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Will Your Drivers Make Microsoft's Grade?

Note to hardware vendors: If your Windows Vista drivers stink, you're liable to get voted off the island.

Well, sorta.

Microsoft  is putting its Windows Crash Analysis reports to use in a way that is sure to give new meaning to the term making the grade.

The company is launching a Driver Quality Rating (DQR) system that will grade device drivers on their quality, based on how often they crash. A low grade could mean OEMs will shun the product.

The DQR system scores driver on a 1-9 scale, with one being best and nine the worst. Drivers that rarely, if ever, crash will be scored 1-3 and rated "green."

Drivers with a modest record will be in the 4-6 range and rated "yellow."

The kiss of death is a 7-9 score and a "red" rating. The score will be generated from user-submitted crash reports.

The Online Crash Analysis Team will be a part of the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) program. WHQL will handle crash submissions and testing drivers. Also, driver manufacturers will be given a test suite that Microsoft uses internally to certify their drivers, according to Raghu Ram, group manager for the Windows logo program.

"Our intent is not to punish people, our intent is to incentivize hardware vendors to provide high quality drivers," he said.

To achieve a "Green" status, a driver must have been released and in use for at least 120 days, starting June 1, 2007, and must maintain that stability for the 120 days. If the driver suffers problems and loses its Green rating, the OEM must resolve the issues within 90 days.

Failure to do so would mean losing the right to claim a Windows Premium driver status, said Ram. It's hardly punitive but it is a loss of bragging rights. Microsoft is doing this to light a fire under some hardware providers to offer better quality device drivers, since they are often the source of system failures.

"One of the things we saw from past experiences is the majority of crashes were due to certain driver issues. We wanted to make sure to offer high quality drivers with Vista," said Ram.

Ram admits that the score, which will not be made public, only shared with OEMs and IHVs, is something of a lagging indicator because it measures past performance, but he also said the bar for a Premium logo is pretty high in the first place, so it will serve to reward top-flight vendors who stay on top of the quality of their drivers in the first place.

This system will make the crash information collection system in Vista even more important because it will enable Microsoft to look for trends and patterns in drivers, particularly if there's one troubled version. Microsoft is already examining patterns from Windows XP and Windows Vista beta users now, said Ram.

Microsoft has been discussing this issue with its hardware partners over the past year but held off to make sure the program is properly understood by hardware vendors and Microsoft had given the vendors enough time to understand driver issues as related to Vista.