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Microsoft to Turn to Driver Quality Ratings System 333

QT writes "Ars Technica is reporting that Microsoft is finally trying to do something about PC driver problems. A new crash-report-driven Driver Quality Rating system will be used in Windows Vista to rate drivers. Drivers that rate poorly in real world use by users will lose their logo certification status, which would be bad news for OEMs and the device manufacturers themselves. Maybe now submitting crash reports will feel more useful? This is long overdue."
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Microsoft to Turn to Driver Quality Ratings System

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  • by Esion Modnar ( 632431 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:22PM (#15536812)
    From competitors for the obvious reasons. How to prevent?
    • One would hope they would be outweighed by the real input of real customers, and that microsoft might try to reproduce crashes and throw out reports that seem bogus.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:22PM (#15536813) Journal
    But I always submitted my crash reports when the crash was caused by my own buggy code. I just thought it was humorous I could even send that data in, so I did.
    • by Bob54321 ( 911744 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:42PM (#15536897)
      I submit Firefox crashes so the IE team feels a little hope...
    • by pchan- ( 118053 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:14PM (#15537363) Journal
      In my exception handling code, if I find that the crash is unrecoverable and due to fubar code by myself, I'm always sure to create an additional segment violation.  This way, the "Report error to Microsoft" dialog comes up and the user thinks the bug is Windows' fault.

      void pass_the_buck(void)
        unsigned int *a;

        // blame microsoft (the loop is just for dramatic effect)
        for(a = NULL; *a = 0xdeadbeef; a++) ;
  • by zymano ( 581466 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:23PM (#15536817)
    They must provide specs.
  • by mentaldrano ( 674767 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:24PM (#15536822)
    The very first thing I thought of was CD copy protection schemes. Many of them install "drivers" that disallow copying and such. Once these are ported to Vista, and they will be, will these be open to feedback? Who wants to bet that Microsoft will roll over and allow some drivers to be "immutable"?

    This could be one of the greatest things ever, or another huge disappointment.
    • by StillAnonymous ( 595680 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:46PM (#15536910)
      The worst thing about those types of drivers is that they are deliberately made to be very difficult to reverse engineer. So if you start seeing bugs and crashes in them, you can't even take a look to see what's going on (unless you have a LOT of patience).

      So what will probably happen is this: StarFor... oops, I mean "Generic copy-protection driver #3" crashes for some unknown reason. Copy-protection vendor's response? Oh, it was probably due to bad hardware or due to another copy-protection companies buggy driver interfering with our perfectly coded one. But you won't be able to verify their claim since the driver resists debugging and is encrypted!

      So it's par for the course in this situation.
      • They can claim that to consumers all they like, if MS doesn't buy it, they can still pull their certification. I'm going to presume MS is going to be smart about this. Crash reports tell them things like what hardware is in a system. So if a failure only occurs with hardware type X, then ya sure maybe that's it. However if lots of people see problems then regardless of their protests, MS will probably yank their certification.

        Also I am unsure to what degree, but MS does require access to your driver for deb
    • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:14PM (#15537042) Homepage Journal
      Do you really care if your music CD has a "Vista Compatible" logo on it?

      Thought not.

      This is different for say, a network card. THAT you would care about.

      So, the RIAA types can do as they very well please with their driver malware seeing as it has zero impact on them if they lose a rating they never really had in the first place.
    • Since I doubt CD protection drivers have gone through the Windows certification process, I don't see how loosing the 'Designed for Windows' logo would be a problem for them.
      • I thought that on Windows XP the installation of unsigned drivers required user intervention (the "stop"/"continue anyway" dialog that most hardware vendors just say click "continue anyway" in their instructions) while the installations of signed drivers could be down without user intervention because that dialog does not appear. If that is true, then the CD protection drivers would have to be signed or it would be simple to just never install them in the first place.
        • You can turn that off so I'm sure there's a way for the software to get around it.
          • You can turn that off so I'm sure there's a way for the software to get around it.

            You can also turn it UP, so that it gives you the "This is not certified" message, and removes the "continue anyways" option.

            As for there being ways to work around it. I'm sure there are, but these should be picked up and blocked as HIGHLY suspicious activies by any antivirus product worth having. After all, surreptitiously installing a device driver, bypassing the users policies that prevent it amount to serious malware.

