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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Windows 7 - Patience is Rewarded - Drivers

I've already taken the time to review Windows 7 and my general impression was that it was not only much better than Vista ever hoped to be, but it could be considered a worthy successor to the venerable Windows XP.

However - as with any shiny new toy - there is a bit of a dark spot to contend with, and that's finding drivers for stuff more than a very few years old.

  • My wonderful Sound Blaster Live! card that I bought a while back - and paid hefty bucks for! - was declared "end-of-life'd" by Creative and they said they'd not support it for Vista - OR Windows 7.
  • NVIDIA didn't even want to consider looking at drivers for my GFX - (7800) video card.  I wasn't too disapointed there, Vista (and 7) picked it up nicely.
  • My Microsoft fingerprint reader(s) - apparently there was a licensing scuffle between M$ and the folks at Digital Persona - who are the actual end-product manufacturers - and M$ could not get licensing for either Vista or 7. . .  This really broke my heart because I have adopted the Fingerprint Reader extensively - I own about seven of the beasties! - and I use them just about everywhere.
And as I continue trying to build up a Windows 7 system that mimics my fully-tricked-out XP install, I am sure that I will find other issues.

Lest anyone get the impression that Windows 7 is a real headache when it comes to drivers, let me assure you that - in my case - about 90% of the stuff I had drivers for fell into one of three broad categories:
  • Windows 7 picked it right up and it didn't need additional driver support - or it picked it up well enough so that Windows Update could provide a decent driver.
  • A web search at the manufacturer's site showed a driver (or program version) that would work with Windows 7.
  • The pre-existing driver for XP installed without a hitch.
However - the few items that I could not find drivers for, were a big dissapointment.

Fear Not!

Apparently Windows 7 is doing so well - compared to the debacle that was Vista - that manufacturers are having second and third thoughts about withholding driver support!

Case in point:
  • Today, I just discovered that Creative has released Sound Blaster Live! drivers for Windows 7.  I don't know that they were released today, but I found them today. . . .
    (I can't wait to remove the CRAPPY SIIG SoundWave 5.1 PCI card I bought and slide that Sound Blaster back in there - the difference in playback quality between the two is immense.  Unfortunately not in favor of the SIIG card.)
  • NVIDIA has released to Microsoft - for inclusion in their Windows Update packages - updated drivers for the 7800 series video cards.
Additionally - and this is something that was conspicuous by its absence with Vista - I'm beginning to see realistic workarounds being developed by outside users for those things that won't be able to get support - like my fingerprint reader!  It turns out that there are a few hoops you have to jump through - certain ones deliberately placed in Windows 7 by M$ because of the licensing issues I mentioned - but having done so, you have a wonderfully working fingerprint reader.

Likewise, I'm seeing workarounds for things like my ancient HP ScanJet 3300C - a wonderful scanner, it would be a pity to have to trash it simply because HP won't support it on "7"  (Which, IMHO, is an absolute disgrace - even if there were something "un-official" that could be done to help people out, it would be a lot better than having to shell-out for all new hardware devices just because you swapped operating systems.)

There is one big cavaet here - most of this applies ONLY TO 32 BIT VERSIONS of Windows 7.  I have read repeated reports of the 64 bit versions not accepting the driver workarounds.  Which is a real crying shame.  In a way though, this doesn't surprise me.  I remember fussing with the 64 bit versions of XP, and getting driver support for it was - well, let's just say it was something of a challenge and leave it at that!! 

Maybe there are fundamental architecture differences that preclude 32 bit drivers from working in the 64 bit environment?  I remember back when Microsoft moved from Windows 3.n to '95, and then to '98.  Driver compatibility between the "old" 16 bit drivers and the "new" 32 bit operating systems was a real issue.  Some worked if you faked it, but many didn't, and there were numerous reports of people who crashed their systems trying to fit a 16 bit driver into a 32 bit slot.  I suspect we're going to see that same thing again - except (hopefully) by now process fault preclusion has advanced far enough to prevent an errant user from totally trashing their hard drive.

In any event - hopefully the manufacturers will have mercy on our miserable souls and will help us with - at the very least - some kind of workaround, even if it's "on the down-low", until this older hardware goes the way of the full-hight Rodime 20 meg MFM drives - and 8" floppies!

What say ye?


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