What are Windows drivers? One can look at this question in a few different ways. The most concise answer would come from a practical standpoint. Windows drivers are small compiled libraries of computer code that tie into the underlying operating system. When Windows sees hardware it looks for instructions on how to use them.
To go with the library metaphor, one could think of the driver file as the volume on a shelf. The data within that volume would, in a library, be step by step instructions. But in Windows drivers it’s compiled functions written in computer code. This might code for what to do if a button has been pressed on a mouse. Or it could relate to something more complex.
All of that is also the beauty of a driver. Like a well-indexed library it takes very complicated things and simplifies how one relates to it all. However, that does leave a question hanging. Earlier on a question was raised about what a driver is. This is a technical explanation. But there’s a more important real-world description to be found.
A more real-world description of computer drivers is that it’s something that makes operating systems easy to use. Windows often automate the process. And one can divide drivers under windows into two categories. There are specialty drivers and common automatic windows drivers. Specialty drivers are associated with more exotic hardware. The best example of this type of driver can be found with video card manufacturers. Video cards are one of the single most competitive fields in computing. The only area that’s arguable as fast-paced is that of processor development. But processors work toward a standard with the very foundation of computers. This means that they don’t typically need any real driver support. They deal with the BIOS, which is a similar but still distinct topic.
Graphics drivers, on the other hand, do work through the standard driver methodology. What’s not so standard about them is how they’re managed. Graphics drivers usually rely on installers developed by the graphics card manufacturer. It’s one of those situations where it can look odd when examined directly. But it’s been the standard for so long that most people just consider it the everyday reality for how advanced graphics drivers are handled in Windows.
However, the real common everyday reality of Windows driver support is much closer to the ideal. Earlier on a reference was made to the fact that Windows can automatically update or install some drivers. What happens in these cases is that Windows notices new hardware and it searches the local installation base for compatible drivers. If it can’t find those drivers than it’ll make a note of that fact. For example, the hardware manager will have a question mark on that item. One can tell windows to go online to look for drivers. One goes to settings in the start menu. From there one chooses Updates and Security. From here one goes to Windows Update. Finally, one only has to push the Check for updates button. Windows will search a central database for any drivers and install those it finds.
The only problem there is that Microsoft is working on quite a few things at the same time. There’s a huge amount of hardware out there and Microsoft is only one company. They’re a huge company, but anyone who needs to serve as a jack of all trades will have difficulty perfecting all of them. This is why many people prefer to augment that automatic update system with third party automatic update services. This type of automated update service can even handle a lot of the more niche hardware situations.