Microsoft has accumulated a remarkable library of drivers for all the hardware devices and gadgets and gizmos that we hook up to computers with USB cables. The drivers that are built into Vista/Windows 7 and the drivers available online are so complete now that I’ve changed my recommendation when you get a new device:

When you’re setting up a USB device on a Vista or Windows 7 computer, put the manufacturer’s CD in the drive but don’t run the setup program right away. Instead, plug in the USB cable and see what happens.

A large percentage of the time, the device comes to life without any further intervention. If the dialog box comes up asking permission to search online for a driver, do the online search – it may be successful.

In the best cases, you’ll have avoided a barrage of unnecessary software from the manufacturer’s CD – system monitors and update services and third party toolbars and too much other crud.

There are still going to be devices that aren’t recognized without running the setup program from the installation CD. I usually cancel the “driver not found” window at that point, unplug the USB cable, and run the setup program from the installation CD with the device unplugged, just like before.

Incidentally, one thing comes up frequently. You never need to install software for a keyboard or mouse, and there are good reasons to stay away from the CD in the box. The keyboard or mouse will work right away and the supplied software is all too often a complete mess of poorly designed controls for features on the keyboard or mouse that you will never use. There are exceptions – if you get a keyboard bristling with knobs and switches and audio controls and a paper shredder, you may have to install the software to use it all. But if you do that, you’re not really getting my point about keeping things simple, are you?

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