Anyone who used Windows Vista in the early days of its launch will likely have not so fond recollections of driver issues that often led to frequent crashes and lockups. Video cards from NVIDIA were especially difficult to get working on Vista early on thanks to drivers that didn’t work well.
At the WinHEC conference, Microsoft talked a bit about failures in driver installations. At a session presented by Microsoft's Chris Matichuk, Angus Kidman from APC, and John Lister of Blorge the failure rate for printer installations was reported to be 11.24% according to automatic reports from Vista.
Many Vista users have had their share of printer driver failures and know that it often takes several attempts to get the driver for printers to install correctly. Printer drivers aren't alone in a higher than average percentage of failed installations.
Modems reportedly failed driver installation 8.64% of the time, storage devices 5.74% of the time and other hardware failed install 4.4% of the time. Video cards still manage to fail driver installation 4% of the time. According to Matichuk, any failure rate over 3% is considered not good.
One possible reason for the high percentage of failed printer driver installations according to Microsoft VP for Design and Development Mike Nash is that a higher percentage of machines now ship with 4GB of RAM.
BetaNews quotes Nash saying, "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."
Many manufacturers are moving from 32-bit Vista to 64-bit to allow the use of 4GB of RAM and driver compatibility from peripheral makers for a 64-bit OS is still weak. Nash points to the fact that 20% of U.S. retail PCs using 4GB of RAM were 64-bit systems.
Driver support for printers is traditionally not a big deal according to BetaNews. The rub comes in when the move from 32-bit to 64-bit is made and the drivers supplied with printers aren't 64-bit compatible. In short, Microsoft seems to be pointing the finger away from Vista as the bulk of the reason for the high failure rates.
Instead, it points to poorly made drivers that aren’t 64-bit compatible as the reason for much higher than average rate of installation failures. Microsoft did the same thing when early driver issues were making headlines. For instance, Microsoft blamed NVIDIA for many early crashes due to video card instability.
The problem with the data released by Microsoft when pointing the finger at NVIDIA drivers was that there was no distinction made between multiple reports from a few computers or reports from a wide variety of machines.