Determination of microbial viability by the plate count method is routine in microbiology laboratories worldwide. However, limitations of the technique, particularly with respect to environmental microorganisms, are widely recognized. Many alternatives based upon viability staining have been proposed, and these are often combined with techniques such as image analysis and flow cytometry. The plethora of choices, however, adds to confusion when selecting a method. Commercial staining kits aim to simplify the performance of microbial viability determination but often still need adaptation to the specific organism of interest and/or the instruments available to the researcher. This review explores the meaning of microbial viability and offers guidance in the selection and interpretation of viability testing methods.