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Does your hardware have driver support?

Windows Me had a longer run-up period than Win98 SE, so it should have been possible to nail driver issues, but lack of driver support can still be a problem.

Upgrading to a new operating system can be exciting up until you try to fire up a graphics-intensive game or begin using your new wireless networking product. That's when you might realise you need a new driver.

Some consumers attempting to upgrade reported Windows Me completely failed during the Plug and Play section of the installation (information on how to remedy this in the next section). Others reported the need to re-install drivers for both external and internal hardware devices.

Does this driver frenzy sound familiar? It should.

The first instance was when Microsoft launched Windows 98; it didn't set up channels for PC and peripheral makers to alert customers about the availability and location of updated drivers. The second instance was when Microsoft launched Windows 2000. Part of the problem with Windows 2000 was that consumers or home users installed Windows 2000 thinking it would be a more stable Windows 98, and then realised their problem. Missing device drivers remains an issue in Windows 2000.

But it does look like migration to Windows Me will be a little less frustrating. Microsoft froze the Windows Me code in June, so vendors have in theory had several months to update their drivers. In some cases, this even seems to have happened.

Microsoft has promised that there will ultimately be 13,000 digitally signed drivers available for Windows Me. But not all of these were available for the 14 September release date. Many people have also run into compatibility problems when installing older devices with 16-bit drivers. Windows Me differs from 98 in that it's had the 16-bit sub-systems hidden or partially removed, so although 32-bit Win9x drivers should in general be OK, older 16-bit ones could spell problems.

Microsoft's intention is that the use of digital signatures for drivers in Windows ME will increase standards of reliability, so drivers ought to get better, when they're there. The same should go for Windows 2000, which is where Microsoft first introduced its signed driver policy.

The vendors' response

Major peripherals vendors such as graphics card maker ATI and zip drive vendor Iomega say drivers are ready for use with Windows Me.

Iomega drives, such as the Iomega Zip, Jaz, PocketZip, and CD-RW drives, should work flawlessly in Windows Me with the IomegaWare utility suite. And even if you don't have the latest version of Iomega's IomegaWare utility suite, Windows Me has bundled native support for Iomega drives and adaptors in a variety of interfaces, including USB, ATAPI, FireWire, PC Card, and SCSI.

Graphics company ATI Technologies has written new Windows Me drivers for its various graphics chips. Some drivers, such as those for its Radeon graphics chips, were pre-loaded on the Windows Me CD. Others, for its Rage 128 line, are being made available to customers over the Web or on CDs.

Major antivirus software vendor Symantec has also released a new desktop lineup which is compatible with Windows Me.

Norton SystemWorks 2001, Norton AntiVirus 2001, Norton Utilities 2001, Norton CleanSweap 2001, and Norton Ghost 2001 hit the shelves the same week Windows Me was released. Unfortunately, updates to Symantec’s Internet security products were not released, but should be available soon.

So having a whole summer to prepare for the newest Windows release has apparently helped. Still, some vendors may not bother developing new drivers for older products. Analysts suggest you check with Microsoft and the hardware or software vendor to see if your preferred devices or applications have, or will get, a compatible driver for Windows Me.

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