Fast-acting Elis will soon be able to download a free copy of the new Windows Vista operating system with just a few clicks of the mouse on Yale’s Web site — but they will do so at their own peril.

As part of an agreement with Microsoft, the University is providing free downloads of Windows and other Microsoft software titles, and Vista will be available in the next few days, Information Technology Services officials said Monday. But while students will be able to download the operating system at no cost, ITS does not recommend installing the new operating system, as neither computing assistants nor the University’s technical staff currently have the capabilities to support the software.

In an announcement posted to its Web site in late November, when early editions of Vista began to ship, ITS said it “strongly recommend[s]” that users refrain from upgrading to Vista due to potential issues with compatibility and support. But through the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance, of which Yale is a member, the University will offer Vista as a no-cost download just as it has done with older versions of Windows.

“Students will have access to this software, so yes, you can count on students having Vista in the not-too-far-distant future,” said Lee Fontaine, manager of desktop technologies for ITS. “[But] it’s not a bad idea to hold off. A lot of people are holding off jumping into it before Microsoft releases its first service pack.”

Windows Vista — dubbed by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as “by far the most important release of Windows ever” — debuted with much fanfare Jan. 30 and retails for between $99 and $399 depending on the version. But most institutions will wait to upgrade to Vista for a year or two, Chief Information Officer Philip Long said Monday.

Fontaine said his staff hopes to be able to provide limited support for Vista by March, but it is likely that most of the University’s software vendors will not produce Vista-compatible releases until 2008. And beyond issues of support and compatibility, students interested in upgrading to Vista may be foiled by their own computer specifications, as only computers built in the last 12 to 18 months are capable of running the new operating system, he said.

Loriann Higashi, who oversees the Yale’s computing assistants as manager of student computing, said she has heard of a few students who have already upgraded to Vista, though most of those who have done so are experienced with computers and do not rely on the University for technical support. But other students who choose to download the system may not fare so well, she said.

“We are currently not supporting Vista, so students who choose to upgrade are completely on their own,” Higashi said.

ITS’s warnings have not discouraged all Elis from upgrading, however. Kyle Mandsager ’08 said curiosity and his general interest in computers motivated him to install Vista last week, although he has not yet decided whether to stick with the new operating system or switch back to Windows XP and wait until some hardware compatibility issues with the new system are ironed out.

“I just wanted to see what it looked like, see how everything worked,” he said. “Generally, I’m pretty impressed — it’s definitely a step up from XP. There are a lot of new features, a lot of good features.”

A Microsoft spokesman declined a request for an interview Monday but said in an e-mail that the Academic Alliance program aims to allow students and faculty easy and inexpensive access to Microsoft platforms. In addition, he said, the program allows instructors to share curriculum and other resources to help support the use of Microsoft developer tools and technologies. A Microsoft Web page lists membership in the Academic Alliance program — through which Yale offers 11 variants of Windows as well as about two dozen other software titles, although not the popular Microsoft Office productivity suite — at a cost of $500 to $800 per year.

Copies of Windows Vista are available to download on an ITS Web page, but activation keys — necessary to actually use the operating system — will be not be available for a few days, although a few students were able to acquire them from the ITS site shortly after the operating system’s release last week.