Thursday, July 9, 2009

Driver Education: The Software that Powers the Hardware

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Vol. 3, # 79 - Jul 9, 2009 - Issue # 88 
 Driver Education: The Software that Powers the Hardware

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Driver Education: The Software that Powers the Hardware
    • Follow-up: If it ain't broke, don't break it
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Microsoft Bing to be preloaded on most Verizon phones
    • Microsoft energy management beta
    • Quantum computing: from theory to reality
  4. How to: Using the New Vista Features
    • How to increase the maximum bit rate for WMA files in Media Player
  5. Vista Security
    • Be careful about clicking those shortened URLs
  6. Vista Question Corner
    • Can no longer open encrypted files
  7. Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Playlist created in Media Center isn't available to Extenders
    • You can't change the defrag schedule in Task Scheduler or the settings for backup
  8. Windows 7 Preview Corner
    • Windows 7 RTM: right around the corner?
  9. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  10. Product of the Week
    • ImTOO HD Video Converter - Convert to High Definition and Experience the Realism!

Kiss Your Antivirus Bloatware Goodbye

We asked users of antivirus products what they didn't like about their AV software. They told us they are resource hogs and slowed their computer down. They told us that scan times took way too long, and that the AV software nagged them. In short, old-style AV software takes too much Memory and CPU. Time to switch to VIPRE! It gives you malware protection that combines antivirus, antispyware, anti-rootkit and other technologies into a seamless, tightly-integrated product. Even if you run "free" antivirus software, it hijacks 20% of your PC, so it's really not free at all! Get VIPRE now and see how fast your PC can really be:

Editor's Corner

Driver Education: The Software that Powers the Hardware

Everyone who has used a computer to any extent knows that you have to install the right drivers before a new printer or scanner will work with your computer. Driver problems are a common cause for computer crashes and other, less drastic abnormal behavior. And getting drivers is often the biggest challenge when you switch to a new operating system or move up from a 32 bit to 64 bit OS. Device drivers are small but essential components of a functional system. Yet many computer users don't really understand what they are and how they work. Why can't you use the same drivers that worked in XP for your Vista computer? And why is it that many of your Vista drivers will work on Windows 7? Why do you need different drivers if you install a 64 bit operating system? And who's responsible for providing new drivers, anyway? Those are some of the issues we'll look at this week.

Device drivers are software programs that function as liaisons between hardware devices that are attached to a computer and the operating system and applications that run on the computer. For example, every different printer requires different code to interface with applications. An application such as Word is written without regard for what type printer you'll use to print its documents. If the software were written with the code to output to all possible printers, it would be much more complex and bloated. So instead, you install a device driver for your particular brand and model of printer and it works as an abstraction layer that intercepts the generic commands from the application and converts them into the specific commands for the particular device.

Some folks may think a discussion of drivers is a boring topic, but not having the right drivers can cause you all kinds of grief when you're trying to make your hardware and software play nicely together. Drivers are needed for all types of hardware devices, both those that are installed internally in your computer and those that you attach externally. This includes not just printers and scanners but also video cards, sound cards, network interface cards, hard disks, CD and DVD drives, USB devices, and so forth. When you buy a computer with the operating system pre-installed, the drivers for built-in components will already be installed. The Windows operating systems come with drivers for many of the most common hardware devices, so that when you install Windows it will find and automatically install those drivers.

Installation of drivers has gotten much easier over the years with the advent of Plug and Play technology. In modern Windows operating systems, if you install a device and Windows doesn't have the driver for it, the system will give you options; you can point it to where the driver is located on your hard drive or a removable drive. Most hardware vendors make drivers for their devices available as free downloads on their web sites. Of course, if you've purchased a hardware device, it will probably come with a disc containing drivers for it. These are often outdated, though, so it's usually better to check the vendor's web site. However, if you do install the older drivers, Windows Update will usually notify you that there are newer drivers available as an optional update. This wasn't always the case. In the olden days, driver installation was far less automated. I still recall the hoops I had to jump through years ago to get my first (SCSI) scanner to work on Windows 3.11.