            Not t
            • I also had a thought. Do these even install a pseudo-device? As in one that shows up in the device manager? If not, their operations probably don't fall under the realms of installing a 'real' device so never triggering the 'this isn't signed.'

              amount to serious malware
              I'm sure that really bothers them too.
    • No. The feedback you're providing to Microsoft is not on a whim. They're not basing driver quality ratings on how many angry E-mails they've received; they're basing them on how many automated Windows Error Reporting messages they receive, which drivers are the most common offenders, and whether or not these drivers are all experiencing similar failures.

      Ever used Microsoft's "Crash Analysis" tool? These Crash Analysis reports are what they're using to guage driver quality. If you've never used the tool, tak
  • Crappy SATA Driver (Score:3, Informative)

    by NoodleSlayer ( 603762 ) <ryan AT severeboredom DOT com> on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:30PM (#15536841) Homepage
    When I installed a SATA drive and started booting off it my win2k install's stability when down the tubes.

    For the record I'm using a ECS KT-600A mobo with a VIA VT8237 sata raid controller.

    I'm running Vista Beta 2 now on the same box with a driver from Microsoft and it is more stable then Win2k was with VIA's SATA driver.

    Now that is sad.

    Does Microsoft need to be doing more to ensure the quality of the drivers running on their operating system? You bet.
    • In some ways it's sad, yes, that a company can't build decent drivers for its own products (VIA), but Microsoft can build functioning drivers for hardware they didn't make. On the other hand, I think this goes along with the typical case in which Microsoft's drivers provide a base level of functionality quite reliably.

      In most cases MS's hardware drivers are quite reliable even if they omit cutting-edge features from the more complicated pieces of hardware, like video cards. In that case they let you get u

  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:35PM (#15536859) Homepage

    Good for them to try to do something like this, but will it work? After all, aren't all major PC manufacturers generally shipping parts by good companies (ATI, nVidia, Creative, Intel, etc.)? I'm not sure this will do much there, but for the end user market it may be quite a bit better. The only question is how you would rate all those companies that sell nVidia cards and just repackage the drivers. Do they get nVidia's rating since it's their driver, or do they get a lower one since they take longer to package updates?

    Driver manufacturers can't exactly be trusted though. Read this story [msdn.com] I found today on a MS weblog.

    I know the modem in my computer is necessary for boot-up.

    • Nvidia and creative labs have terrible drivers.

      I had to downgrade my driver for a MSQL Microsoft quality lab certified driver to prevent crashes and improve performancen when I upgraded my systems video card to a 6600 last fall.

      I have very loud popping noises on my computers with sound blaster lives when I play midi's.

  • One problem there. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ant P. ( 974313 )
    How will they submit crash reports if it's the NIC driver that's hosed?

    Also how long before some hardware company resorts to spyware tactics so people can't click the "submit crash report" button?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @09:41PM (#15536890)
    I will give bad feedback to all vendors that develop drivers which aren't standard / poorly integrated with the OS.

    This include any driver which add a tray icon app. Do we realy need that each wireless card vendor bundle its own wireless configuration software?
    Yes, I know you don't have to use it, but most people think they do. Try to explain to the average joe why there is TWO icons displaying the status of his wireless connection. Or that changing the color settings of the monitor depends on the video card driver.
    When I bought my cheap 3.5'' USB SD/CF card reader, I didn't know that it needed a special software to work. At last in Vista I will be able to mod them -1 bad driver.
    • by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:32PM (#15537459) Homepage Journal
      (I'm a university IT tech.)

      I've been configuring computers to use the crap OEM wireless config utilities, only because MS's util is even worse. In particular, MS's tool doesn't show a list of all the WAPs in range; instead, it will just pick one for you.

      I wish I didn't have to do this, especially on newer Dell Latitudes. With those (can't remember if these particular ones have Dell or Intel wireless) a big popup comes up every couple fscking minutes alerting you that there's a WAP nearby, wouldn't you like to connect? Now, you can turn off the onboard wireless with a physical switch, but that's different from how everyone else does it, so lusers must be Edjumicated. At least I don't deal with PhDs, heh.
      • In particular, MS's tool doesn't show a list of all the WAPs in range

        I don't know which MS OS your university uses, but XP certainly does. If you connect to one of the WAPs then the next time you boot it will try to automatically reconnect to the same one, but you can still get the list from the MS util. I agree with you about the 'WAP nearby' message, that is annoying if you've got no intention of connecting to one - it even pops up when you've already got a wired connection, which seems pretty dumb
  • I can see ATI submitting fake crash reports for Nvidia drivers, or even employing techniques to induce real crashes.
  • Who in their right mind would submit crash reports to MS?

    First off, you have no control over the data going to MS. I presume they tell you that it is only driver-specific and doesn't reveal anything about you, but do you really believe it? They lied about what their mediaplayer reports when it phones home - they could be lying about what goes into a crash report.

