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While there's no indication the problem is widespread, some customers heading to Dell to build their own computers online may be forced to choose hardware that isn't ready to run on Microsoft Windows Vista.
In addition, a Dell spokesperson confirmed on Friday that two of its high-end gaming machines won't run Microsoft's latest Windows operating system at all.
The No. 1 PC maker acknowledges that people may have to wait for some hardware to become Vista ready, or chose an alternative. "There are still some compatibility issues on some peripherals," Dell spokesman Bob Kaufman said.
The optimal experience for customers, of course, would be to give them what they want, when they want it. But with the magnitude of the shift from XP to Vista, it's expected that updates on some hardware drivers may lag, Dave Wascha, Microsoft's director of Windows platform partners, told InformationWeek. "You'll never get 100 percent of the universe of drivers."
Dell, however, insists that there's nothing abnormal in the switch from XP to Vista, and that the problems encountered are the same every time the company updates the OS in machines. "We kind of see this as business as usual," Kaufman said Friday. "This is not unique to this one transition, but is being managed aggressively by Dell and its partners."
At least one Dell customer was unhappy with his experience in configuring a machine. Max Hodges, publisher of White Rabbit Press in Tokyo, said he received warnings on the site that hardware he chose for the Latitude D420 notebook were not yet compatible with Vista. The choices included Bluetooth hardware, a DVD burner and an Intel processor with biometric reader. The latter security feature is so a device that reads fingerprints can be added to the computer in order to access its contents.
Hodges found it frustrating that he couldn't get what he wanted, even though Dell recommended Vista for the D420. "I find it outrageous that they're recommending a software product which doesn't work with their own hardware," Hodges said. "It just makes me consider buying an IBM ThinkPad instead."
In regards to Hodges's experience, Kaufman said, "We restrict the purchase of them so we can enable a better customer experience. We hope to have some of those issues resolved in short order."
In addition, two of Dell's high-end PCs, the XPS M1710 notebook and the XPS 710 desktop, both gaming computers, are still shipping with XP because of driver incompatibility with Vista. Kaufman declined to discuss specific drivers, or say when the computers would be available with the new OS.
Roughly 80% of hardware drivers, and all of the most popular ones, are Vista ready, with the majority of the remaining software expected to be updated in less than six months, Wascha said. "The level of readiness in the hardware community is astounding," he said. "We've done more with Windows Vista, in terms of readiness, earlier than with any other prior operating system."
The shift to Vista from XP is a bigger transition than previous updates because many more devices run on Vista, Wascha said. Vista, which ships with 14,000 drivers, is expected to support up to 1.8 million devices. Microsoft currently has 16,000 additional drivers listed on its update site, and is adding about 1,600 a month. That latter number, however, is expected to lessen considerably over the next few months.
Wascha did not have numbers related to drivers for XP, so it's difficult to tell whether Vista is any more, or less, problematic. It's also difficult to determine whether Dell is having more or fewer problems than its major rival Hewlett-Packard, which did not return requests for comment in time for this writing.
Wascha, however, did have some advice for people who can't run their favorite peripheral with Vista. "Hang on. If it's not there yet, then it's coming real soon."