Even with all the improvements, drivers can still cause problems. There were a number of reasons that Windows Vista got so much bad press when it came out. One reason was that many people found that it wouldn't work with their various hardware components. And that was because there were no Vista drivers available for those components. There were problems with video cards because Microsoft introduced a whole new display driver architecture, called Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). This provided for better gaming performance, better playback of video content and multitasking of graphics processing units (GPU), but many older video cards only had drivers that used the old model. You can read more about WDDM benefits here:

Many people criticized Microsoft for the lack of Vista drivers for certain hardware devices. But it's actually up to the hardware vendors to write new driver software for their devices to work with a new operating system. There are thousands of different hardware devices out there and it makes sense for each vendor to be responsible for updating the software for its own devices. Microsoft only creates drivers for Microsoft hardware - the keyboards, pointing devices, webcams and similar products that they make and sell. Microsoft provided the APIs (application programming interface) to hardware vendors well before the release of Vista, so they could write drivers for the new OS. Some hardware vendors chose not to do so in a timely manner or, in the case of older hardware, at all. A cynic might say they made that choice to force Vista users to buy new devices.

If you're a programmer, it's possible to write your own drivers. In fact, not so long ago this was a fairly common practice for Linux users, most of whom were geeks with coding experience. Now that Linux has become more mainstream, many users have no idea how to go about that. For programmers who want to write Windows drivers, Microsoft provides the Windows Driver Kit (WDK), which is available on the Microsoft WHDC (Windows Hardware Developer Central) website at

Because drivers are executable programs, they can pose the same risks to your computer as any other program. For this reason, Microsoft requires extensive testing before a driver is deemed "certified" for use with an OS. If you try to install a driver that doesn't meet that criteria, you may get a warning message. With Vista, Microsoft introduced a new security mechanism in the 64 bit edition of the OS. Any drivers that access the kernel (the core operating system code) must be digitally signed by the publisher of the software. Unsigned drivers won't run. This is also true on 64 bit Windows 7. Note that it is possible to disable the driver signing requirement; see

Tell us what you think. Have you had major problems related to device drivers? Should Microsoft keep the same driver model for all operating systems for backward compatibility? Should Microsoft take on the responsibility of providing drivers for all hardware devices? Would you ever consider trying to write a driver yourself? Or does the whole subject of drivers put you to sleep? We encourage you to discuss this topic in our forums at

Follow-up: If it ain't broke, don't break it

Apparently last week's editorial resonated with quite a few of our readers. We got plenty of feedback, most of it (but not all) in support of the title sentiment.

Many of you shared your own stories of software "upgrades" that broke more than they fixed or left out important features that had been in the older versions. James L. wrote: "One example of unexpected change is the US Postal Barcode feature being removed in Office 2007. I used to be a Postal Network Administrator and would constantly tell friends and family that if they hand printed an envelope or printed it without the postal barcode it would take up to two days longer for it to get to its destination. So I would instruct them to use the Microsoft Word labels and envelopes feature to print the postal barcode on the envelope or label. The US Post Office even had computers in the break rooms with MSWord on them so employees could make their own labels with the barcode on it. Then Microsoft came out with Office 2007 and the barcode feature was gone! After researching it I was told that Microsoft blames the USPS for changing their barcode system thus making the MSWord feature useless and instead of fixing it Microsoft found it easier to just remove it."

And Dollyce B. said, "Re: Windows Live Essentials: the May 2009 "update" is crap. I had been using the former version seamlessly, and used it for an email. Became especially attached to the photo frills. BUT, The 'updated' version will not load the Windows Live Mail on my desktop unless I do a re-boot. If I look at a few emails, close the program, and then come back to will not load unless I reboot ... I wish I had never updated when prompted to do so. Now I can't get back the old version, either."

Susie D. summed up her solution: "When a program introduces a "upgrade" that is really a downgrade, I opt to not upgrade until they have fixed the issue. And, if they never fix the problems they introduced, I switch to another program if I need to. Refusing to purchase an upgrade that is really a downgrade lets the publisher know what I think of their latest version in the way they understand best: sales."

