As the build-up to the carnival known as the Windows 7 launch event reaches a fever pitch, I thought it would be helpful to redirect a bit of spotlight to an aspect of the new OS that I believe is being glossed over by the mainstream media: hardware compatibility.
Windows 7 has been lauded for its extensive hardware compatibility. Most reviews have noted that Windows 7 -- unlike Vista, which was plagued by a slew of buggy and incomplete drivers -- works with the majority of hardware devices out of the box. This is ostensibly due to Microsoft's expanded use of Windows Update. In fact, Windows 7 ships with fewer bundled device drivers than either Vista or XP precisely because Microsoft has shifted the burden of hardware support to the more current (in terms of revision levels for the individual drivers) Windows Update model.
[ Is your PC Windows 7-ready? Find out with InfoWorld's no-cost OfficeBench 7 and Windows Sentinel PC-monitoring tools. | Read the InfoWorld editors' Windows 7 Deep Dive 21-page PDF report to prepare for the new Microsoft OS, and get Windows 7 deployment advice for IT admins from InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese. ]
But what happens when Windows Update fails? I ran into just such a scenario this past weekend as I tried to connect a recent-model Hewlett-Packard DeskJet printer to my netbook running Windows 7 Ultimate. The OS first tried to install the printer using locally cached drivers, then detoured to the Windows Update site to see if it could find a match. Unfortunately, no compatible drivers were found in either location, and I was forced to waste valuable time scouring HP's Web site looking for what turned out to be an oversized installation package (40MB for a printer driver?) that took forever to install and added even more crapware to my already sluggish netbook.