Vista Usability (Drivers)

Last year when Windows Vista shipped, I enthusiastically installed this latest-and-greatest Microsoft Operating System on a couple of my computers.I was quickly dismayed to find it completely unusable on both computers because Vista drivers that I required were not available.

One of my computers could not see the internet because Vista didn’t ship with a driver for my network card.This was a bit of dark irony as Microsoft was really pushing the message: “Vista ships with bunches of drivers, and many more are freely available online!” Since my computer lacked a Vista network card driver, I couldn’t connect to the internet and… thusly I could not download new ones. So, in my situation, what good was it that Microsoft was busily posting new drivers on Microsoft Update? Hopefully, Microsoft documented this Lesson-Learned from Vista: When shipping a new Operating System, don’t forget the Network Card Drivers.

I installed Vista on another computer, and… Vista could not see my SATA hard drive. This really was unfortunate as this XP-based computer had been reliably using the SATA hard drive for years.This drive contained all my data: music, photos, videos, work documents, spreadsheets, application source code, databases, etc. So, even though I could boot Vista and access the internet, I could not actually use this computer for work, or for leisure. In this case, I could access Microsoft Update to check for new drivers but… none were available for my SATA hard drive.

I was a little disappointed, but mainly confused. The Microsoft’s PR machine was loudly broadcasting news that Vista shipped with an amazing quantity of drivers. In fact actual language was something like: “Vista ships with more drivers than XP had when it shipped”. On a large scale, I feel the Microsoft PR machine was really communicating this broader message: Run, don’t walk, to your favorite computer store and buy Vista today! Because this OS will work with your hardware, and you will be happy!

At least, that’s the message I took away from Microsoft’s marketing colossus. Looking back, I’d wasted a dozen hours and was considerably less than happy.

What I find slightly dishonest with this marketing tact is: statistics can be made to lie. Let’s look at the situation from a different angle. Vista did ship with a bunch of drivers, but many mainstream and very functional computers could not run Vista because drivers were not available. Some people purchased Vista and quickly realized that drivers they needed weren’t available for their hardware. I wonder if anyone has readily available statistics showing that when it first shipped, Vista ran on a smaller percentage of available hardware than XP did when it first shipped.

Now that Microsoft has had a year to improve Vista, they’ve been working like the world’s biggest hive of busy-bees. I sincerely hope Microsoft’s leadership has been focusing on the right things. In Microsoft’s defense, they’ve developed a bunch of drivers over this past year. And good new for me: the driver I require for my SATA hard drive (NForce2 SATA controller) has been developed (by Microsoft) and published a couple months ago (by Microsoft). So, I can now use that computer with Vista, but in all truthiness I think Microsoft was about a year late.

My personal opinion regarding non-cutting edge hardware: driver development is the responsibility of the operating system maker. Case in point: Nvidia was not going to develop my SATA driver because… Nvidia won’t see a dime of profit if they developed the driver (but Microsoft will profit from more Vista sales). In fact, Nvidia officially stated that the nForce2 (motherboard with integrate SATA) hardware was “too old” and they’re only developing Vista drivers for NForce3. So, about a year after Vista ships… Microsoft finally develops and ships that NForce2 driver. Problem solved… just one year too late.

I like to say: software is a work in progress because it’s never really done. Instead, software continually delivers different levels of user satisfaction to different users. It’s up to the software maker to continually make the right decisions. Hopefully, Microsoft will re-focus on: end-user, quality, performance, reliability and usability. If they don’t… I’m increasingly becoming enamored with Mac OS-X.

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4 Responses to Vista Usability (Drivers)

  1. Wayne says:

    Heh – I skipped Vista. Bought a new laptop in February 2007 with XP. This was actually a mistake. Gateway or Microsoft messed up totally, not sure which, but XP on that machine was so incredibly unstable I couldn’t believe it. I’d been using XP both at work and at home for years, and never seen anything like this.

    So I formated it, and installed Ubuntu. Getting wireless working took 1/2 hour, and once that was done it ran like a charm. The difference was incredible.

    And then just after Christmas the keyboard got mucked up (my fault) – ok, it’s fixable, but I’m without a computer for two weeks while the new keyboard arrives. So I bought a Macbook, and I really like it.

    I’m glad I had the problems with XP on the Gateway – if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have discovered how good Linux is (it’s better than XP – not sure about Vista), and how good OSX is. Both Ubuntu and OSX are really good operating systems. I’ve used Vista on a friend’s computer. Other than looks, it seemed just like XP.

    The point is that there are some really neat alternatives out there, that are well worth checking out. Yeah, Macs cost a bit more – but it blows away the Gateway quality wise. And Linux has caught up with Windows for ease of use, though it’s not as good as OSX.

  2. […] Vista could have used noticeable improvement before shipping. As I’ve voiced earlier, I agree with Bill. I think it’s good when the people in charge are actually aware of what they are shipping. I […]

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