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113. Vista driver problems

By Andrew D. Wright

Mousepad readers Cecil Edison from Dartmouth and Terry Smith from Halifax wrote in with similar questions about buying new computers with Windows Vista and problems using their older existing computer hardware - webcam, scanner and printer. They'll each receive one of our cool, limited edition mousepads for their questions.

At the end of January 2007 Microsoft released Windows Vista, their first new home operating system since Windows XP came out in 2001.

There are a lot of differences between XP and Vista. In practical terms Vista requires much more computer hardware - faster CPU, much more memory and more disk space: Vista can take ten times the 1.5 GB of disk space XP needs to install.

Vista's user interface has been radically re-worked. Users familiar with earlier versions of Windows will find a lot of common task shortcuts renamed or in different places.

Windows Vista is pretty much for new hardware only. In Vista some drivers, notably anything to do with video, with audio or with image capture, are very different from drivers written for earlier versions of Windows.

Drivers are difficult to write and easy to mess up. Spending money writing new drivers for old hardware sold in the past is an unappealing prospect for device makers.

Both readers bought their new computers from brand name manufacturers. The drivers for the devices on these computers will be updated by the computer maker. It would be worth bookmarking their driver download page as there will no doubt be updates to these drivers as time goes on.

As for other, older devices, check the device maker website first. Some device makers are adding Vista drivers to older product lines once their new product line drivers are stable. Hardware more than a year or so old may or may not get new Vista drivers written for it. It isn't fair but there it is.

For devices not related to image capture, or audio or video, it is quite possible drivers written for Windows XP, Windows 2000 or even Windows 98/ME may work. It may mean clicking through warning messages to install them and you should backup your system first, but for lack of any other alternatives it's worth a try.

It's also worth a look searching the web. If you strike out with the device maker's site, try looking up the device name and model and the word vista. If you're lucky you'll find a discussion forum where users with the same or similar problems are talking about solutions. In the case of one older but still popular model of sound card, third parties had hacked together their own Vista drivers that worked better than the original device maker's basic-functionality-only Vista drivers.

It's safe to say that Vista drivers will be in a state of flux for some time to come. With a major Vista service pack release scheduled for later this year or early next, some device makers are still waiting for the dust to settle before investing a lot of time in fine tuning their drivers.


The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 29 July 2007


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