Microsoft to add better device support in Vista

Compatibility complaints involve "a relatively small number of drivers," exec says

Responding to low-level but persistent grumbling from users about peripheral devices that won't work with Windows Vista, Microsoft claimed Wednesday that its new operating system now supports 1.9 million devices -- up from 1.6 million at Vista's launch in January.

In a keynote speech at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Los Angeles, Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management at the software vendor, blamed driver compatibility problems with about 4,000 devices for creating roughly 80 percent of the user complaints received thus far.

"It's a relatively small number of drivers that are driving most of the complaints," Nash said in an interview at WinHEC on Tuesday. He declined to identify which devices or vendors are most lacking in Vista support. "The key thing is that we have 95 percent coverage," he said. "It's good and getting better."

Companies such as graphics processor and card maker Nvidia have been heavily criticized by gamers and other early Vista users for poor driver support. Web sites such as zetafleet.com, CompatDB.org and NTcompatible.com have chronicled device and driver problems submitted by users.

Nash defended Nvidia, saying that the company is "working pretty hard" on supporting Vista in its products. He also said that the number of drivers ready at Vista's launch was much higher than with previous releases of Windows. That was in spite of the fact that Vista added new security and administration features, such as Microsoft's User Account Control technology, that broke the compatibility of many existing device drivers.

In addition, Nash noted that more than 9,000 devices have been submitted to Microsoft's "Certified for Windows Vista" logo program, which requires products to be tested for compatibility with Vista.

During a talk at WinHEC on Tuesday that was sponsored by Microsoft, Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, said the driver problems being experienced by Vista users are about the same as they were for early adopters of Windows XP -- except that now, "early adopters have a much louder megaphone in the blogosphere to air negative perceptions."

Nonetheless, as part of his keynote, Nash exhorted Microsoft's business partners to continue creating more device drivers. He promised that Redmond isn't punishing laggards. "We're not getting mad," he said. "We're sharing data with them to help them do a better job."

But some vendors are "making things broadly available, and some are saying you need to upgrade to their latest product," he added. "All are driving to some version of business satisfaction. Hopefully, they'll make the right call."

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Eric Lai

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