    Presuming they are honest - they could still be mistaken, would not be first time that the marketing side didn't talk to the technical side eithe
    • First off, you have no control over the data going to MS. I presume they tell you that it is only driver-specific and doesn't reveal anything about you, but do you really believe it? They lied about what their mediaplayer reports when it phones home - they could be lying about what goes into a crash report. I'm not sure I understand your point. If the OS is going to phone home private information they can do that without putting up a dialog box at all. Subterfuge is unnecessary.
    • I do in Vista, because then MS will be able to easily note programs that don't work with Vista. They can then determine if they broke compatibility by accident or if it's the program's fault, and perhaps even alert the program vendor to the problem before the final version of Vista ships.

      XP crash reports are fully viewable, if I recall. I turned them off in my XP because there's really no point, as far as I can see. With Vista however, it's beta software, so I can see the use of it. It already has bee

  • by TheNucleon ( 865817 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:05PM (#15536995)
    ...and this doesn't solve the problem. The WinTel and LinTel communities have decided, with their pocketbook, that they want "choice", which means a jillion different CPUs, chipsets, video cards, sound devices, network devices, USB and FireWire ports - the list goes on and on. The mere thought of testing relevant combinations/permutations of this makes my skin crawl. Yes, a good driver architecture would help, but hey, if your video card fails, who cares if it takes your system down - your system _is_ down without video.

    What we really need are some standard reference models for PCs, and (this is critical) we need hardware manufacturers to stop treating driver interfaces as intellectual property and completely, totally OPEN their interface for software developers. Of course, like I said above, people vote with their pocketbook, and people don't seem to get that worked up about this. They'll continue to buy nVidia or ATI or whoever because the cards really do have great performance, and they'll just suffer with the problems that come with proprietary interfaces. I mean, it's amazing to me - when I buy hardware, it should be OPEN. What you did under the hood is one thing, but how the system interfaces with it - OPEN. My old retro computers came with SCHEMATICS, for crying out loud.

    OK, I'm off my soapbox. Just don't think that the driver world will get any better this way, because it won't. Until we're dealing with known, documented hardware and a more elegant driver architecture, a crashin' we will go.
    • Yes, a good driver architecture would help, but hey, if your video card fails, who cares if it takes your system down - your system _is_ down without video.

      No, in a good architecture the system would just kill the video process and restart it. And even if it fails to restart it, I don't want my lose unsaved data because my system dies, one can always remote desktop/ssh to it and save the stuff.
    • Except that it's not legally possible in many cases.

      If you expose the functionality of Bob's wireless ethernet card, some asshole is going to write a driver that allows it to send signals over illegal frequencies. Then Bob Wireless Company gets sued by some other company whose product is getting interfered with. Now, it might be possible for the hardware maker to prevent that by making the hardware 'smarter,' but then they have to make a different version for every region (France uses different frequencie
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:17PM (#15537056) Homepage
    This seems like more shortsighted tomfoolery on Microsoft's part.

    Sure, for performance reasons it may be advantageous to let a driver have free access to the hardware. But I don't see any logical reason why it has to be that way... just as I don't see any law of physics that says memory leaks and buffer overruns are unavoidable.

    But, why, exactly, should a faulty display driver, say, cause any fundamental problems? Why doesn't the operating system intervene? Why shouldn't a driver malfunction just cause a brief screen flicker... followed by the OS detecting that something improper has happened, followed by a driver and hardware reset, continue merrily on its way? Yes, I do recognize that a driver that is directly fundamental to a system's own operation--specifically a disk driver--is likely to be more difficult. Still, disk drives are fundamentally unreliable at the analog level, but layers of CRC checking and bad sector remapping hide the problems almost completely. Why couldn't this be true at the disk driver level? So that a bum driver causes only a performance loss and some retries, not total disaster?

    As with so much of modern PC practice, this seems to be a case of "because we've always done it that way." It is convenient for Microsoft to point fingers elsewhere, but in the final analysis they are responsible for the user experience. Instead of painting a scarlet letter on bad drivers, why don't they design the OS to tolerate them better?
    • Microsoft is doing this. Or at least Microsoft Research is. Take a look at the Singularity [microsoft.com] project. However, it's a research prototype, so don't expect this in a product anytime soon.
    • by cecom ( 698048 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:20PM (#15537393) Homepage Journal
      The answer to your question is simple: It is technically impossible without fundamentally changing all PC hardware.

