Hardware Vendors Struggle With Vista Development

Microsoft claims the bulk of hardware devices and peripherals in the market work with Windows Vista, but it will be several years before the ecosystem is ready, partners say.

At its annual hardware developers show in Los Angeles this week, Microsoft embarked on a concerted effort to quash complaints that hardware and software incompatibilities and the lack of new hardware and applications for Vista is hurting adoption.

Microsoft said it has sold 40 million copies of Windows Vista in its first 100 days on the market -- twice the number of copies of Windows XP sold in the same timeframe.

And more than 1.9 million devices now support Vista, a big jump from the 1.5 million devices that supported Vista out of the box at launch in late January. There are now 785 printers, 80 scanners, 308 monitors, 165 sound cards and more than 250 ISV software products have been tested and certified, Microsoft executives said last week.

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Nine thousand of those 2 million products have passed Windows Vista Logo tests. Of those, roughly half -- 4,242 products as of April 11 " are Certified for Windows Vista, according to Microsoft figures presented at WinHEC.

During the conference, Microsoft highlighted only a handful of Certified for Vista products including Buffalo's wireless router and D-Link's streaming media solution, Canon's SD 750 Digital Camera, AVermedia's USB TV Tuner and LG's 22-inch Flatron monitor.

The list of Certified for Windows Vista products "- a higher ranking for products that exploit key Vista technologies such as Windows Rally -" is limited, but expanding rapidly as Vista finds it way onto more PCs, said Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates during his keynote at the Hardware Engineering Conference this week.

"There's still a lot of work to do, still more devices. If we look at the coverage we've got in Windows Vista, it's up over 95 percent, but we're still getting those device ID numbers, reaching out to you to get those updates," Gates told WinHEC attendees, noting that Microsoft has four times the number of drivers for Vista than it had for Windows XP.

But the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Partner and attendees who roamed the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center this week at Microsoft's annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference say the number of drivers available for Vista may be improving, but the quality of drivers for existing products is in question and the availability of hardware products that exploit significant new features of Windows Vista is minuscule.

One source who asked not to be named said some Vista printers that passed certification do not support Microsoft's XML Paper Specification Format (XPS), an alternative to Adobe's Portable Document Format.

Significant changes made to security model and graphics and printing subsystems -- such as user account control, Internet Explorer 7 Protected Mode and the unified driver model for graphics and video, for example, have imposed onerous requirements on all OEMs and device manufacturers as well as ISVs.

And Microsoft has lagged on documentation needed by systems engineers and developers, partners say.

One IDC study commissioned by Microsoft and highlighted at WinHEC claims that the software company's ecosystem of hardware and software partners stand to reap as much as $120 billion in Vista and Windows Server 2008-related products and services in 2008.

Next: Upgrade Cycle To Be Longer Than Predicted

But this upgrade cycle will be more difficult and lengthier than Microsoft predicts, partners say.

For one, manufacturers have been slow to release Vista drivers for existing products because they want to push customers to buy new products, channel observers said.

And at the same time, hardware partners have been slow to develop new products because significant changes to the installation, graphics and video device driver model and printing subsystems represents a far greater development burden on their operation than Windows XP.

"There is a driver problem, yes," said one executive from AVerMedia, whose products have been granted Certified for Windows Vista logos. "Part of it is our fault, but part of it is Microsoft's fault."

Another source in the printer community said Microsoft has provided tools to help OEM partners and software partners develop Vista drivers in light of the major architectural changes in Vista, but much of the documentation needed simply isn't there or is incomplete.

"It's a horror show," said that source, who has worked in Microsoft's printer OEM industry for more than a decade.

The lag is not unexpected. It's typical for hardware and software application vendors to take up to 18 months to two years to design, test and ship new products "- and wait for the installed base to increase -- following the release of a new Windows operating system.

But the wait may be a bit longer for Vista due to the radical changes in the architecture and because some system interfaces changed late in the game as Microsoft raced to meet its end-of-year deadline to ship Vista, partners say.

Those factors could stymie corporate adoption until 2009, predicts one partner.

"What's different this time is that Microsoft was busy developing Vista until almost that last version went to CD," said Tony Harris, chief technology officer at Software Imaging, Oxford, England. "There were new system interfaces and printer interfaces being implemented right up to the last minute."

At WinHEC, several attendees said the number of copies of Vista sold represents the current run rate of PCs in 2007, not stronger market acceptance of Vista over Windows XP, which made its debut in the bleak fourth quarter of 2001.

They say it's too early to predict market adoption or the extent to which hardware and software vendors will benefit over the long term, but 2007 won't be a blow-out success.

Shortly after Vista's launch, reports of incompatibilities with basic devices like printers, scanners and graphics cards such as NVidia's cards scared off some customers, channel partners say.

Joe Toste, vice president of Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder, said Microsoft has done a good job to increase driver support since Vista launched, but it hurt adoption and created a market perception that is hard to overcome.

"There's been a lot of problems with devices not working properly after all, the peripheral vendors want you to buy new devices. I see peripheral vendors not supporting approximately 50 percent of their devices with Vista drivers. The biggest problems have been tuners and scanners," Toste said.

