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Lost in Cyberspace

Ease the obstacle course in finding the right driver

This article was originally published on December 15, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Device drivers are a pain – always have been. Well, maybe not back in the '70s and early '80s, when printers were all ASCII-only (and you had to hand-code italics and bold within your document) and you simply dialed your modem by hand ("ATDT 555-1212").

But ever since more complicated operating systems hit the market (such as the Macintosh, circa 1983, and MS-DOS, 1982), the ability of personal computers to connect to external devices has depended on drivers.

A device driver is nothing more than a piece of software that tells the operating system what the device is and what protocols it uses – thus allowing the two machines to communicate. Without the correct driver, your computer won't be able to use your various components.

For instance, printer drivers are what allow you to simply highlight text and then make it bold or italic, to change the font and to print graphics. Other devices that use drivers are modems, hard drives, CD-ROM drives, scanners, network adapters, video cards and sound cards – even your mouse.

While Microsoft touts Windows 98 as fully "plug and play" – that you need only plug in your new device and ask Windows to find it and install the driver for it – new devices released since Windows 98 keep hitting the market (like all the new 3-Dfx video cards that gamers love). Also, as new programs come out (particularly games), they often require updated drivers for existing hardware in order to function properly.

And let's be honest here: Many of us still have that old printer we bought with our XT or the scanner we used with our Commodore Amiga – you know, the printer or scanner that Microsoft didn't bother including in the driver list on Windows 98.

So where do you go to find the drivers you need?

The Internet, of course. It's the quickest way of finding new or old drivers.

For Windows users, the best spot to start is WinDrivers.Com. This site is a fairly comprehensive locator of device drivers for Windows 3.1 through NT. The drivers are sorted by both the companies that make the hardware and by device type (scanner, hard drive, network adapter, etc.). You can find .dll files, .vxb drivers and most other Windows-related support files as well.

It's an advertising-driven site, meaning there is no charge for access and the drivers are free for downloading (most of the drivers, actually, are elsewhere – this site simply locates them for you and provides a link). The search engines seem very good here, and I was able to find Windows drivers for even older equipment as well as some of the latest new gear.

If you use a non-Windows computer (Mac, DOS) or have an older device, your best bet (probably your only bet) is to try the Web page or ftp site of the manufacturer. ( is also a good starting point for finding the Web sites of the various hardware companies as it lists hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such companies.) OS/2 users, of course, should head straight to IBM's Web site.

In cases where the company that manufacturered your printer or scanner or hard drive is no longer in business, you may be out of luck. Before giving up, though, try running a couple of searches on different search sites (Lycos, Excite!, Infoseek) and see if you can find any pages dedicated to that brand. Oftentimes, hobbyists will collect drivers for defunct lines of equipment and post them where others can use them.