Keep device drivers updated with Windows 7 Device Installation Settings

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz examines the benefits of allowing Windows 7 to detect and install updated device drivers and shows you how to enable or disable this feature.

During the Windows 7 installation procedure you encountered the dialog box shown in Figure A, which prompted you to choose how you wanted the operating system to install updates. When looking at this prompt, chances are the first things that came to mind are system updates, security updates, and general patches, and so you chose the Use Recommended Settings option. However, in addition to the standard fare, there is another kind of update that Microsoft can deliver — device driver updates.

Figure A

When you install Windows 7, you will need to choose one of the update settings.

As you probably know by now, Microsoft Windows 7 comes with a huge database of device drivers, allowing you to install and use just about any known hardware device. Once a device driver is installed, the operating system will essentially add it to a watch list and can regularly check Windows Update for new or updated drivers.

Of course, when it comes to using the device drivers that Microsoft provides, there are two schools of thought. The first is that getting the drivers from Microsoft is a good thing because you can be sure that the drivers have been through Microsoft's testing procedures and are certified before they ever make it to Windows Update. The other school of thought is that getting device drivers from Microsoft is a bad thing because they are essentially stripped-down versions of what the device manufacturer provides.

Other considerations fall into the categories of installation and ease. Device drivers from Windows Update are automatically detected and installed with little effort on your part. To find device drivers manually you have to remember to check device manufacturer's Web site often to look for them and then you have to manually download and install them.

Now, depending on what school of thought you subscribed to when you first encountered the dialog box shown above, you may have chosen the Use Recommended Settings option, which delivers driver updates along with operating system update, or you may have chosen the Install Important Updates Only, which does not deliver driver updates. Regardless of which option you initially chose, maybe you've changed your mind since then. Fortunately, there is a little-known feature called Device Installation Settings, which will allow you to reconfigure Windows 7's ability to detect and install updated device drivers.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll examine the benefits of allowing Windows 7's to detect and install updated device drivers. I'll then show you how to enable or disable this feature.

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What's to gain?

Let's take a closer look at the benefits of allowing Windows 7 to detect and install updated device drivers. When configured to do so, this feature will allow Windows to automatically download not only device drivers, but also high-resolution icons for the devices attached to your system along with detailed information about the device.

For example, on my test system, I access Devices and Printers on the Start menu and I can see high-resolution icons for the attached devices, as shown in Figure B. You can see that the IntelliMouse Optical is selected and some details appear in the status bar. However, if you click the device icon, you get much more detail, as shown in Figures C and D.

Figure B

The Devices and Printers window can display high-resolution icons for attached devices.

Figure C

When you click an icon, you may find much more detailed information about the device...

Figure D well as links to the manufacturer's Web site.

Accessing Device Installation Settings

You can change Windows 7's ability to check Windows Update for new or updated drivers and icons by launching the Device Installation Settings feature. To do so, right-click on your computer icon in the Devices and Printers window. You'll find a context menu that provides you with easy access to a host of features, including the Device Installation Settings feature, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

This context menu provides you with quick and easy access to a host of useful features.
When you select Device Installation Settings from the context menu, you will see the Device Installation Settings window, shown in Figure F. If you want Windows to automatically download device drivers, you would select the Yes, Do This Automatically option. If you select the No, Let Me Choose What to Do option, you'll see that there are three levels to choose from, including the Never Install Driver Software from Windows Update. There is also a check box to configure the use of high-resolution icons for devices.

When you are finished configuring your settings, just click the Save Changes button. You may encounter a UAC prompt, and if you do, you will need to respond accordingly.

Figure F

The Device Installation Settings window allows you to change the way that Windows updates device drivers.

What's your take?

When it comes to using the device drivers that Microsoft provides, which school of thought do you support? Now that you know about it, will you use the Device Installation Settings feature to change your device driver update setting? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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