Gard wanted to know more: "Liked your comments on updates; sometime you might explain a bit deeper. Do the updates change windows on my hard drive or do they load at start and change in ram? Do service packs duplicate some individual updates?" In fact, in most cases updates do change the files on your hard drive. However, remember that if you install an update and it causes problems, Windows saves a copy of the old system state that you can go back to using System Restore. And a service pack is basically a collection of multiple updates that are gathered in one installation package for convenience. Normally, when a certain number of updates have been released, Microsoft will create a service pack that combines them all and often also includes some fixes and enhancements that might not have been released as individual updates.

And Jeb had this comment: "When changes are dramatic enough to cause problems for the user, like the Office 2007 ribbon interface, it creates an opportunity for some kind of "transition" code. Although the following example addresses a different issue, it helps illustrate how "transition" code can help: I see in some software where you can select your level of expertise and the menus change accordingly. Either the original application creator or some sharp third-party developer could address transition problems by providing an add-on that helped the user learn the new way of doing things." As I've mentioned here before, as well as in my blog, there is a third party add-on for Office 2007 called Classic menu that adds the old menu back in addition to the Ribbon. I also think users will be happy with some of the changes in Office 2010, which allow you to customize the ribbon itself to a very large degree.

Thanks to all of you who wrote on this topic!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication for XP users called WXPnews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

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Quotes of the Week

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon

Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives. - A. Sachs

The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your computer. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example: Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

Cool Tools


Never reinstall your XP again. New technology: no set-up, no loss of data or applications. The ultimate professional repair tool. Free PC booster with every scan, get it now!

WhiteSmoke 2009 is an innovative proofreading and editing tool with a single aim - to help you write better

Backblaze is the no fuss solution to getting all your data backed up online securely, easily, automatically, and for only $5/month for unlimited storage.

Ever use a download manager? You might not know what your missing, try this one!

Rip DVDs for your iPhone, iPod touch, Apple TV, or iPod Video Nano. Bundle includes video converter too! Free Trial:

Advanced Vista Optimizer does a great job tweaking Vista for Max performance.

Eliminate your online traces with CyberScrub. Privacy equals security.

GoodSync is an easy and fast way to backup and synchronize your emails, photos, iTunes, MP3s, and other important files.

Your Uninstaller! 2008 takes the place of the clunky Windows Control Panel "Add/Remove Programs" and offers many other useful functions

Kill the background tasks belonging to (legitimate) software that run all day. Why? To get your speed back!

I need a real program for autofilling my passwords, shipping info not a toolbar widget. Roboform is the real deal!

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Microsoft Bing to be preloaded on most Verizon phones

Microsoft and Verizon have struck a deal that will see Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, become the default search engine on most Verizon mobile phones. If you use a different cell phone provider and you want to use Bing, you can install a mobile application. You can read more and get the link to the mobile app here:

Microsoft energy management beta

This new site is designed to help you save money and reduce your energy usage by tracking and planning. It includes tips on installing a programmable thermostat, sealing your home with weather stripping, replacing your furnace filter and similar energy-saving tasks. Sign-up is simple (if you already have a Windows Live account, just log in) and you can complete a profile that will tell you how energy efficient your home is and give you customized tips for saving energy. It's still a work in progress; for example, it found no electricity providers for my zip code, and it didn't offer the choice of solar for "what type of energy does your water heater use?" Check it out here:

Quantum computing: from theory to reality

Quantum mechanics has long been an element of science fiction, and the computer industry has awaited the day when computers that rely on qubits instead of binary bits would revolutionize computing, providing for far greater computational capabilities. That day might be getting closer, as European researchers are now using quantum cryptography to secure communications. You can read more here:

How to: Using the New Vista Features

How to increase the maximum bit rate for WMA files in Media Player

The bit rate of an audio file refers to the number of bits that are processed per second. In the Windows Media Player, you can set the bit rate but you'll find that the maximum available for WMA files is 192 Kbps. If you want to set a higher rate, you can edit the registry. As always, be sure to make a backup before you make changes to the registry. Here's how to do it:
  1. Open the registry editor and navigate to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Preferences
  2. In the right pane, double click the item WMARecordRate
  3. Choose Decimal and enter the bit rate you want to use, in bits. For example, 320 Kbps is entered as 320000.
  4. Close the registry editor.
Now your tracks will be stored at the higher bit rate.