"The shortage of drivers during launch was the biggest reason why Vista lost momentum with our customers," he said. "Everyone was eager to try it. However, when they discovered the shortage of device supported they delayed the transition."

At WinHEC, various executives from the Redmond, Wash., software giant flooded attendees with statistics, facts and figures about the number of certified products and drivers now available for Vista in order to demonstrate the market readiness of Vista and encourage more product development.

The 9,000 products sporting the Windows Vista logo to date represents an almost doubling of the 5,000 products that carried the Windows XP logo a quarter after its release, said Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Windows product management.

About half of those 9,000 products sporting the Windows logo -" 4,242 products as of April 11 "- are Certified for Windows Vista, according to Microsoft figures. That number has jumped markedly, from 2,500, since launch.

Next: Top Security Vendors Now Certified

‚Äč During his keynote, for example, Nash pointed out that all top five security software vendors' offerings are now compatible with Vista and that the top two VPN providers, Cisco and Nortel, have Vista drivers for their products.

Additionally, 48 of the top 50 best-selling applications now support Vista and three key applications in question: Macromedia Flash, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Apple iTunes -" now support Vista, Nash said. He added that roughly 250 software products are Certified for Vista.

Microsoft now counts a total of 33,000 drivers available for Vista -" both in-box and available through Windows Update -" a significant bump up from the 12,000 drivers developed for Windows XP in the same time frame.

In-box drivers for Vista now exceed 20,000, compared to 10,000 for Windows XP and 350 for Windows 2000, and there are 13,000 third-party drivers available on Windows Update, compared to 2000 available for Windows XP, Nash said.

Microsoft acknowledged this week that there are roughly 4,000 drivers that still need to be written, but they expect the majority of partners in their ecosystem will pass the finishing line soon.

Later, in a media session addressing some of the driver compatibility issues and ecosystem readiness, one analyst and author of a Microsoft-sponsored report said there are some remaining problems affecting graphics and audio cards, as well as scanners and printers.

But he emphasized that these issues naturally follow after each release of Windows and will be resolved.

"There are still compatibility issues ... but the ecosystem is settling down," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, whose Microsoft sponsored report, "Managing a Massive Ecosystem," was released at WinHEC.

In his keynote, Gates said many hardware manufacturers and software developers are using Vista technologies such as Windows Rally and SideShow.

During his keynote, for example, the Microsoft chairman identified Buffalo's Wireless N Router as one of 20 Certified for Vista devices that supports Windows Rally, an advanced device connectivity technology that will succeed USB in the next era of wireless device connectivity.

Gates also demonstrated a soon-to-be released media bridge from D-Link that streams high-definition content between Vista PCs and home entertainment devices over wireless networks. D-Link's Xtreme N Duo MediaBridge is expected to ship in the third quarter of 2007.

On stage, the chairman also demonstrated new Samsung ultra-mobile PC and an ultra-thin tablet-like concept notebook developed by Intel with a large Sideshow display. "The ecosystem is key," he said.

The expo floor at WinHEC -" which is attended primarily by manufacturers and ISVs, not customers -" was predictably sparse with new Vista products. Still, several partners in Microsoft's ecosystem took the opportunity to detail plans about upcoming Vista products such as DisplayLink and Ricavision.

DisplayLink, Palo Alto, Calif., demonstrated Windows Vista support in its line of network display semiconductors, which are used in USB displays, notebook docking stations, display adaptors, projectors and multi-monitor computing solutions from IHVs such as Toshiba and Samsung.

The technology, which supports USB 2.0 and WiMedia wireless display connections in Vista, allows several monitors to be connected to a single PC and display different content. A demonstration of the technology at DisplayLink's booth showed the 3-D features of Aero appearing on multiple screens on USB connected displays. LG and Samsung are among those coming out with the first set of USB-enabled displays, sources said.

On the show floor, Scott Tardy, DisplayLink's vice president of strategic marketing, said he expects Vista-optimized products based on the semiconductors to begin shipping by the end of the year.

He believes resellers, solution providers and system builders will have significant opportunities selling USB docking station and displays based on Vista. DisplayLink's DL-120 and DL-160 hardware rendering engine processors and related software are now available from the company.

Ricavision International, for example, showed off its remote control device for SideShow, dubbed Model RICA 100, which is due for release in August.

Channel partners say any lag on the part of the hardware vendors will have more impact on the consumer market than on the corporate market, since businesses tend to wait at least two years after an operating system launches to plan deployment for enterprises.

But it could throw a wrench into the plans of many eager solution providers and systems builders anxious to upgrade SMB customers.

"We're seeing strong customer interest in Windows Vista, but many deployments are being held back by hardware driver issues or software compatibility issues," said Neil Rosenberg president and CEO of Quality Technology Solutions, Morris Plains, N.J.

"We're usually able to work around software compatibility using virtualization or deploying via Citrix Presentation Server, but not in all cases. Many customers are anxious to take advantage of the better security and improved user interface of Vista, but are held back by these factors."