      Some driver bugs can be averted by moving drivers into user mode - this is especially true for drivers that do not talk to hardware directly, but these are not interested cases. Drivers which do not talk to hardware (e.g. drivers for USB devices) should not be in the kernel in the first place, so it is just a case of bad design.

      The interesting and important drivers are ones that do talk to hardware. Unfortunately they are the ones that cannot be made completely safe. A driver can program its DMA controller to overwrite the entire system RAM, or it can set the device up to lock the bus. There are ways to avoid these problems (with significant increase in cost and complexity), but not in PC hardware - it is simply not worth it. Would you rather have a PC which hangs up once every week, or one that costs ten times more ? If you answered the latter, then you don't need a PC!

      The subject of microkernels has been discussed to death. I think that everybody agrees that microkernels are slower, so it becomes a question of economics again: People would you rather have a PC which crashes once every week that one which is twice slower.

      Lastly, I am going to say that in my opinion microkernels increase complexity disproportionately, and complexity leads to bugs, so they are not a scalable solution. Of course this point is debatable.
    • Why? Because drivers run inside Ring 0, which is the privileged mode of the processor. They can do pretty much anything they want to. This is good for performance, bad for stability. Or you can go with the Mach kernel, which tried your approach and has not succeeded. Yet.
    • Sure, for performance reasons it may be advantageous to let a driver have free access to the hardware. But I don't see any logical reason why it has to be that way...

      You have answered your own question. The answer is: performance.

  • This will NOT work (Score:3, Insightful)

    by metatruk ( 315048 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:19PM (#15537061)
    Come on, a drivers rating system? who even looks for the Windows Logo testing? Fact is that people don't much think/care when they pick up a $15 webcam at wal-mart.
  • Ok, so I get the premise. If a OEM driver causes a _crash,_ then the crash report will be sent to Microsoft which will include information about the crashed driver. If Microsoft receives enough reports, they may remove the certification status for that OEM drive.

    On paper, it sounds pretty good.

    But, to me anyway, here's why it may not work:

    1. It presumes the problem is faulty driver coding. Does it take into account other applications open at the time? What about tricky conflicts? I've been around enough to
    • by staticdaze ( 597246 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @12:56AM (#15537840)
      I think you're over-reacting just a bit...

      1. It presumes the problem is faulty driver coding. Does it take into account other applications open at the time? What about tricky conflicts? I've been around enough to see MANY applications that kill drivers, like Word causing video driver crashes. Who's fault?

      Yes, it does account for other applications open at the time. If you look at the data that will be sent to Microsoft, you will see (among other things) a process list. That aside, drivers shouldn't crash, regardless of any requests that applications may make of them. If an application is causing a driver to crash, the driver probably missed a bounds check, screwed up its state machine, or who knows. Something that should be caught and handled, in any case.

      2. Will Microsoft pore over all this data? Drivers crash for ... what? ... dozens of reasons? Hundreds? Is MS going to pore over _all_ this data, identify actual driver problems? OR just send blanket data to OEM and say, "OK, you've lost your certification. Sorry it didn't work out. You'll have to find out why your driver crashes, here are the 7,500 reports. Have a nice day."

      3. Will the data contain enough information for the OEM, who really gets a bunch of MS-formatted data, get enough real information to solve the problem?

      These two questions contradict each other. In #2, you say that there will be too much information. In #3, you are worried that there won't be enough. Which is it? Either way, you should take a look at the contents of an error report sometime; they are quite detailed, just not in plain english. From those 7,500 crash reports, there are definitely going to be some common function pointers that the driver developers can use to look up the offending functions, their arguments, and the state of the other registers on the machine. While the information looks cryptic to the average user, it is very useful to those who can map that hexidecimal data to source code.

      4. According to TFA, this only works on the "Premium" edition of Vista. In that version, drivers have to be certified. If "Premium" proves to not be a best-seller, how many OEMs will bother with certification? I still have to click through "non-certified" dialogues in XP today.

      Certification does more than just avoid the silly "non-certified" dialog box. Certification isn't cheap; companies who spend the money to go through the certification process have at least shown some commitment to driver quality by getting a third-party to verify best practices. I believe that getting your driver certified also allows you to use the "Certified for Windows" logo on your product, which (probably) has some sway with customers.
  • by Scoldog ( 875927 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @12:15AM (#15537668)
    I don't know if anyone else has had this problem, but at the moment Window Update driver recomendation sucks.

    I've never updated my computer drivers via Windows Update. My boss recently asked me why and I showed him on a spare laptop we had.