Vista Security

Be careful about clicking those shortened URLs

URLs that go on for two or three lines are annoying and unwieldy. They may not work properly when they "wrap" in email messages or documents, and they don't fit well in character-limited Twitter posts. So many people turn to services such as TinyURL or, which shorten the web addresses into something more manageable and user-friendly. The problem with these redirectors is that now the original address is hidden from the user who must make a decision as to whether it's safe to click that link. This is a little like having a cab driver take you to an address in a strange city when you have no idea what part of town it's in. It's a security nightmare waiting to happen. Read more here:

Vista Question Corner

Can no longer open encrypted files

My wife has a regular user account on our Vista computer and I have an administrator account. She forgot her password. I set her a new one, which I can do as an administrator, but now she can't open the files that she encrypted with EFS. Is that because of the password change? - Tim J.

In a word, yes. The key created by EFS that's used to unlock a user's encryption certificate is encrypted with a hash that uses that user's password. If an administrator changes the password, that key no longer works. If you change your own password, Windows decrypts the key with the old password and reencrypts it with the new one. If she has a password reset disk, she can use that to get back in. If not, and if she can't remember the old password, access to those encrypted files may be lost. There are EFS recovery programs that may be able to recover the files but they're somewhat pricey. If the content of those files is important, you may want to check them out. Here's one:

Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting

Playlist created in Media Center isn't available to Extenders

If you create a playlist in Windows Media Center on your Vista Home Premium or Ultimate computer, you might find that the playlist doesn't show up in the libraries of your Media Center Extenders. This can happen when the Extender device doesn't have access to the Rip folder where playlists are saved. To find out how to fix the problem, see KB article 939393 at

You can't change the defrag schedule in Task Scheduler or the settings for backup

If you discover that you get an error message when you try to change the defrag schedule in Windows Task Scheduler, and/or you aren't able to save new settings for a file backup operation, it may be due to an error in Transaction Manager. You can fix the problem by using the Fix It Wizard or following the step by step instructions in KB article 939615 at

Windows 7 Preview Corner

Windows 7 RTM: right around the corner?

Windows 7 beta testers and RC users have been eagerly awaiting the next milestone: the release to manufacturing (RTM) of the operating system. It's been officially announced that Win7 will go on sale October 22, but the final iteration of the OS is expected to be decided sometime this month. Many sources are predicting that the day will be July 13th, which is also the first day of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans. We're crossing our fingers and hoping that the RTM will be available on TechNet and MSDN by the end of the month. Read more here:

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

ImTOO HD Video Converter - Convert to High Definition and Experience the Realism!

ImTOO HD Video Converter is a professional HD converter and HD encoder designed to convert among high definition videos like HD AVI, MKV, HD H.264/AVC, AVCHD (.mts, .m2ts), HD Quick Time, HD MPEG-4 (TS), HD ASF video. On top of this, it can also convert among audios and convert video to MP3, WMA, WAV, M4A, AAC, AC3 audio and picture, as well as make videos from pictures in JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP. Now supports Multi-Core CPU's. The HD converter can also act as iPod/iPhone/Apple TV video converter, PSP/PS3/Xbox video converter to convert HD and SD videos to your PC, PS3, Xbox, PSP, iPod, iPhone and other portable devices. VistaNews readers download the latest evaluation version here.

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Personal & Educational Use Only This blog consists mainly of FREE newsletters from computer web gurus that I receive. I thought you might like to see them all in one place than try to discover them on your own. A moderate amount of editing may be done to eliminate unrelated repetitious ads or unnecessary text which bloat the post. However I have given the authors full credit and will not remove their site links because you deserve to see where it comes from and they deserve to get credit for what they have written. Your use of this site is simply for educational purposes. For more computer-related help go to: CPEDLEY.COM for free software, advice and tips on low cost products which are very helpful. If you want to contact the editor, please go CPEDLEY.COM and check the Contact page for email address.