Like many people who work and play on a Windows PC, I upgraded our three computers to Windows 7 over the past couple of weeks. I’ve got to hand it to Microsoft because the process of installing Windows 7 is very smooth and painless as long as you own gear that’s no more than a few years old.
Windows 7 includes most of the popular drivers you need for your peripherals, and that’s a good thing, because searching for drivers can be an experience fraught with peril.
Installing drivers has never been a straightforward process on Windows. Each hardware manufacturer has their own way of doing things which can lead to confusion.
For example, I went searching for the latest drivers for my Creative X-Fi soundcard when Windows 7 could not locate them. Creative provides what they call the “Creative Software AutoUpdate” that detects what Creative products I have on my system and finds the latest drivers for me. When I run this program it gives me the following options:
1. Creative MediaSource 5 Player/Organizer (36MB) – categorized as a “Critical” upgrade. What’s so critical about a media player?
2. Creative MediaSource Player Organizer (52MB) – categorized as “Recommended”. Huh? Is this for people who passed on the first option? Now I’m confused.
3. Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Smart Recorder for Windows Vista (29 MB) – Categorized as “Recommended” but I can’t help but think Creative isn’t even trying anymore. Why do I need a sound recorder built for Windows Vista when I’m running Windows 7?
4. Creative SoundFont Bank Manager (7 MB) – another “Recommended” update and I’m ready to give up. That’s 124 MB worth of software with no driver in sight.
And those are only the first four options! I’m also presented with the choice to download and install Creative Audio Control Panel, Creative Console Launcher, Creative WaveStudio 7, and something called Alchemy. Maybe I can use Alchemy to change my soundcard to gold if I can’t find the driver that enables it to produce sound.
I scroll up and down the page looking for the driver. And I finally notice a link at the bottom for SB X-Fi Xtreme Music, Driver version 2.18.13. I guess this is what I’m supposed do install? I hope! There’s no description. No help. I’m looking for something along the lines of “Install this and your computer will have sound” but that’s apparently too much to ask.
And don’t get me started on installing printer drivers. What a total nightmare. I gave up waiting for HP to write a driver for one of their older models to work with Windows 7 and bought a new model from Brother. Had I been able to get my HP printer working, they wanted $107 for the toner. The Brother printer and toner cost $52 shipped from New Egg.
My father had similar printer problems when he upgraded to Windows Vista. I went looking for a driver for his printer, but HP provided a work-around that included tricking his machine into thinking it was a newer model. And this was easier than writing a native driver? Good thing the 12-step process worked! At least until Windows 7 arrived.
I spoke with my father this evening and his printer stopped working once he installed Windows 7. Instead of jumping through hoops again, he bought a new printer. From HP.
Aha, now I’m starting to understand this whole charade.
HP is hardly the only company with sketchy driver support for Windows 7. When I went looking for drivers for my Canon photo printer, I was told none existed but maybe the ones written for Vista would work. Can you imagine your mechanic saying, “I don’t have a radiator for your Honda Odyssey, but let’s give this one made for a Civic a whirl.”? It’s amazing what we’re willing to accept with computers.
And yet printers and soundcards are a piece of cake compared to updating the firmware or chipset for your motherboard. Want to watch a new computer user’s brain explode? Ask them to update all the drivers associated with their motherboard. Even reputable companies like Asus provide a confusing process with dozens of choices. A search for BIOS updates for my motherboard returned 37 results from the Asus website.
On the bright side, it’s crazy design flaws like this that ensure I have a job. If computers were easy to understand and maintain, I’d probably be teaching German to a bunch of high school sophomores.