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Microsoft: Good drivers wanted

The software giant is trying to make computers less prone to crashes, in part by getting all third-party developers to clean up their drivers.

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Microsoft wants bad drivers off the Windows highway.

With the next version of its consumer Windows operating system, Microsoft is trying to make computers less daunting and prone to crashes. To reach that goal, Microsoft not only needs to clean up its own code, but also all the third-party drivers, little bits of software that help the system communicate with peripherals and other add-ons.

So Microsoft is taking a hard line with developers. When computer owners using Windows XP try to install new hardware or software with drivers that have not passed Microsoft certification, they will get an ominous warning message.

"Continuing your installation of this software may impair or destabilize the correct operation of your system either immediately or in the future," one of the error messages reads in part. "Microsoft strongly recommends that you stop this installation now and contact the hardware vendor for software that has passed Windows Logo testing."

Although it is an option to have such a warning pop up in the business-oriented Windows 2000 operating system, the message will be turned on by default in the consumer version of Windows XP set to go on sale later this year.

Microsoft released a revised beta, or test, version of Windows XP this week.

Microsoft demonstrated the error message to developers at this week's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here and urged them to write "good" drivers. Microsoft held a number of sessions to help ensure that programmers write good code. One cautionary session was titled: "How to write a driver that cannot possibly work--a demonstration."

Carl Stork, general manager for Windows hardware strategy, said the goal is for the error MSFTwarnsmessage to show up only at developer conferences such as WinHEC. However, he said, getting rid of poorly functioning drivers is important enough to run the risk of scaring some consumers with such an ominous message.

"We're trying to be self-policing," he said in an interview. "All of us will benefit if we get the ecosystem cleaned up."

Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with MicroDesign Resources, said the move will ultimately help cut down on the frustration that comes when computer owners find their systems crashing and then must go through the tedious process of finding out which software is to blame.

"In the long run, they are going to save a ton of money by cracking down on the driver makers," Glaskowsky said.