Installed at the heart of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), VINCI combines coherently the infrared light coming from two telescopes. The first fringes were obtained in March 2001 with the VLTI test siderostats, and in October of the same year with the 8 meters Unit Telescopes (UTs). After more than one year of operation, it is now possible to evaluate its behavior and performances with a relatively long timescale. During this period, the technical downtime has been kept to a very low level. The most important parameters of the instrument (interferometric efficiency, mechanical stability,...) have been followed regularly, leading to a good understanding of its performances and characteristics. In addition to a large number of laboratory measurements, more than 3000 on-sky observations have been recorded, giving a precise knowledge of the behavior of the system under various conditions. We report in this paper the main characteristics of the VINCI instrument hardware and software. The differences between observations with the siderostats and the UTs are also briefly discussed.