Driver – every Windows user cringes at the utter sound of the word let alone the thought of having to deal with one. Regardless, they are required in order for your software to interact with hardware properly (or at all). The manufacturers of computer peripherals and components usually provide the drivers for their own equipment, and so instinctively people immediately go to their websites to download and install their driver before attempting to use the equipment.

The big mistake that people make is that you don’t necessarily need to install the driver from the manufacturer, or even install any driver at all. Certain peripherals are designed to work on generic drivers, ones that come preinstalled with the operating system. Things such as external hard drives and cameras never need a driver, and you would be a fool to install one. Most of the time though, a device will need some sort of driver, but the 3rd party driver is usually never the best option. The following only applies to those using Windows Vista and 7 (sorry all you outdated XP lovers). Microsoft has created a repository known as Windows Update. Most people attribute it to where their OS updates come from, but it also contains copies of drivers for all types of devices. The best part is that Microsoft has put them in such a package that makes them not only easier to install, but they are usually auto-configured such that they work better with the OS. They also don’t come with any of the excess bloat that most manufacturers ship with their drivers. For example, a “driver” for my HP scanner is 250MB, and only 5MB of that is actually the driver, the rest is crappy software that you cannot opt out of installing, and most people never use.

The thing is that on most installs of Windows, you need to manually enable support for installing these drivers. To do this, open the start menu and right click on Computer, and select Properties. In the left sidebar, select Advanced Settings, and navigate to the Hardware tab. Click the button at the bottom about Device Installation, and check the Yes box in the resulting window. Windows should now automatically search Windows Update for drivers whenever you plug a device in. So next time you get a new device such as a scanner, mouse, or any other device that isn’t super-special, try plugging it in without installing the driver and see what Windows Update can do for you. If that driver does not do enough for you, you can always install the manufacturer’s driver afterward.