Vista still plagued by incompatibilities

Nine months since its release, lots of hardware and software products still don't work with Microsoft's operating system, including some that are certified as Vista compatible.

If you're running Vista and you need a multifunction printer, Brother's MFC-5860CN might seem like a great choice. After all, it's proudly sold as "Certified for Windows Vista."

But don't plan on scanning any documents to turn them into digital files. The 5860CN is capable of doing that, but the optical character recognition software that comes bundled with the printer, PaperPort 9 from Nuance, isn't Vista compatible. (Brother recommends that Vista owners use Microsoft Office's Document Imaging feature.) And the printer's Internet fax option? Forget about that, too. It works with XP, but not Vista.

This kind of Vista support, says Jim McGregor, research director at market research firm In-Stat, is more like torture by small incompatibilities. And nine months after Vista's commercial release, it's not at all unusual. Major software publishers and hardware manufacturers are dragging their feet when it comes to supporting Vista, analysts say. While vendors have developed new products for Vista, many are leaving customers who purchased hardware and software before they upgraded to Vista with crippled or inoperative gear, says Chris Swenson, analyst with the NPD Group.

Photoshop users upset

Consider the plight of Adobe Photoshop CS2 users who have upgraded to Vista. That software still isn't fully compatible with the new operating system. Adobe Photoshop CS2 customers have been asking Adobe for a software compatibility upgrade without much luck, Swenson says. "If you want Vista and you use Adobe CS, you are going to have to buy the new CS3 version," Swenson says. Adobe CS3 (US$649) is the only version fully compatible with Vista. Upgrading from CS2 to CS3 costs US$200.

Adobe is developing free patches for some Adobe products (PDF) so they run smoothly. Still, the company lists over a dozen Adobe programs that it says either do not support Windows Vista or do not "officially" support Vista. Programs in either category may install on Vista, but don't work completely. Some products Adobe recommends not trying on Vista at all.

At the release of the Windows XP operating system six years ago, incompatibility issues affected consumers to a much smaller extent, Swenson says. This time around, "vendors wish they could just forget about [XP-era products]," he says.

Industry overload

The dirty secret in the computer industry is that it has become nearly impossible for companies to patch each of their products for Vista, says In-Stat's McGregor. The amount of time a product is out on the market before it's replaced by a newer model is shrinking. That means companies have many more models for which they need to write Vista drivers or patches. Add to that equation companies' desire to avoid supporting a product for a nanosecond longer than they absolutely have to, McGregor says, and you see why so many products don't work with Vista.

Intuit, for instance, certifies only QuickBooks Premier 2007 and 2008 for Vista, as the company says that it has detected some issues when running the 2004 to 2006 versions of QuickBooks under the OS. As a result, businesses that bought QuickBooks last year for around US$400 are forced to pay another US$375 to keep their books under Vista. Intuit does not supply a compatibility patch or upgrade for QuickBooks Premier--though for a limited time, when the OS first launched, the company offered special discounts for Vista-compatible versions of its software.

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