Microsoft: 1 in 10 Vista printer driver installations fail

At a WinHEC session in Los Angeles last week, bloggers report, just during last September, of the driver installations for Windows Vista automatically reported back to Microsoft, over 11% of install attempts for printer drivers failed.

Although no video was produced for this specific WinHEC session last Wednesday, Angus Kidman of APC and John Lister of Blorge both report that a table presented by Microsoft Senior Program Manager Chris Matichuk showed that 11.24% of all Vista-based printer driver installations automatically reported back to Microsoft, were failures.

As BetaNews has experienced first-hand -- along with many of you -- bad Vista printer driver installs are often repeated, multiple times. A working printer driver only has to be installed right once; depending on the patience of the user or administrator, a failing driver may chalk up a dozen or more tries a day.

According to Matichuk's chart, modems constituted the second most often failed category of Vista driver installation attempts with 8.64%, followed by hard drives and storage devices (6.89%), sound cards (5.74%), "Other Hardware" (4.4%) and then, surprisingly, video cards (4.0%). Network cards only constituted just less than 2% of failures.

APC quotes Matichuk as having freely admitted, "Typically, anything above 3% is not good."

One week prior to the release of these numbers, BetaNews sat down with Microsoft Corporate VP for Design and Development Mike Nash at PDC 2008, and we asked him about the perennial problem Vista has had with device drivers and other annoyances. We asked Nash, are these problems that are solving themselves as time goes on?

He responded that device driver compatibility has been one of six tracks of consistent improvement that Microsoft has recognized: "I think in six dimensions on app compatibility, device compatibility, reliability, performance, battery life, and security," Nash said. "I think in all these things, they're a journey. I think that there are key milestones along that journey; I think that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 was a milestone, both in terms of the code that SP1 represented, but also the progress the ecosystem made in the meantime. Boot times this Christmas, the average boot time of a PC in Christmas 2008 is faster than the average boot time in Christmas 2007. That's a combination of Windows getting better, processors getting faster, and our partners spending more times tuning their systems to be [better] performers. I think there will be other milestones between here and Windows 7, but Windows 7's going to be a very important milestone."

But later, Nash related a story about the rapidly declining prices in the PC market, particularly among retailers that continue to present consumer-grade buildouts in a Radio Shack-like "Good/Better/Best" scenario. Whereas "Best" at the time of Vista's premiere was a $1,200 notebook with 2 GB of RAM and dual-core, today, that same machine might not even qualify as "Good."

Why is that important in this context? Because as retailers' requirements evolved, and "Better" grew to become a 3 GB machine, "Best" naturally expanded to 4 GB. With 4 GB extending beyond the capabilities of traditional 32-bit operating systems, retailers were compelled to pre-install 64-bit Vista to manage the jump. "Our numbers say that something like 20% of the run rate in US retail of PCs in September were 64-bit," Nash told BetaNews.

And therein lay the problem, quite possibly: Device manufacturers have had difficulty adapting to the requirements of 64-bit support, especially printer manufacturers for whom the whole idea of bit width hasn't typically mattered very much. That 64-bit support will be necessary for Microsoft to bestow its coveted Windows 7 support logo on third-party hardware. So for now -- perhaps three years later than originally planned -- manufacturers are finding themselves at the 32-bit dead end. They'll need to U-turn and support 64-bit Win7, or face obscurity in the consumer market.

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