Windows 7 unlikely to cause driver problems like Vista

By giving partners alpha access to Windows 7 code, Microsoft hopes it will blunt the driver incompatibility problems IT managers faced with Vista.

BARCELONA -- When Vista shipped last year, one huge complaint was the prodigious amount of driver incompatibilities, which ultimately contributed to a negative product perception that Microsoft still can't shake.

The software vendor is taking pains to eliminate that problem with Windows 7 by releasing its code at an earlier stage. Partners, such as Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and others, for example, received code sooner than they would have in the past, said Stella Chernyak, a director of Windows Client at Microsoft.

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Chernyak said Microsoft felt it needed to engage its partners earlier in the development cycle so there would be a higher degree of compatibility in the operating system. For some of those vendors, Microsoft has already been discussing Windows 7 requirements for 18 months, she said.

Providing access to alpha code is important because it gives partners time to optimize their products and do some debugging before the beta, as well as provide more time to develop best practices, said Daniel Bowers, a product marketing manager for servers at Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif.

When a service pack comes, hardware requires certain drivers. In the case of HP, Microsoft depends on the hardware vendor to supply drivers for servers and storage, for example.

One IT manager said he doesn't expect Windows 7 to create anywhere near the problems he experienced first moving from Windows 95 to XP and then moving from XP to Vista.

Johan van Walsem, a Windows architect at Rabobank Group, a bank based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is in the process of upgrading 60,000 end-user desktops to Vista over a two-year period. About 50% of the desktops needed to be swapped out for new hardware required by Vista.

The bank tested Vista for about one year before rolling out the first 5,000 desktops. Van Walsem said the bank expected the upgrade to be at least as challenging as when it upgraded from Windows 95 to XP, and it was. But because Windows 7 doesn't require new hardware, as did Vista, he said he doesn't expect the move to the upcoming OS to be difficult when the time comes.

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