    First of all, Windows kept saying that there where updated drivers for the onboard Realtek AC97 sound card. Problem was, the updated drivers where for the C-Media AC97 drivers. The sound card didn't work when I updated them to the ones Windows recommended.

    Then (the big one) Windows kept saying there was an updated driver for the USB mouse I was using (A A-Open Optical Openeye Wheelmouse). The driver it recommended was a A4-Tech driver or something.

    Oh boy, did I have fun after that was installed.

    I installed the recommended mouse driver and restarted. Instant blue-screen. So I tried to get into safe mode to rollback the driver. Blue screen while booting into safe mode. So now I have to try and recover (or reformat) this laptop due to a dodgey windows update.

    My boss was amazed at what Windows Update had done. Why does Windows say there are updated drivers available that don't work? I know better than to trust WU for drivers, but I still have the average home user coming up to me asking why their computer has gone bad after loading the latest windows updates (I tell everyone who asks, only use WU for the critical windows updates, that's all)

    Who is to blame for this? The average computer user has no idea what devices are in their computer (Hell, most of them still call the moniter the computer and the computer "the box"). Why does Windows seem to ignore what's listed as installed and working in Device Manager?
  • to open source drivers, no?

  • They're using driver ratings now? Wow.

    So this means that in Windows Vista, we should see driver installers with screens declaring:

    "Don't like our drivers? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT!"
  • Yeah, right. These "ratings" will be determined by marketing and legal pull. You can be certain anything 'Dell' will be rubber stamped A++++ on the day it's released, regardless of:

    a driver must have been released and in use for at least 120 days

    The fact that Microsoft is publicizing this now means the fix was in at least twelve months ago. Anyone with enough market leverage already has their sundry ratings certified on gilt edge legal stock, regardless of quality.

    Microsoft has not revealed the exact met
  • by Ambassador Kosh ( 18352 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:39AM (#15538265)
    How does this tell the difference between a hardware and software fault. I have seen many systems that would bluescreen in the nvidia or ati driver but replacing the power supply with a better one would completely eliminate the crashes. From what I have seen when dealing with good hardware most crashes are actually related to things other then the drivers or windows itself. Most of them seem to be the power supply, cooling or stuff like the norton suite of software.

    I still have not figured out why but I have seen people spend several thousand on motherboard, cpu, ram, video cards, hard drives etc but they will put a $40 power supply in the box and then pissed at windows, ati, nvidia, amd, intel etc etc when the system crashes fairly often. The same can be said of cooling.

    The other leading cause seems to be stuff like the internet security programs. Darned if I know exactly how they do what they do but they seem to be adept at crashing computers. There are quite a lot of programs that try to hook into how windows operates, screw with drivers etc. From what I understand most of the copy protection stuff you see tries to hook into the cd, ide, etc drivers to try to enforce what it is doing. So if the system crashes does the cdrom driver get nailed or does starforce or whatever other copy protection that screwed things up get nailed? This kind of stuff is actually a good reason to stay away from the games that have almost any copy protection. It is one the reasons I like the MMO style of games. Most of them have no copy protection at all and they don't try to do weird things to windows, play with drivers etc.

    So while I would like to see crappy drivers get nailed I suspect that what will end up happening is that the wrong drivers will get blamed since ati, nvidia etc will play by the rules but companies like starforce and other drm stuff won't.
  • by caudron ( 466327 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:26AM (#15538705) Homepage
    I know this is a good thing, and it is needed, but I just can't bring myself to submit bug reports to Microsoft. Here's why:

    Microsoft is stingy with their knowledge. They release only what they want on their terms in their own way as they please. I can't, in good conscience, participate in that sort of relationship---one where I give everything I have to help them make a better product and they in turn give back just enough to justify charging me for the 'right' to lease (because software ownership is apparently so 90's) their software back. If I'm lucky, the software I've leased back from them may possibly have a fix to the problem I reported or it may not. Depending on the problem, I may never know. It's not like I am privy to their code or even their coding methodology. I will give to Microsoft to the extent that they give to me. And for the record Microsoft never 'gave' me anything. I have no investment in seeing them succeed under their current model.

    In contrast, when I submit a bug report to a Free software project, I get the name of a guy assigned to the bug, I can log in and see the bug tracking discussion, the fix is there for me to review, the new version with fix included is given back to me free of charge and free of stipulations. I feel like a real participant in the process. I feel like Gnome's success or Evolution's success is both partly to do with me and directly beneficial to me.

    Submitting bugs to Microsoft feel the same to me as submitting CD track info to CDDB. I give them info, they charge me to get it back.

    Tom Caudron
    http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault