think you know if you use Vista or 7.

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