More driver woes for Vista users: this time it's lack of support for USB modems. BigPond is simply refusing to connect anyone using Vista to ADSL or Cable, and Optus admits it hasn't completed the work to fully support Vista yet.
Customers of the largest Australian internet providers face a wait of a month or more before they'll be able to easily connect PCs running Vista up to broadband.
The problem stems from the largest providers' use of cheap USB broadband modems rather than the marginally more expensive Ethernet ones that don't require drivers.
The drivers required for the USB modems aren't yet available from all modem manufacturers.
In fact, Telstra is refusing point-blank at this stage to connect new ADSL or Cable customers if they're running Vista.
An Optus customer service representative told APC it would not be able to connect Vista users to Optus broadband until 1st March.
Whirlpool.net.au News Editor Phil Sweeney said it was time for providers to stop using cheap USB modems and spend a couple of dollars more per modem for ethernet models.
"USB modems made more sense in the past when computers didn't have Ethernet ports built in, but these days they cause more problems with drivers than they're worth and they're generally considered to be less reliable," he said.
He advised broadband users to check if their USB modem had an Ethernet port on the back as well and use that instead. However, he conceded that people might not be able to get much help from Optus or Telstra in configuring the modems, as neither company provides tech support to Vista users yet.
"This happened with Windows 2000 as well, because it was so different from Windows 95/98," he said.
However, the problem this time round is compounded by the fact that most new computers being sold at retail now have Vista pre-loaded.
Microsoft's stance on the modem problem
A Microsoft Australia spokesperson said the lack of drivers for USB broadband modems wasn't its problem.
"Microsoft does not develop specific hardware drivers for broadband modem or other devices. This is the responsibility of the hardware vendor to develop the driver to meet new rules for device drivers in Windows Vista. Most companies are offering updated drivers via the vendor web site for download."
"Vista has been in development for more than 18 months and the public date for launch known for about 3 months previously. At launch more than 1.5M devices work with Windows Vista and more than 4,200 hardware and software products have been through the rigorous Windows Hardware Quality Lab and Windows software testing process and received either a Certified for Windows Vista or a Works with Windows," the company said.
Microsoft Australia could not immediately provide a list of USB modems that Vista supports in its shipping driverbase, but forwarded the enquiry to Microsoft USA for response.
What the ISPs are saying
Telstra BigPond has published an FAQ stating that it will not be able to connect new customers to ADSL or Cable if they are running Windows Vista on their computers.
"Whenever a new operating system is introduced, hardware upgrades are required across the board. The launch of Vista means ISPs worldwide will be beholden to their hardware/modem suppliers for Vista drivers," spokesperson Bronwyn Winley said.
"BigPond already supports current customers upgrading to Vista, and is progressively introducing drivers for new customers, with the BigPond Wireless Broadband Card already being supported. Current customers receive full technical support for Vista."
Translation: BigPond only has drivers for its wireless broadband card so far, and if you buy a new Vista computer and want to get ADSL or Cable connected, don't call Telstra.
OptusNet said it already supported six operating systems but "only recently learned that Vista brings with it some elements that require us to change our systems."
It is now "fast tracking" the training of staff to support Vista users and expects to have this completed in "coming months". The telco said it would work with customers on a case-by-case basis if they had problems with OptusNet and Vista.
APC has requested further information from Optus on whether the USB modems it has distributed to customers have Vista driver support but it refused.
Netspace Managing Director Stuart Marburg said his tech support team would start supporting Vista in coming weeks, but needed to make sure enough members of the helpdesk team were trained in Vista before officially supporting it. He said Netcomm had supplied Vista drivers for some of its newer modems -- NB5 and NB8W, but Marburg said he wanted the technical team to test the drivers further before officially supporting them.
iiNet said it had trained all of its senior tech support staff on Vista and put Vista machines into its call centres. However, it said ongoing training of all the rest of the tech support staff was ongoing, so it was possible that customers may initially reach someone not yet trained in supporting Vista. In such cases, the customer could generally be transferred on to a Vista specialist.
Internode said its long-standing policy of supporting any operating system that included TCP/IP holds true with Vista. "Internode as a matter of policy sells and prefers to support ethernet based modems for ADSL due to their demonstrated advantages in terms of compatibility and lack of USB driver issues," Internode Managing Director Simon Hackett told APC.
What the modem makers say about Vista compatibility
Linksys told APC it was planning to support Vista on "select" devices and it has published a list of models that are currently supported or have drivers "coming soon". An ominous footnote at the end of the page states "If your Linksys product does not appear on any of these three lists, there is no plan to support the product with Windows Vista."
Linksys models listed as having Vista drivers "coming soon" include AG241 and WAG54G.
Billion Australia said the company had only ever shipped a small quantity of one USB modem at the request of a particular ISP, preferring instead to sell Ethernet models that did not require drivers. He said Billion Electric in Taiwan had not announced plans for Vista driver support for this model, BiPAC 7001, at this stage.
Belkin modem product manager Anthony Malone said "Our F5D5730au v3000 has USB drivers for Vista. We are in final testing and should have them posted to our web site by mid Feb." Belkin will offer tech support on products the company has been able to qualify as working with Vista.
NETGEAR said none of its current ADSL modems or modem/routers include a USB port. However, some older single port-modems, the DM602 (discontinued in 2004) and the DG632 (discontinued in 2006) included a USB port, but also included an Ethernet port. "At this stage, it does not appear NETGEAR will be able to release Vista-compatible USB drivers for either of these devices. However, both devices do also contain an Ethernet port which does not require driver support, and will therefore work with Vista," the company said.
"All NETGEAR's router and modem products are administered using a web GUI, and are able to be administered from a Vista PC without any need for an update. NETGEAR is currently rolling out formal support for customers using Vista. In the meantime, support is being provided on a best-effort basis. "
D-link said it was working 'full steam ahead' on Vista drivers for its USB modems and had added 20 drivers in the past day (including drivers for its current-model DSL-200 and DSL-502T USB modems) to its tech support site.
The company is offering tech support for customers having difficulty getting their modem working with Vista, and is currently in the process of setting up a dedicated Vista page on its web site to make it easier for customers to get drivers.
Netcomm said it had released drivers for the NetComm have released Vista drivers for the following products:AM5066, NB1, NB5 series, NB6 series, NB8W, NP542 / NP543 / NP544 and would have Vista drivers for other wireless and USB products "shortly".
Draytek, Thomson/Alcatel and OPEN Networks were contacted but are yet to respond.
... and then there's wireless broadband
Wireless broadband services that use PCMCIA cards for laptops are also beholden to their hardware providers writing Vista drivers.
Unwired said it had already produced new drivers for customers with the PCMCIA card and customers could either call in to get a CD posted to them, or download them from the Unwired web site when they're made available in a few days' time.
"Like most people, we've known about Vista for a fair while -- we've been monitoring it for the last 12 months and been working with the developer for the last two months," Unwired spokesman Tyson Bowen said.
Competitor iBurst said it had beta drivers available and expected to have final drivers available by the end of the month.
The Telstra BigPond Wireless PCMCIA card has Vista drivers available, however customers would need to download and install the latest BigPond Wireless Connection Manager software.