Walt Mossberg

Recent Columns by Walt Mossberg

Mossberg’s Mailbox

Installing Drivers for Windows 7

I enjoyed your positive preview of Windows 7, but wondered if we will need to find and install all new device drivers for hardware if we upgrade to Windows 7, as we had to do with Vista?

Microsoft says that, in most cases, the Vista drivers — software that makes hardware like printers or monitors operate with a PC — will work fine with Windows 7, which is the successor to Vista that is coming later this year. In some cases, where Windows 7 has features Vista lacked, such as its multi-touch screen features, new drivers will be required. Hardware manufacturers may also choose to do new Windows 7 drivers to take advantage of under-the-hood improvements in the new version. But Microsoft claims the Vista drivers will work in the vast majority of cases.

If you are running the much older Windows XP, as many folks are, and Windows 7 doesn’t automatically work with your hardware, you may need to obtain a new driver.

In my preliminary tests with a beta version of Windows 7, on two laptops, I found most internal and external hardware worked fine without installing any drivers. But there were some exceptions. For instance, on a Lenovo ThinkPad I was testing, the scroll function on the touch pad didn’t work, and I had to get help from Microsoft to make Windows 7 recognize that my HP printer was capable of automatically printing on both sides of a page. One hopes that, by the time Windows 7 ships, companies like Lenovo, HP and Microsoft will have fixed such issues.

You said that Windows 7 seems better than Vista, but in my view that’s a low bar. How does it compare to Windows XP, which most people I know are still using because they had no interest in switching to Vista?

I didn’t directly compare Windows 7 to XP, partly because I was just offering my first impressions of a beta, or test, version of the new edition of Windows, and was sizing it up against its much-maligned predecessor, Vista. However, my general sense is that Windows 7 will run as quickly and smoothly as Windows XP — especially an average user’s Windows XP installation, since these machines tend to slow down over the years unless you do a lot of techie maintenance on them.

In your Windows 7 preview column, you said upgrading from Vista would be a straightforward process, but that upgrading from XP would be “more cumbersome.” Can you elaborate?

Microsoft hasn’t released details, and may not even have finished the software needed to upgrade an XP machine to Windows 7. But it is likely to be a lengthy, multi-step process, as opposed to the simple, direct, relatively fast upgrade I performed on a Vista laptop. This could deter XP owners from upgrading, even if an upgrade would be worthwhile in the long run. But it might please the computer makers, who would like all those folks running XP to just buy new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed.

You can find Mossberg’s Mailbox, and my other columns, online free of charge at the new All Things Digital Web site, http://walt.allthingsd.com.

Mac vs. Windows

May 18, 2011 at 6:05 pm PT

Apps for Androids

May 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm PT

Moveable Internet Service

May 04, 2011 at 6:00 pm PT

Sputtering Video

April 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm PT

Deleting Emails on an iPad

April 20, 2011 at 6:00 pm PT